Travis Hedge Coke
It is easy to agree to not let others tell you what you truly enjoy or only falsely believe you do. It is easy to say, to each their own. But to live it? We judge the entertainments of others, despite ourselves. We apologize for our entertainments. How many of us will say, “I know it’s a bad movie, but I love it,” or “I know it’s cheap crap, but I love it”?
The concept of “false delights” is bullshit.
It’s easy to generalize and say comics readers have poor reading comprehension, or to narrow it a bit, and claim it’s superhero fans, or horror fans, readers of indie books or artsy stuff, erotica, action comics. And, doing so, we can all pull up some anecdotes of readers who could not follow a scene from a comic, who humorously missed the point of a story, who did not put words and images together to get even the basic information out of them, like a name hovering next to a person being their name. It’s also easy to pick creative talent and insist their fans are “worshiping” them, that they are blind to their faults in the fervor of their cultish fandom. This is where you deploy the “your god” or “drink the Kool-Aid” jokes, of that’s your thing, others will opt for “you have been tricked into liking it,” or “the fans who don’t know any better.”
Many of you, I’d wager, have read at least one professional piece of writing specifically constructed along these lines. It is, at this point, received wisdom; we know that X have terrible reading comprehension skills and embarrassing taste, the implication being that they are ignorant, unskilled, and immature compared to us. Yet, we have all, at some point in our lives, missed the point of some entertainment, we have all missed or misunderstood critical information in a piece of entertainment. And, just as that Kool-Aid line is misleading, so too, these proclamations that condemn entire demographics are misdirection that rewards only some pomposity inside us.
The first round of Jonestown victims were tricked into drinking the poison, believing it was perfectly fine, un-poisoned drink, while the rest were forced at gunpoint and under threat of more violent death to imbibe. It’s luck of the draw, being a Garfield or Aquaman fan, but if you’re tricked into thinking this comic will be innocuous, and something is rotten in Denmark, it won’t kill you. If you see it’s bad, you don’t have to do it. No one is going to stick a gun to your neck and force you to read a pompous biography comic with squirrely art by the amateurish writer if you don’t want to.
And, it’s not a religious fervor, either, for almost everyone. Sure, we can find the one dude who has to buy every Superman comic ever, but they are deriving some pleasure from it, even if that pleasure is masochistic.
Masochistic pleasure is still and always pleasure. It is not being fooled into believing one is being pleasured, forced or tricked into feeling enjoyment where there is none. All pleasure is genuine pleasure.
And most of our pleasure is not even but slightly tinged with masochism, at least not in that way. Most entertainment is about the tension we agree to experience, that slight sting of the lovers who are being kept apart, the soldier injured in the field and unloved by the folks back home as he trenches through horrors to achieve what we do not know. We pay for the delay, we enjoy the hardships as much as the eventual ease we hope is at the end. There is that small masochism implicit in all but the most casual or nostalgic of stories, and even they make the pretense. But, it isn’t for the pain we read comics, but the pleasure found, even if it is found in the pain. It’s the pleasure that is important.
We cannot judge another’s pleasure. We don’t want others judging ours. But, we find ourselves, I’m sure, every one of us, judging someone’s entertainment as if we can decide for them what they truly appreciate and what are false enjoyments. We may moralize on the indulgence of others in WildCATs or xxxHolic, this genre or that, in following a particular artist or character from comic to comic, but if someone told us we weren’t genuinely enjoying what we like, we would be offended, perhaps to our core.
The concept of “false delights” is bullshit. That kind of moralizing is aesthetically interesting, to ruminate on, but it’s absurd when it becomes diktat. You can neither force pleasure nor mandate that others do not experience it. You don’t like bad comics, you don’t like shitty comics. You like good comics. You love great comics. Those comics aren’t for everyone, they won’t work their magic for everyone, but no comic ever can. When they work for you, they are good. Make no apologies.