Posted by: Brian Hibbs on June 9, 2011
Question 4: Structure of the argument and choices of presentation. I don’t know if I would have thought this if it weren’t for the appendixes, but it seems to me that Brown undercuts his own argument pretty deeply. I absolutely believe that the ending of the book really trumps much of what Brown was saying throughout, but that’s not even what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more of “most sex workers aren’t slaves” or “…aren’t on drugs”, yet as I was reading the book I thought “that woman is a sex slave” and “that one is clearly faced on something” — and this is Brown reinterpreting through comics a recollection he had based on a jotted note on his calendar, presumably intended to support what appears to be a conscious argument. So, like, if I’m getting this feeling at a fourth-hand distance, what must the reality be like? Further, I’m not even sure that Brown picked the best examples to support his own argument — if you really want to establish that these transactions are healthy and sane, then shouldn’t you be showing all sides of it? Most of the women were maddeningly not-people, and I kind of want them, not the customer, to tell me that they are safe. So, my question becomes: did the choices that were made of what and how to argue work for you? Not “do you buy the argument?”, mind — more that if the argument is well constructed.
ABHAY: I didn’t spend too much time with the appendices. As a life-long Democrat, I’m rather predictably more favorable towards hearing about prostitution than Libertarianism. My family crest has “Prostitution, not Libertarianism” on it, with pictures of Gary Hart and Ted Kennedy underneath. I got a big whiff of “the market” off the appendices and ran the other way. Banging whores I want to hear about, but the elaborate rhetorical edifices that libertarians construct around their orgasms– no thanks. That’s really not of significant interest of me. Especially not when Brown’s “argument” relies in part on Canada’s socialist health care system taking care of, e.g., the probably-underage hooker screaming “Ow” over and over while Brown fucked her. The market and property rights didn’t make sure that her pussy was okay after whatever Brown subjected it to; socialist health-care did.
There’s one, though– Appendix 3. Which– I don’t judge Brown for having sex with women for money, at all, in the slightest– but I judge him for writing Appendix 3 because I think it’s some fucking astoundingly silly shit. I think early reviews have been exceptionally kind maybe to the point of sycophancy with respect to Appendix 3. Appendix 3 is the one about how Chester Brown thinks the universe might operate when prostitution is “normalized”– here’s just a tiny quote from it: “The next day, Mary tells her friends about the date. They all have sex for money too, so none of them are shocked.” It goes on and on about Mary the Hat Clerk who Fucks For Money (Whose Mom is Also a Prostitute … Because, I guess, Hey, All Women Are, Deep-Down…???). And it’s him describing this enchanted wonderland, Chester Brown’s Whoresylvania, this magical gumdrop land where everyone is thrilled to be selling their bodies for money, rainbows sell blowjobs to marshmallows, Snuggles the Dryer-Softener Bear will kick-fuck you to climax for $100 a half-hour, et cetera. I was not sympathetic to Appendix 3, but I suppose I imagine freedom as being something more than letting poor women decide how much they charge people to fuck them– I guess I’m a dreamer, that way.
The other one that jumped out at me was Appendix 14 (“Exploitation”), where…Here’s a quote: “Yes, some prostitutes are exploited when most or all of their money is taken by pimps, but not all prostitutes are exploited.” That sounds reasonable– I’d like to believe that’s true, that “not all prostitutes are exploited.” However– like Brian, I had the same reaction that… at least a few of the prostitutes Brown actually fucked? Exploited! So exploited! I don’t think I agree with Matt Seneca’s argument that ALL of the women in the book are exploited– but the foreign women raised what I hope are obvious issues. Brown seems oblivious to the fact he’s promoting the benefits of being a white guy who has impoverished third world women chauffeured to his country to reduce the cost of his sexual degeneracy. Maybe someone who worships the market blindly would be okay with the West literally ejaculating onto the faces of the Third World, but I don’t know if “some are exploited, some aren’t, derpdy-derp” even begins to acknowledge an iota, a sliver, a fucking fraction of the issues of consent that raises…?
Plus: I just think it’s ludicrous that Brown removing any indication of the race of the prostitutes, that people are buying this ad copy that he’s somehow “protecting the women” rather than himself. Toronto’s maybe the most multi-cultural city on the North American continent– who the fuck thinks that anyone is out there saying to themselves, “Aah, the fact that Chester Brown drew the girl saying ‘No Speak English’ with Asian features means that it must be Susy Kwan, and I must punish her! Your time is nigh, Suzy Kwan!”-? That city is bursting with minorities– Chester Brown’s not outing any of them with “No Speak English.” For me, removing the women’s races spoke to something darker than that. He’s drawing this comic about him running around buttfucking all these whores, but then, like, oh, saints preserve us that anyone might think there are any racial implications to the whores he’s selecting. Heavens forfend! “Buttfucking the hookers, I applaud, but let’s not bring race into this. That would offend my delicate sensibilities.” I think doing that was a way of closing off any consideration that Brown was not just a heroic participant in the market, stabbing his property rights into dry vaginas with his half-erect penis, but also to prevent the reader from recognizing Brown as being the beneficiary/perpetrator of imperialism.
(Plus, on just a I’m-a-Creep level: I guess I was curious what kind of girls he sought out once given a level of choice that he’d not had in his life previously? After the Knives Chau character dumped him, did he seek out young Asian girls to obtain a weird sort of revenge that he couldn’t admit to himself? Maybe I was the only one that had that question, but …)
But do I think any of that “undercuts his argument?” Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know that I care too much because I’m not especially invested in the argument-side of what Brown was doing. I certainly don’t care if guys go to see prostitutes– I guess based on the foregoing that I’d prefer for people to buy local, though, as it turns out. And I don’t care if it gets decriminalized or regulated– though I think I’d probably wind up preferring regulated since I live in the actual real world, and not Brown’s Whore-Epcot, where we’ll all get paid by the Canadian government to draw comics and we can pay the checkout girl at Anthropologie $100 for a half hour of analingus. The city I live in decriminalized marijuana but failed to regulate it, and that’s had pluses & minuses– based on that experience though, I suspect I’d prefer some efforts at regulation. There’s something to be said for zoning, at the very least (though I did enjoy when drug dealers converted the KFC in my neighborhood into a “pharmacy”). But besides that, I guess since I didn’t need persuading to Brown’s point-of-view, the question of whether his arguments do or don’t hold up to the reality he’s presenting didn’t really matter to me, as I viewed this 40-something year old guy’s need to even “make arguments” to feel good about the lifestyle he found for himself as maybe being the true tragedy of the piece, far moreso than the peculiarities of how Brown obtained sexual gratification. It’s a comic about a guy who keeps telling himself he doesn’t care what other people think and then spends the entire comic proving otherwise. It succeeds for me maybe despite Brown, not because of him…?
TUCKER: I don’t know how much further I can go down the “I think this book is crap evidence for anything serious” road without seeming like I hate Brian, Chester Brown, comics and myself. I don’t! And yet, the appendixes are curdled with stuff where Chester just says “nah, it ain’t that bad” and then he footnotes some book he read that he introduces by explicitly saying that it agrees with his point of view, and I’m left wondering: what the fuck? Guys like Steve Coll make sure to footnote page numbers and present actual quotes when they’re writing about war and corporate crime, hell, the guys who wrote the Kurt Cobain bios I read in high school even took the time to tell you where the actual words “Kurt really loved shooting up heroin” came from. Chester writes things like “human trafficking: not a big deal” and his footnote says “the best book I read about how human trafficking wasn’t a big deal is called ‘human trafficking is not a big deal’ and you should read it”. Man up, dude. Where’s all this information coming from? Who said it? Why are they right? What page is that line you’re quoting from? Take this appendix and compare it to the backmatter of any serious non-fiction book on anything–the superrunners of Africa, the original Friday Night Lights, a book about the collapse of AT&T–and you’ll see a pretty major difference in terms of what rules you’re supposed to follow when you’re playing the research paper game.
JEFF: Although I feel like I’ve been the designated Brown apologist throughout this discussion, the appendices are indefensible, plain and simple. Everything Tucker says should be printed on a slip of paper and inserted into every edition of the book. Unlike in the cartooning section of the book where I think Brown is in control of every choice he makes and presents exactly what he wants, I really can’t imagine Brown wants to present himself as a sloppy researcher truly uninterested in being challenged on what he thinks (or giving people the materials to do so)…and yet that’s precisely how the Brown of the appendices comes off. They are, to put it lightly, a horrible misfire that undercuts the majority of the book.