Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Medical Procedure That Dare Not Speak Its Name (Fables #19, 2003)

Note: I love Fables, but just started reading the TPBs, so I'm about a couple of years behind the rest of you.


Main Heroes: Snow White, Bigby Wolf
Minor Heroes: Little Boy Blue, Flycatcher, King Cole

Ambiguous: Prince Charming

Major Villains: Little Red Riding Hood


Little Red Riding Hood "escapes" through the Canada gate and hitches a ride with some friendly guards down to Fabletown. She appears to be attacked by goblins, and barely escapes. Snow White gets a premonition of danger from Colin, the be-headed Pig. While Boy Blue counts Bluebeard's loot, Bigby challenges King Cole on allowing Prince Charming to get off easy after he killed him, just because the assets went to Fabletown. Meanwhile, Snow White gets a clean bill of health by her obstetrician, Dr. Swineheart. After discussing their joint fetus, Snow White and Bigby together uncover Prince Charming's plan to run for mayor and unseat King Cole. On the final page, Red Riding Hood shows up, requesting sanctuary.


So, you're reading a Vertigo Comic Book! You know what that means! R-rating! Full frontal nudity! Implied strong sexual situations! Uncensored profanity! Girl on bear sex! And a congenital inability to say that particular "A" word -- no, not Adultery, of Scarlet Letter fame. No sin there! I'm talking about that Other A word. The one that rhymes with Contortion and Distortion and Disproportion.

It's Fables #19, and we seem to be Pro-Life in a kind of Pro-Choicey kind of way, or is it Pro-Choice in a kind of Pro-Lifey way. Anyway, whatever the way is where maybe you think that Abortion (there, I said it!) should be legal, or at least you're not out protesting it, but anyone who gets one should probably rot in a firey pit somewhere. You know --the same way we defend the rights of the Klan to march through Jewish neighborhoods on free speech grounds, even though we all agree what we think of their speech.

I think that even the majority of people who call themselves pro-Lifers make minimal exceptions for:

(1) rape;
(2) incest; and
(3) being impregnated by a different species while you are both rendered unconscious by a magic spell.

Or maybe (3) is just implied. Anyway, here's the verbatim dialog from Fables, where you are free to say "Fuck" or "Shit" with impunity:

Dr. Swineheart: You can get dressed now. The pregnancy is coming along fine.
Snow White: No it isn't. Nothing is "fine" about it. It's going to ruin my life, my standing in the community and what's left of my reputation.
DS: If that's the way you feel about it, you do have options. This is the twenty-first century, after all.
SW: Stop right there, Doctor Swineheart. Don't you dare finish that thought.
DS: But I only --
SW: Have you forgotten how to tell your Mundy and Fable patients apart, or do you imagine I've gone native?
DS: I brought it up because it's obvious you're not happy about --
SW: Since when is our happiness of primary consideration? Some of us are still governed more by duty and responsibility. Don't bring it up again, doctor, if you want to remain part of Fabletown.

So maybe some might think that I'm focusing on the symptom instead of the disease. Maybe, you think, "the point is not that we can say the F-word, but have to substitute "Options" and "It" for "Abortion". Maybe the point is that Snow White is discussing her "responsibility" and "duty" to a brood of wolven fetuses that she had no cognitive input in creating (being enchanted by Goldilocks at the time). What definition of "responsibility" is that wherein you become "responsible" for something you had no responsibility at all for! " And you'd have a point.

But, for me, it's never about the character's viewpoints. I have no problem loving a pro-life character, or a character who has any number of views that I disagree with on some level. Sure it would have made more sense if Snow had said, "I am pro-life, and don't support abortion even in the case of rape, so I will live by those convictions here." Maybe, then, I'd write a different critique.

What disturbs me is the writer who can't quite get up the gumption to say the word. The pussyfooting doctor, and the patient who jumps down his throat before he can put his pussyfoot down. I'm reminded of the old TV shows where the word "pregnant" was banned, and you had to say, "My wife is in a family way!" Now, apparently, its fine to say "pregnant", or "sex", or "I am now cutting your head off with a rusty hacksaw", but if a character ever chose to get an abortion, Dr. Swineheart would be reduced to saying, "She's not in a family way anymore."

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Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
I'm reminded of the old TV shows where the word "pregnant" was banned, and you had to say, "My wife is in a family way!"

I like to go even further back, and talk about "confinement." How very interesting that in the 19th century, a woman was "confined" while pregnant.

The "A" word issue is so touchy. I taught Larkin's "This Be The Verse" yesterday, and no one batted an eye at the language. But when I said "Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" at times has been read as an abortion metaphor, everyone got very upset, just by the very use of the "A" word (even though that poem has been used as propaganda for the anti-abortionists).

1:18 PM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Hi Amy:

I think we've been programmed to be skeeved. It becomes easier to think and talk directly about Sue Dibney (and her unborn child) being killed than to think and talk about abortions.

We are jaded to killing, torturing, and maiming, but when it comes to abortion, we can't even get the words out.

2:02 PM  
Blogger baby221 said...

Funny, I was thinking the same thing when I read that issue. "What, the good doctor can't even say something like 'Well you know you could always abort' -- he's got to say, 'Well you have other, hrm hrm, options, hrm hrm'?!" It's bloody New York City, I'm pretty sure they call an abortion an abortion there.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. When I read that page, I just assumed, from the way the two characters talked about it, that abortion must still be considered illegal in the Fable community.

The doctor is very cautious and roundabout in introducing the topic, as if he's not sure how she'll react to it, and perhaps as if he wants to protect himself. You know, give himself some deniability. The language that Snow uses to reject him is all about duty to the community, not the sacredness of life. She accuses him of mixing her up with a Mundy. She warns him that if he brings it up again, he'll be exiled.

Fabletown is a seperate community with its own laws. This exchange said to me that Abortion is considered a crime in Fabletown, not just morally, but legally, and carries some very stiff penalties. Probably has to do with the fact that it has such a small population base, with no new immigrants coming in.

However, this was all inferred. And you're right, it should be clarified and specifically stated somewhere in the text, if not in that particular exchange, where the characters have reason to dance around it, then later on.


5:59 PM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Fabletown is a seperate community with its own laws. This exchange said to me that Abortion is considered a crime in Fabletown, not just morally, but legally, and carries some very stiff penalties. Probably has to do with the fact that it has such a small population base, with no new immigrants coming in.

Hi Dani,

Interesting thoughts, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. First of all, the "laws" of Fabletown aren't externally enforceable. They are only a community to the extent that they all choose to be.

More importantly, though, while there is a small population base with no new immigrants, they are also remarkably steady, with no "normal" deaths and an unlimited lifespan. Nearly every birth increases the population.

As a result, there's really no difference between a "regular" population where, say, 1-2% of the population die each year, and another 1-2% are born, leaving a stable (but changing) total, and a Fable population with no births and no deaths, leaving a stable (and unchanging) total.

If anything, it would seem to be the Fables' "responsibility" not to overpopulate their area, since births don't get to take the place of deaths.

For those reasons, I don't see anything "special" enough about Fables to think that their abortion laws shouldn't be examined the same way that Mundies' are.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Fanboy said...

Interesting observation. The women I know who admit to having an abortion don't often say it outright and dance around the subject like Snow White did, for what that's worth.

12:38 PM  
Blogger AltWorlder said...

I think that Willingham was just trying to avoid politicizing the issue by having them outright talk about it. But why would the doctor bring it up then, you ask? I think it's used there to show how Fables operates on a whole different set of cultural mores than from ours.

5:24 PM  

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