Earlier this week in my newsletter I wrote about this moment in history and the potential for writers and readers to change the narrative. I had more thoughts than what I included, but it was already long (“a moralizing screed” as one irate reader informed me, and damn right it was), so I compressed it to what felt urgent—to push for justice, to take care of ourselves and each other, to create habits of solidarity rather than short-term reactions—and put the rest aside.
I haven’t been sleeping much, lately. Even before the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I found myself waking in the darkness before dawn each morning, full of dread. I’ve taken to keeping something to read at my bedside just for these times, preferably nonfiction so my brain can chew on that instead of my overwhelming anxiety. Which is how I’ve been reading Warren Ellis: The Captured Ghosts Interviews. There’s plenty to chew on there.
I posted this quote on Instagram earlier today, without really knowing why it leapt out at me—I have no plans on writing superhero comics and if I did I would not write them this way, though it does explain more than a few I’ve read—but then I realized I was still thinking about narratives. Because I read a lot of comics as a kid, and I watched a lot of Very Bad cop shows, and much of the violence I’ve seen in the past ten days feels like a nasty echo of that childhood exposure. How many shows did I watch, how many storylines did I read, valorizing cops who didn’t play by the rules, who shot first and asked questions later, who sneered at due process ? How often was I presented with vigilantism as some kind of moral high ground?
And then I read this quote, this model of superhero stories. It may have been tongue in cheek, but just imagine taking the sex out of a story and replacing it with violence. “Hitting” those emotional beats, literally. Another thing Ellis mentions is how closed Americans are to sex, but I’m not sure if it’s that we’re closed to it or we’re just bad at it, we’re bad at vulnerability. We are, however, aces at violence. I can’t shake the image from my mind: of generations of children reading BAM and KAPOW when there should have been lovemaking or heartbreak. I’m imagining these children, and who they might grow up to be.