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Crumb still shocking


R. Crumb’s appearance at Virginia Commonwealth University last week has led to a campus controversy, with his comments on rape and misogyny igniting complaints from students and statements from officials:

Timothy Patterson, a Richmond College senior, cited a quote from Crumb’s speech in his response to The Collegian: “Every woman has a rape fantasy. Every man deep down…hates women.”

Andrew F. Newcomb, dean of the school of arts and sciences, sent a campus-wide e-mail on Nov. 1, stating that although the university made Crumb’s dialogue possible, it doesn’t mean it condoned the dialogue’s content.

At the heart of the controversy is associate professor Bertram Ashe, who assigned the Crumb documentary and his short story, “My Troubles with Women”, as part of his class American Misfit: Geek Literature and Culture. Patterson questioned Ashe’s right to assign such material, while Ashe responded at length:

If Patterson had come to talk to me I would have shared with him that I, too, was offended by aspects of Crumb’s work. I would have showed him where and how Crumb grapples with feminist critiques of his work right there inside his work. I would have demonstrated for him how well the text fits into our semester-long discussion of geeks and nerds. I also would have shared with him the fact that I routinely assign edgy and provocative texts that have the potential to offend students. For more evidence, just ask students in both sections of the 20th Century American Fiction class I’m teaching this semester. Or ask students in my Blackface seminar last spring (a course I’ll be teaching again next spring). “Edgy and provocative is what I do, Mr. Patterson,” I would have said, and yes, academic freedom protects me.

Although Crumb’s early track record is of, well, trouble with women, his new version of Genesis draws heavily on Feminist Bible scholars, particularly Sarah Teubal, and the struggle between patriarchal forces and a presumed more matriarchal Goddess culture. Jewish Week examines this aspect of Genesis and finds some dissension even among scholars.

Still, by citing the work of scholars to buttress his claims of textual accuracy, Crumb invites questions about his own credibility. And many feminist scholars hold Crumb’s sources at a critical distance.  “My own view is that the Teubal book is admirable in attempting to recover positive aspects of women’s lives in biblical antiquity but flawed in its assumptions about the historicity of the ancestors,” said Carol Meyers, a leading feminist biblical scholar at Duke University, in an e-mail response. By historicity, she meant knowing conclusively the realities of life in biblical times.

  1. Below comment In no way to be taken as a comment on the particulars of Mr. C’s comments:

    I think It always best to qualify one’s opinions with an, “I think” or even better: “I think, based on my experience … but I could be wrong”, and then, if you JUST REALLY, REALLY have to, throw in a “… but I don’t think so,” at the end.

    Of course you’re always setting yourself up for trouble when you open your big mouth but, alas… some just can’t resist.

  2. Agreed, Horatio. Unless, of course, I’m lying to myself when I search my fantasies and don’t find a single rape in the bunch. (Not saying that no women have rape fantasies– it is, in fact, a rather common one– but it’s far from universal, and not one I share.) Also, I’m meeting my dad for dinner tonight–should I ask him if, deep down, he hates women?

    As usual, someone making sweeping generalizations shows more about themselves than the people they’re generalizing about.

  3. “someone making sweeping generalizations shows more about themselves than the people they’re generalizing about.”


    Me thinks, alas: sad but true.

    …I could be wrong – but I don’t think so.

  4. “American Misfit: Geek Literature and Culture” …

    I always thought it would be wonderful if comics entered mainstream culture. Now, I’m not so sure. Is there anyone NOT taking this class because they think it will be an easy “A”? Including the professor … ?

  5. Based on the article, I agree with Professor Ashe. We absolutely should be looking at controversial work like this, with the express purpose of critiquing and exploring it. Studying something doesn’t mean you’re condoning it, and though many works can display offensive ideas, not to mention the creators who share them. In this case, the work seems to be reflecting some of the opinions of the creator…but that’s not always the case. Lots of artistic work explores difficult subject matter it’s not condoning. Both kinds of work are important to look at critically.

    Obviously I don’t agree with Crumb’s statement, although I don’t know the entire context. But it’s not an uncommon sentiment. Which, to me, makes it that much more important to discuss. He’s hardly the only creator to express such views, and I’m curious as to what reasons he has for coming to that conclusion. That’s what I’m interested in.

  6. If you’re the sort of person (as this student appears to be) who just completely looses his shit when exposed to views that are radically different than his own–and, yes, even views that most rational people would consider offensive–then college is NOT the place you need to be.

  7. Christ almighty. If you don’t want to be exposed to an artist’s worldview, then stop celebrating art at all.

    And who cares what anyone else thinks about Crumb’s statements? I would suggest listening to what he has to say and using his statements as a tool in analyzing his work, and then moving along with your life.

    At least he’s still provocative, I guess.

  8. Oh well, Crumb being Crumb. Crumb’s message is that the art is often to give the devil his due. Maybe we’re little devils deep down and quite proper in the rest of our lives. Maybe we’re even a devil deep down and a brilliant genius and a loving husdband with a wife and daughter and now a grandson.

  9. What gives anyone the balls to make such sweeping generalizations?

    I get the feeling he wants to say that about women, and men hate women, because that’s how he feels and he wants to explain to everyone and himself that it’s normal thinking, when it simply isn’t true.

    R. Crumb get over your own problems on your own time. Shesh.

  10. You’re asking what gives an artist the balls to express himself.

    I’m just amazed at how many people are attacking Crumb for being honest about the sources of his inspiration.

    Do we want artists to show up and lie about things? Are we so angry that the artist sees things differently than we do that we want to beat the “wrong” opinion out of him?

    Very disappointing reactions.

    And thank you Mr. Timothy Patterson for telling us how women really feel.

  11. I’ve often wondered why Crumb has been let off the hook for his controversial views for so long -they haven’t exactly been a secret…

  12. Maximo–as an artist, its his prerogative to put anything he wants out there. It defines him as an artist. Good bad or indifferent. If you don’t like the way it looks, look elsewhere. Just one reason freedom of speech is so nice.

    Just look at the public discourse his comments precipitated.

    p.s. Do you think he’d sign my sketchbook? Does anyone know if he spits in your face if you ask? I assume he’d be from the Alex Ross camp, in thinking that everything he draws will end up on Ebay.

  13. Crumb’s comments about “rape issues” are (entirely!) separate from anything in his Genesis book (or anything else I can remember about his published work for that matter) – to see any of Crumb’s “rape issue” comments as having bearing on what is in The Genesis book… is a rape fantasy.
    if you denounce what is in the Genesis book, you are not denouncing R.Crumb, you are denouncing the origins of most of this world’s existing religion. The Crumb Genesis book is as Mr.C describes it – an accurate presentation of what is to be found in the initial book of The Bible. If you find what is in Crumb’s Genesis book disturbing, it is because you find the origin of most of this world’s existing religion disturbing.

    I could be wrong – but I don’t think so.

  14. Crumb offensive and demeaning to women? Wow that’s a shock, he’s only been doing it for 40 years. Are people really that naive? He’s always been a sleazy dirty old man.

  15. The similarities between Robert Crumb and Dave Sim are uncanny: one you could argue started Underground Comics, the other Alternative Comics, both discovered religion and both share controversial views on women.

  16. I originally thought that it was the school officials who had come down on the teacher. But since it was a student expressing his opinion, he has the right to say what he wants just much as Crumb does (even if I do think he’s incredibly wrongheaded).

    To speak to the point — to me, the key quote by Patterson, the student, is this: “What are the bounds of academic freedom?” he said. “Is it really permissible for any professor to include anything he or she desires in any class?”

    Ashe’s response about the complexity of Crumb’s own feelings about these very issues and how he deals with them in his comics is spot-on. Crumb has always been someone who let his id slide out onto the page and didn’t censor himself. His fearlessless is one of his virtues. To echo Ben Towle’s comments above, if college isn’t the place for the free exchange of ideas, what is?

    Next we’ll hear Patterson exclaiming: “I just discovered that there’s nude women in drawing classes sitting there for HOURS!”

  17. Jim- Exactly. This student is free to find the material offensive…it’s just too bad he felt that he should try and get it censored or banned, rather than discussed. A class like that is the perfect environment for discussion about the very things he brings up about the work. To my mind, professors should be doing exactly what he is…bringing challenging material into his classroom for discussion. If we’re only ever exposed to ideas and opinions we agree with then I’m not sure how well we’re going to function in the real world. And even beyond that, learning how to articulate what we do and do not respond to in work, what we do or do not like, and why is really important.

    I mean, Fun Home and Maus and Diary of a Teenage Girl are all books that contain difficult subjects and depictions of things many people probably find offensive. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom.

    It’s far more interesting and useful to discuss things we find uncomfortable. I can only imagine what the rest of college will be like for this guy, let alone what reading or hearing what some other authors/artists thought about various people, including women.

  18. I never asked about having the balls to express himself I distinctly said.

    “What gives anyone the balls to make such sweeping generalizations?”

    He’s entirely free to express his opinion, comics, school or otherwise, and I have every right to think his opinion that generalizes a whole group of people is weak, twisted and a total waste of time.

  19. Heidi, Sorry to be critical. But all this is actually taking place at the University of Richmond. Virginia Commonwealth University was simply a co-sponsor of the Crumb & Mouly conversation, which actually took place off campus at the Carpenter Theater in downtown Richmond, VA.

  20. If people were wondering just how prevalent rape fantasies are: One recent study found that 62 percent of a group of undergraduates had such fantasies.

    I and several of my sisters went through a bunch of bodice rippers by Rogers, Woodiwiss, and others in the ’70s. I think my sisters thought of the books as simply more passionate fare than the Harlequins, Beagle Books, and other romances they were reading. Men would predictably focus on the rape aspects of the fiction.


  21. “as an artist, its his prerogative to put anything he wants out there.”

    So far as it goes, sure, but I don’t have much time for the argument that art is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Opinions that would be rightly mocked and derided in any other context don’t suddenly become sublime genius just because they’re embedded in fiction. Otherwise, you end up arguing that (say) racism is fine, as long as it’s beautifully worded.

  22. Synsidar, you don’t mention whether the 62% are male, female or both. Kind of a key point.

    In fact, it’s female, according to that one study.

    Studies I’ve read suggest that that some women have rape fantasies for the same reason that some men have rape fantasies — they want a scenario in which they are not in control of their actions and thus free of blame, free will and so on.

    Which doesn’t mean ANYONE really wants to be dragged into a gutter and raped.

    I find Patterson’s objections pretty silly, but as someone somewhere said, saying that such things should be discussed critically is a lot more constructive than saying such things should be banned.

    Personally, I don’t enjoy Crumb’s work the way that I do that of the other five or six greatest American cartoonists, and a lot of that has to do with the subject matter that is disturbing and offensive. That said, now that I’m a bit older, I can see the work more as Crumb grappling with attitudes that he knows are wrong as opposed to simply reveling in them. OTOH, sometimes he did revel in them.

    Crumb using Freud to back up his own theories is highly revealing– Freud’s thinking, ESPECIALLY ABOUT WOMEN and their immature orgasms and all, has been widely discredited. For instance, Freud and his colleague, Dr. Wilhelm Fleiss, believed that women masturbated too much (!) and this malady could be cured by operating on their noses. Look up the sad case of Emma Eckstein for an example of how this worked out:


    Even after half this poor woman’s face collapsed from a yard of infected surgical packing left in her nasal cavity, Freud though that “hysteria” was the cause of her problems.

    Anyway, given the level of misinterpretation and uproar Crumb’s brief tour has engendered, no wonder the guy is a recluse!

  23. “…Studies I’ve read suggest that that some women have rape fantasies for the same reason that some men have rape fantasies – they want a scenario in which they are not in control of their actions…”

    I won’t claim to be an expert …but that sounds about right,

    Alas, whatever the truth- Jack Nicholson was probably right about it.

    I could be wrong — but I don’t think so.

  24. Please edit and correct this article. The event was sponsored by the University of Richmond (not Virginia Commonwealth University). VCU was a partner and produced an excellent online resource guide: http://www.library.vcu.edu/events/crumb/.

    Crumb never made an on-campus appearance at either Univ of Richmond or VCU. The conversation with Crumb and Mouly was at Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage.

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