Arthur: He’s totally mad, isn’t he?
Ford: Well, the border between genius and madness is very thin
Arthur: Yes, but so’s the Berlin Wall.
New Readers Start Here:
Dave Sim draws a comic about Cerebus, an aardvark who becomes Pope. It used to be very good.
Dave Sim often fills up the spare pages of the comic with essays about his views on the world. These are not so good.
This article quotes extensively from Sim’s anti-feminist writings.
It may offend you. It sure as hell offends me.
Now read on
Is Dave Sim mad?
One hesitates to ask the question. Indeed, one hesitates to wonder whether Dave Sim might be mistaken on any subject whatsoever. His is that particular form of zeal that takes criticism as reinforcement. The more people think him wrong, the more convinced he is that he is right. He wears ‘evil, misogynist Dave Sim’ as a badge of honour. The accusation of madness would doubtless please him even more.
So let’s be clear.
I am not asking whether Sim’s opinions are mad. They are not. Wrong and inconsistent, possibly, but perfectly sane.
I am asking whether the man himself may in fact be several Supermen short of a comic collection.
It is not always easy to work out what Sim actually believes in. Although he writes at great length, he makes such use of rhetoric, quote, misquote, anecdote and satire that the reader often finds himself throwing his arms up in despair and saying ‘So what, actually, is your point here?’ A lot of opinions come tumbling out, but it is hard to discern the thread of the argument.
It is much easier to state what Sim is opposed to. He is opposed to ‘feminism’. But what exactly does he mean by ‘feminism’? Academic lit-crit? Women’s lib? The suffragette movement? At times ‘feminism’ stretches to include pretty much anything that Sim happens not to agree with.
However, I will make a stab at reducing the Simian world-view to two basic propositions:
· Feminism holds that women can both pursue careers and be mothers. Sim thinks that being a mother is a full time role, and that in general women with children should not go out to work. If women do pursue careers, they should pursue them on precisely the same terms as men: no paid maternity leave, no free day care for their children, no expectation that employers will make allowances for their dual role.
· Women rely on intuition and emotion when making decisions; men, more on rationality and thought. It is obvious that the rational approach is better: therefore, feminism, by wishing to place women in positions of authority, has caused the emotionalisation of our society—so that politics tends to be dominated by sentimental appeals to feelings rather than logical appeals to factual arguments. This is a Bad Thing. We can only become a rational society again by putting men back in charge.
This is, I think, a much more moderate statement of the position than Sim himself would recognize. But both propositions, as I have stated them, seem to me to be eminently sane and rational. I’m more inclined to agree with him on the point about society having gone too touchy-feeling, than on the one about how ladies shouldn’t go out to work.
Hanging off these two propositions comes a large number of subsidiary assertions, including
· Abortion is probably a sin and a man should certainly have a say about whether his partner aborts their child.
· Parents should raise their own children, not hand them over to state-employed professionals;
· The requirement of a man to financially support an estranged wife is incompatible with ideas of equality
· It is unfair that women should want all-female social situations but no all-male ones
· Positive discrimination (‘affirmative action’) is as bad as any other kind of discrimination
· It is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child’s bottom.
· It is bad for the public if the strength and height requirements for the police and fire service be lowered to admit female officers
· Individual homosexualists should have equal rights on the law, but they should keep their sexuality a private matter and not engage in gay pride marches
· Animals do not have rights, and we should not sentimentalize them
None of the above is mad, or misogynist, or shocking, or even particularly interesting. It’s a bog-standard right wing agenda. I would be prepared to defend any one of the above points in a debating chamber, with the possible exception of the homosexual one. (We have Gore Vidal to blame for the term ‘homosexualist’, by the way: homosexual is an adjective; homosexualists are those who perform homosexual acts. Apparently this matters.)
Very little of Sim’s writing is actually concerned with asserting or arguing in favour of these specific viewpoints. You are unlikely to hear specific arguments about why we should oppose abortion on demand or support corporal punishment. You are much more likely to hear an exposition of Sim’s total world view. This world view is supposed to explain why almost no-one agrees with him; how feminists and homosexualists hijacked the civil rights agenda and, in an unholy alliance with ‘voodoo professionals’ (which appears to mean child psychologists and social workers) took over the education system and the media and indoctrinated everyone to believe in…well whatever it is that Sim thinks everyone but him believes in nowadays. This is before we even get on to his metaphysics, about how life is male and death is female, and light, mind and intellect is ‘male’ as opposed to the female ‘void’…
It is this world-view which is, it seems to me, at best dissociated from reality and at worst, clinically insane.
There is probably a thesis to be written, tracing the development of the Sim-psychosis in the text portions, of, say Cerebus 181--260. It would take a better man (er…male) than me to write it.
Instead, let’s just sample a few choice example of the Simian mindset.
He believes that most of his opinions would be self-evidently true to ‘real men’ but thinks that there are virtually no real men left in the world. He repeatedly uses the metaphor of the TV show ‘Survivor’, claiming that real men and all who think like them, have been metaphorically ‘voted off the island’. He is so certain that his views are self-evident that at times, he thinks that he only needs to chant ‘two plus two equals four’ to refute a criticism of himself, or his position. For example, this is from a passage arguing that there is no such thing as child poverty (!):
‘We are back in the realms of two-plus-two-does not in fact equal five. The best evidence that we have available would seem to indicate that two plus two in fact, equals four, instead. You can debate the point if you wish, but I can scarcely imagine on what basis you intend to do so. So let me just reiterate for the benefit of the emotionally impaired. There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. Child. Poverty.’
A recent plot development in the comic book turned on the fact that Cerebus felt that he had been dishonoured because he had not been present at the death of his father but had, instead, been with his lover, Jaka. It is perfectly consistent that Cerebus, who has always been represented as a ‘wild man’ or ‘barbarian’ would indeed think this. However, Sim now regards Cerebus’ honour system as the self-evident morals that would be believed by all ‘real men’ everywhere:
‘Personal honour demands that a son be there for his father…Depending on one’s standards (or lack of same) one engages in wanton harlotry with wanton harlots…But to allow one’s taste for pussy to intercede in the far larger and more important realm of one’s relationship with one’s father is (in my view) to erode one’s standards to those of a rutting barnyard beast. …I didn’t really expect many of the boyfriends and husbands in my audience to understand the ending. Such is the pernicious and virtually universal infestation of feminism in the masculine psyche that not only has personal honour gone the way of the dodo, so (it seems to me) has the very concept of personal honour.’ (Ellipsis added.)
Everything seems to be controlled by a small cadre for ‘feminist homosexualists’; and nearly everyone’s opinions can be refuted on the grounds that they have been brainwashed by this feminist-homosexualist axis. Sim has recently got rid of his television and audio equipment, so as not to be corrupted by the feminist media.
This seems to me to be the classic paranoid-fundamentalist mindset: a very small ‘elect’, in possession of the truth who see themselves as besieged by a powerful elite who control everyone else’s thought and expression. It is often possible to believe that you are a member of an oppressed minority and to simultaneously believe that you are silent majority who everyone really agrees with. A lot of the time, Sim seems to see himself as a member of a minority of one.
Dave Sim is celibate.
Nothing wrong with that; so is Cliff Richard. I’m not feeling too well myself.
We have watched Sim’s celibacy develop over the years. At one point, it was only marriage he objected to: artists ought not to marry because domesticity would force them to make artistic compromises for financial reasons. (The pram in the hall is the enemy of promise, and all that.) Then, he started to assert that pornography and masturbation were a better option than dating because they allowed you to remain free and uncommitted. (Phillip Larkin said much the same.) More recently, he tells us that he has even given up masturbation, and finds that ‘if I leave my penis alone, it will leave me alone.’
This assumption that sex is something that mainly happens in your willy seems to me to be deeply dysfunctional. The idea that your mind might be involved in the equation—whether going google eyes when you see a pretty face, or throwing sordid but arousing fantasies at you—seems not to have occurred to him. To Dave, sex appears to mean ‘orgasm’: if you can get an orgasm without recourse to women, that’s good; if you can manage without them altogether, so much the better. (The phrase ‘rutting farmyard beast’ comes to mind.) It would be interesting to know whether he thought that this penis-centric view of sex was what all Real Men believed, and that touchy-feely voodoo professionals have foisted silly ideas about love and relationships (or even sexual fantasies) on us.
This desire to have sex-without-women, or, preferably, to do without it altogether seems to arise out of a genuine disgust in women’s bodies per se. Feminism, you see, is a fiction devised to compensate for the fact that women with they had penises rather than vaginas. (Penis-envy is too weak a word says Dave, suddenly going all Freudian on us. Vagina abhorrence would be nearer the mark.).
I hesitate to reproduce this bit, but still:
‘Taxing the limits of my own not-inconsiderable imagination, I have no doubts that—had I a ‘little friend’ who paid me such ‘visits’—in a desperate attempt to cling to what remains of my sanity in the aftershock of the horrible news ‘sinking in,’ I am certain that I would very quickly set about the business of manufacturing a fairly tale world for myself in which I was in all other regards—indistinguishable from a gender which does not…leak.’ (Ellipsis in original)
The revulsion in the above is striking. (So is its fantastically convoluted grammatical structure.) There was a point where I used to defend Sim against the charge of misogyny. Anti-feminism, even extreme chauvinism, I said, does not amount do hatred of women per se. Disgust at women’s bodies, however, does.
There are probably lots of men who would just as soon not know about what their partners’ bodies get up to at that time of the month. Many women say that they find men’s penises ugly or comical, so I take it that men are allowed to find women’s front bottoms aesthetically displeasing without being labeled as women-haters. What they are not allowed to do is base a political or sociological theory on their likes or dislikes. Really, this is at the level of arguing that homosexuality must be a moral evil because I personally don’t like the idea of anal sex, a view so fatuous that it can usually only be found in the House of Lords.
The question of why menstruation is a worse curse than having an internal organ dangling off the front of you; or why a monthly issue of blood is necessarily more disgusting than a daily issue of shit is left as an exercise for the reader. It’s also worth noting that he plays with the phrase ‘a little friend who pays a visit once a month’ for several paragraphs, as if it proves a point. Has anyone ever heard that euphemism before?
Sim does not believe that women are on the whole more emotional than men, or that most women are more emotional than most men. He believes that Women are emotional and Men are Rational. Period.
Or maybe I should say, full stop.
At times, this seems to extend to a pattern finding mania: working from the particular to the general and always thinking that he can see a secret pattern that well explain everything.
This has been a characteristic of his writing for a very long time. Back when Cerebus was still funny, there was an evil-wizard who discovered magical spells encoded in a children’s book called ‘Blinky Boar and the Strawberry Patch’. But why ‘strawberry patch’ asks Sim? Well, the issue was published in November 1980, and he says that he used this title because the power fantasy of the wizard was related in his minds to issues of gun ownership and he ‘was humming Strawberry Fields Forever when the news (of the Lennon assassination) came over the radio.’ Attaching significance to coincidence and making links between what happens to be in your head and what happens to be going on in the world outside is a perfectly good way for a writer to behave: one might call it ‘imagination’. But believing that these little co-incidences and connections are true and meaningful for the rest of the world risks becoming obsessional. At one time, Sim used to believe in astrology, a religious faith based entirely on the idea that there are meaningful patterns to be found in apparently random events.
Sim has made extensive use of fellow comic book writer Alan Moore’s dictum that ‘all stories are true’. Now, Moore really is a wizard, and he gets he spells from Alastair Crowley, not children’s books. Moore believes that both writers and magicians make connections between disparate events; and that once those connections have been made, they become ‘real’ even if they didn’t exist before: hence all stories are true. What keeps Moore well on the good side of the border between genius and madness is that he sees himself as creating those connections. But Sim seems to believe that he is uncovering simple and obvious patterns, and that anyone who cannot see those patterns must be a fool.
Sim says that his feminist theories came mainly out of research which he carried out for his ‘Mothers and Daughters’ storyline.
‘The research which most contributed to my ‘ideas about women’ was the series of informal interviews I conducted with mothers and daughters…It was really the first time in my adult life that I spoke to women who I found physically unattractive and the first time I spoke to women with any motive besides getting them into bed…That was when I realized that women are emotion-based beings. ‘Once a thing is seen, it can’t be un-seen’…There is little in the way of intellectual value to be derived from revisiting—either mentally or ‘in person’—the simply fact (once discovered) that women are emotion based beings and that (consequently) any female-center or female-originated political movement—more precisely ‘political’ movement—will lack sound intellectual footing.’ (Ellipsis added.)
‘Once a thing is seen it cannot be un-seen.’ This seems to be the language of evangelical religious conversion; or psychedelic drugs. Suddenly, something clicked, and I saw the world differently: I know I didn’t have any evidence, but I don’t need evidence. If you can’t see that it’s true, it’s your fault.
(I enjoyed the bit about never having talked to a woman without a view to having sex with her, by the way. This from a man who was married.)
His study of feminist writing does not seem to be a great deal more extensive than his interviews with ‘real’ women. He doesn’t need to read very much of it to find out that it’s all rubbish.
“Not the voluminous reading of everything from nurse novels to voodoo pop (My Mother, My Self; Our Bodies, Our Selves; Our House-pets, Our, Selves, et al) to Women's Studies [‘...and after all correlatives of the societal norm have been maximized through the intuitive, the nurturing and spiritually nutritive, through the hard-won maturation of our collective emotive a priori dispensation-construct: regarded (herein) not as the mere imitative imposition of the aforementioned ‘will to power’ (the now universally discredited patriarchal model) but a new model founded upon, to reiterate, the intuitive, the nurturing and spiritually nutritive, pursuant to, but not inextricably bound within the ad hoc antecedent culture and/or cultural imperative blah blah blah’]. All I got out of that research, I already knew: a) women want to be raped by rich, muscular, handsome doctors b) women are completely self-absorbed and, thus, see themselves in everything around them and c) feminism is no different from communism in that all of its literature is founded upon convoluted syntax, bafflegab and academic jargon which paints a false (albeit attractive) picture of an unattainable utopia which can be achieved - easily! - by everyone in the world simply and simultaneously (in both feminist and communist literature the ‘crux point’ is invariable) changing their basic nature overnight.” (All punctuation in original)
This is a classic bit of Sim writing: note the way in which he gets carried away by his own joke. He presents his own parody of feminist writings, and concludes from that parody that all feminism is incomprehensible gibberish; he jokingly lampoons the title of the book My Mother, Myself and concludes (on the basis of his lampoon, it seems) that all women are narcissists. He forgets that it’s an imaginary text and imaginary book titles he is attacking. No actual arguments have been presented in either case.
Sim has recently decided to be a Moslim, a Jew and a Christian simultaneously, although he says that he prefers the Jewish scriptures to the other two.
Some of his remarks on this front are actually quite perceptive
‘It seemed to me, on first reading, more a case of the Mature Testament and the Immature Testament. The latter consisting of four separate accounts of the same events which flatly contradict each other (especially the fourth one. Oy.) followed by the Acts, and then (at least until you get to John’s Apocalypse) page and pages of mere commentary. This you call Scripture?’
I leave it to my Jewish readers to tell me whether or not his affecting of stereotyped Jewish language is quite amusing or somewhat offensive.
Many people, wanting to find out about Monotheistic ideas of God, might have started to attend synagogue or requested instruction in the Catholic faith from their local priest. Sim simply read the Bible.
This is typical: one might say he’s being a hyper-rational male. Start from a position of ignorance; select a text to study; study it to distraction; create a theory, move on. Because his study is distinct from any religious movement, one might say from life, he drops some appalling clangers. He declares himself Jewish without, apparently, being aware that the Christian Old Testament is not precisely the same as the Jewish Bible. Because he has no context for his research, he draws conclusions from the texts which are simply absurd. He claims that homosexuality is sometimes a sin and sometimes not, and quotes as his proof text: ‘I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed: one shall be taken and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together: the one shall be taken and the other left.’ Honestly, this would be a really good joke if I didn’t think he actually meant it.
However, the male monotheistic God backs up all of Sim’s theories, and if anything in the various scriptures contradicts them, well then, the scriptures must be wrong. So the mysterious entity called ‘the synoptic Jesus’ who Sim appears to revere could not really have said ‘Whom God hath joined together let not man put asunder’, because marriage is something which the feminist pagans invented, not the Christians. Why do you think it is called matrimony and not patrimony? I give up.
It is sometimes hard to avoid the sense that the argument is running away with itself: that Sim wildly says something extreme for the sheer joy of shocking us.
Some years ago, Sim complained that the feminist (then called ‘maternal dominant’) society had so sentimentalized and idealized children that children were never punished by their parents, and were therefore less well behaved than in the olden days. He added, however, that he agreed that children ought not to be hit. In one of his more recent pieces, he tells us about the serious rise in youth crime, and asserts that this is because parents no longer spank their children. And then—it is really very hard to avoid the sense of someone opinionating wildly, out of control—he adds that it is obvious that since both children and women are non-rational, children and women need to be spanked from time to time.
‘Women and children have soft, cushy buttocks, which are, nonetheless, shot through with reasonably sensitive nerve endings. I believe that those buttocks are there for a very specific purpose intended by their creator.’
If God didn’t approve of smacking, he wouldn’t have given us bottoms. I thought this argument went out with Victorian schoolmasters.
From time to time, people ask me why I bother with Dave Sim. If he is so obviously mad, they say, why not give the comic up; or else, just look at the pictures but ignore Sim’s editorializing.
It’s a good question.
I guess the answer is that I have been buying Cerebus, monthly, since issue 40something. We’re now on issue 265 out of a projected 300. That’s an awful long time to be taking a periodical. I didn’t buy Spiderman consecutively for 18 years, or read Tolkien every month during that period.
For better or worse, Dave Sim has been part of my life for a long time.
During the glory days of ‘High Society’ and ‘Church and State’, we imagined that Sim’s epic would tell the life story of Cerebus the Aardvark. Sadly, it hasn’t really turned out like that. The comic is still remarkable. There is no other artist working in comics today who shows more ingenuity in finding new ways of putting words alongside pictures. On a good day, he can still write a fine one-liner or a powerful dramatic scene. But as the years rolled on the focus of the comic has become less and less on the life of the Short Grey Fellow, and more and more on his creator’s gradual dissociation from the real world.
Sim’s mania has infested the comic: this month, we had a long (and admittedly funny) discourse from Cerebus about how he was happier since he gave up wanting sex (and even wanting to want sex). Cerebus lover, Jaka, has had to mutate from being one of the most truly ‘good’ characters in the story to a ‘spoiled, myopic, insensitive, self-absorbed, and self important harlot princess’ in order to make the point that no real man would ever want to marry a woman. Sim’s religious preoccupations have given us five issues of rather heavy-handed caricatures of the authorized version of the Bible and its interpreters.
The comic that we fell in love with doesn’t really exist any more; the most I can say in its favour is that Sim remains a virtuoso at actually constructing comic book pages.
But the fact that this writer who I used to admire and this comic that I used to enjoy is crumbling before my eyes…well, I can’t look away. The process is fascinating; tragic but fascinating. I guess the comic was always about Dave, and having cheered him on during his battles with editors and distributors and taken him almost as a hero in proving everyone else wrong about the self-publishing movement: well, I want to see the end of the story, sordid as that end seems to be.
It rather looks like the comic, and maybe Sim himself, is going to die alone, unmourned and unloved.
The complete text of the notorious text portion of Cerebus #186 is online
The complete text of Sim’s most recent and ‘final’ statement of his position, entitled ‘Tangents’ is online
A long, long correspondence between Alan Moore and Dave Sim about magic and mysticism as they relate Moore’s novel From Hell is online