Cerebus the Aardvark: Appendix


The only reason I went for that goal is that I wanted to say "Now, mummy-daddy, will you love me?" -- John Lennon

I have been re-reading Swords of Cerebus for Old Time's Sake.

They are very, very funny.

I have now also read Cerebus #227, which includes part two of Sim's 'Mamma's Boys' essay. There is apparently a part three to come, and for all I know a part four and a part five. It may turn out to be part of 300 issue epic.

Part two irritated me even more than part one, if that were possible. I will limit my comments to two passages, and then shut up.

In my article on part one, I drew a connection between the 'guyism' that Sim seemed to be talking about and the institutionalised nastiness of some English and American schools. The ostensible purpose of 'discipline' is to instill good behaviour. But the real purpose is very often to provide a pretext for some minor act of cruelty in the belief that it will 'make a man of you.' It is quite gratifying to find Sim, in the new essay, putting forward that viewpoint explicitly; almost in so many words:

'I think the danger that I see most often in this day and age is that it has become far more possible for boy to grow up essentially and completely feminized. I think this is particularly true of day care centers and a school system that has so completely abandoned any notion of discipline...that such feminization seems inevitable.'

It may be true that 'schools' have abandoned discipline. Every generation thinks that the young people today are not as well behaved as they used to be. But perhaps on this occasion, it is true. That isn't the point. The point is that Sim does not lament the lack of discipline because it produces naughty children who grow up to be bad citizens and criminals. He laments it because it causes children to be 'feminized'. I take it that 'discipline makes a man of you' and 'lack of discipline causes boys to grow up completely feminized' are synonymous.

He continues:

A maternal dominant society is going to see babies as immaculate, beatific, intrinsically good creatures. (...) Any Saturday afternoon spend at the mall or a family-values environment will refute the argument. What you end up with are undisciplined, wilful, noisy, destructive, self-obsessed little balls of Id protoplasm. Safe as houses, to be sure. Not only in no danger of being struck by a parent, slapped by a parent spanked by a parent but in no danger of being chastised by a parent, of hearing a word of discouragement from a parent....'

Note that, as Eskimos have 64 words for snow, so the English-speaking world can muster 4 synonyms for 'thumping children' in a single sentence.

When I go to malls, supermarkets and burger-bars I am not shocked at how undisciplined the children are. It does not shock me to see children being childish, any more than it shocks me to see dogs being doggish. (I would rather not have either sitting next to me on a long train journey, I admit.) What shocks me is how much aggression parents direct at their children. You little shit, you've got the milkshake haven't you, sit down and shut up, for christ's sake, can't you. Do you know how much money I spent on you today? Are you grateful? THWACK! I don't say that if I had to look after two noisy annoying and demanding little children for 24 hours a day, I would be a model of patience, either.

The claim that children never here a word of discouragement, let alone punishment, from their parents sounds suspiciously like altering the facts to fit your views.

He then goes off the rails completely:

Having asserted the maternal-dominant theory society-wide that children are in no way, at no time and under circumstance to experience any kind of physical pain directed at them by a parent (with which I agree) society seem to me to have hurtled along a trajectory from the point of that decision. Yelling is out, since it can bruises the infant sensibilities and instil life long trauma....'

The parenthesis is very revealing. He ascribes the received wisdom that smacking is wrong to 'the maternal dominant culture'. But then he says he agrees with it. He ridicules the idea that yelling can be equally bad; and goes on to complain (correctly in my view, but I'm a mamma's boy) that parents who withdraw treats and toys as a punishment are giving kids mixed messages about materialism. So what, exactly, is he saying? The champion of Male Thought over Female Emotion has turned into an incoherent Daily Telegraph pundit.

'When I were a lad, nanny used to roast me over hot coals. Shocking, of course. Don't approve of it for a minute. But I'm glad she did it. Made me the man I am today.'

Sim is at pains to point out that, in attacking mother's boys, he is not attacking mothers.

From what I have read of John Lennon, he was indeed a 'mamma's boy', very much attached to his mother, Julia. He was also a 'toff'. He certainly did not shy away from the demands of the sorting out process. Nor could he have considering what sort of an environment Liverpool was and is.'

Sim concedes that part of Lennon's greatness comes from the fact that he was, at some level, a mamma's boy. Part of Lennon's greatness came from the fact that Julia Lennon 'believed in a dreamy eyed boy filling notebooks with squiggly little drawings and nonsense verse'. Elvis also had a mother who believed in him; Sim thinks it would be a very good thing if all boys had such mothers.

It appears that Sim has extended the meaning of 'mamma's boy', from 'boy who doesn't know his place in the pecking order' to 'male person who is very much attached to his mother.' You can't, after all, get much more of an archetypal 'guy' than the Early John Lennon ('there were so many whores and groupies that our dicks nearly dropped off'). If Sim is telling us that someone can be both a guy and a mother's boy, then the terms have become too confused to be any use to us.

Of course, Lennon was not raised by his mother, but by his Aunt Mimmi, who did not 'believe in him' or 'encourage him' in the required sense. She famously told him that his guitar was okay as a hobby, but he would never make a living out of it. The Julia Lennon who John idealised and revered (and who was the subject of two of his best songs) was an absent mother who was killed just as he was getting to know her again. The Later Lennon addressed Yoko as 'mother' and retired from music in order bring up his second son. It is clear that he worked very hard to ensure that Sean grew up to be a mother's boy, even though he was being brought up by, er, his father. One might also point to the ringing endorsements of guy culture and machismo in Lennon's music:

'They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever, and they despise a fool
So eventually you learn to deal with it
Discover your place in the pecking order and progress to manhood
A working class hero is something to be.'

I am not merely scoring points because Sim happens to have chosen as his example a subject which I have been reading a lot about recently. Lennon happens to be a very bad example of what Sim is talking about. Lennon's relationship with women, with other men, with his real and substitute mothers and with his sons was far too complicated to generalise into 'guy' and 'mothers boy'.

I am pretty sure that if I had read anything about Elvis Presley, then I would find that he was too complicated to fit with Sim's model. So am I; so, I'll wager, is Mr Dave Sim.

People are people. Human beings are too complicated, and too different from one another, for Sim or anyone else to generalise about what is good for them.

I also re-read 'Rick's Story', the current Cerebus plot arc, as far as it goes. It wasn't as funny as Swords, but it was very much cleverer. And it made me laugh. Several times. Dave Sim is still a very good comic book artist.