Category Archives: Alison Bechdel

Hot Air

God’s Blue Devils

Imagine what an uptight little shit you have to be if you’re one of those Duke University freshmen who refuses to read Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home — even though you’ve been assigned it and, well, y’know, when the teach tells you to read a book, you read the book, no?

Fun Home Book Cover

No. Not if you’ve been brought up to believe your psyche, your emotions, your faith in god, perhaps even your very physical safety are threatened by the reading of a book. That the teacher has assigned, I might remind you.

Today’s screech follows seamlessly on the heels of yesterday’s, wherein I flogged the book, F*ck Feelings, a manifesto against the holy worship of people’s sensitivities these days. And nowhere are emotions more fragile than on college campuses in the year 2015. Many, many college and university instructors are feeling a chilling effect should they dare to bring up a topic in the classroom that may discomfit their snowflake students. Law school professors feel a pall in their classrooms when they tackle tough issues — for instance, teaching rape law may “traumatize” certain squeamish students. Hell, Northwestern University communications professor Laura Kipnis was brought up on Title IX discrimination charges because she wrote an opinion piece saying, essentially, college kids ought to stop seeing themselves as eternal victims.

The new campus rage is not drug- or sex- or fashion-related; it’s the notion of “trigger warnings.” One must alert anyone within earshot if one wishes to discuss a topic that just might cause the listener or eavesdropper a nightmare.

And the latest example of all this tsk-tsking is the Duke book controversy. Duke at the beginning of each school year assigns incoming freshmen a book to read before move-in day. The U. calls it one of the facets of its “Common Experience Program,” which is pedagoguese for Let’s make the kids do something uplifting in the summer before they come here for the twin purposes of drinking and fucking their brains out.

Duke selected Fun Home, Bechdel’s recollection of growing up lesbian with a closeted gay father and a distracted mother — which has won awards and been staged as a Broadway musical, fer chrissakes! — because it is:

[A] book like no other. The author uses the unique graphic medium to tell a story that sheds a lot of light on important and weighted issues like mental health, interpersonal relationships and human rights, all critical issues that students become acquainted with in college.



Except a bunch of Christianist students have refused to read the book because, as one said:

[I]t would be dishonoring to God [sic] for me to read it and view it.

It’s not known at this time whether the student quoted above would refuse to read, say, Mein Kampf or In Cold Blood should those volumes be assigned in class. Then again, neither mentions lesbianism so they must be okay — brutal murders and genocidal philosophies notwithstanding

A lot of this has to do with the disturbing new business model colleges and universities are adopting: Students are really “customers” now — and, business school teachers tell us, the customer’s always right.

Even if they’re uptight little shits.

Me? I’ve got both of Bechdel’s family memoirs in my core library (Are You My Mother? is the sequel to Fun Home). They’re brilliant. As a visual artist, Bechdel is superb. She’s an even better storyteller. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss, Oh, the places you’ll go! when you leaf through A.B.’s pages. And isn’t that the point of going to college?

Duke officials are wringing their hands trying to figure out how to solve this “controversy.” I’ve got a simple solution for them: Flunk the little bastards.


Hot Air


The MacArthur Foundation has released its 2014 Fellows list and — whaddya know? — graphic novelist Alison Bechdel has scored a prize for, as the org. puts it, “redefining” the memoir.

Bechdel has written a couple of graphic memoirs entitled Fun Home and Are You My Mother? She became known a few years ago for her strip Dykes to Watch Out For.

Book Cover

I’ve hammered on this before and I’ll continue to do so: You have to get into graphic novels. They’re not just superheroes and Watchmen or fantasy cosplay stuff. The first GN I ever read was J. Edgar Hoover: A Graphic Biography by Rick Geary. Trust me when I say it was ten times more compelling and informative than any other conventional biography of one of this holy land’s most evil 20th Century villains.

Large swaths of Bechdel’s story lines concern her struggles as a starving artist. Scoring the Mac. Fellowship happily ought to ease the money crunch for her for a while at least.

The Fndn. also tossed kudos and scratch in the direction of labor activist Ai-jen Poo, who has been a lifelong labor organizer for domestic workers. She co-founded Domestic Workers United and then moved on to executively direct the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her groups have been instrumental in getting  domestic workers’ protection laws passed in numerous states.

MacArthur 2014

Ai-jen Poo (L) & Alison Bechdel

The annual Fellowships are known popularly as the MacArthur Genius Grants. The Foundation awards the grants to selected US citizens who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” The grants, now standing at $625,000 to each awardee, are designed to allow artists, thinkers, and activists a very comfortable five-year window to create, think, and be active w/o worrying about next month’s rent.

Past winners include:

  • Stephen Jay Gould paleontologist
  • Robert Penn Warren poet & author
  • Cormac McCarthy author
  • Elaine Pagels historian
  • John Sayles filmmaker
  • Harold Bloom literary critic & humanities professor
  • Merce Cunningham choreographer
  • Marian Wright Edelman children’s actvist
  • James (The Amazing) Randi illusionist & educator



  • Thomas Pynchon author
  • Max Roach jazz drummer
  • Erroll Morris documentary filmmaker
  • Susan Sontag author
  • Taylor Branch historian
  • Twyla Tharp dancer



  • Ornette Coleman jazz musician & composer
  • Adrienne Rich poet
  • Cindy Sherman photographer
  • Anna Deavere Smith playwright & actor
  • David Foster Wallace author
  • Katherine Boo journalist
  • Lydia Davis poet
  • Alex Ross music critic
  • Edwidge Danticat author



  • Junot Diaz author
  • Karen Russell author

Altogether, there’ve been nearly 1000 MacArthur Fellowship winners with a total take of some $375 million. Money, my friends, that’s been well-spent.

Voter Fraud?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the place — but the Art Institute of Chicago is the world’s greatest museum?

From CNN Online

Has the Louvre been closed down? Any and all of the Smithsonian facilities?

Oh, That Little Thing?

I guess we know where the Indy Star stands on that mini-controversy brewing in Liberty, Indiana.

Liberty is the home of Whitewater State Park where a privately-funded memorial to deceased military veterans stands. The memorial, an eight-foot tall, chainsaw-carved eagle perched on a stump also has a white cross at its base. A couple of humanist groups are making noises about suing the state for displaying a religious symbol. The Center for Inquiry and the Freedom from Religion Foundation both have sent letters to Gov. Mike Pence, objecting to the cross.

Even though private citizens and veterans groups paid for the sculpture, the fact that it stands on public grounds strikes certain folk as a subtle endorsement of the cross religion by the state. The Guv, meanwhile, has harrumphed, “The freedom of religion does not require freedom from religion.”

In an example of how everybody from corporate media types to lowly, humble bloggers can color an argument with subtle wordage, the Indy Star this morning headlined its online piece on the controversy thusly:

Tiny Indiana cross draws lawsuit threat from 2nd secular group

Indy Star 20140917

The cross, see, is tiny. Hardly worth getting all het up over. The implication, natch, is that these “secularists” are nit-picky pains in the ass.

And you know what? The Indy Star is right. Humanists (or, if you prefer, secularists) are indeed nit-picky pains in the ass. If you believe, as I do, in an inviolate wall between church and state, then any cross or Star of David or the star and crescent, no matter how big or small, is an affront when it’s on public property.

Here’s my humanist line: You’re free to worship anybody or anything you’d like. Only don’t expect me to pay for it through my tax dollars. And don’t go erecting even 14-inch tall crosses in my state park, especially when it’s doubtful you’d ever — ever — erect a plaque bearing the Takbīr there.

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