Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Wedding Vowels (Fables #50)

A: Absolute Surrender.

First, Karen objects to this page from Fables #50, where, after several pages of romantic words, Bigby proposes to Snow.

"Okay, you've defeated me. You win."

Karen's response:

Me: “Yeah, right. Defeated her. Because love metaphorically described a game where marriage involves winning for men and defeat for women isn’t at all problematic.”

Actually, my take was exactly the opposite. Traditionally, marriage has been considered a "win" for the woman, and a "loss" for the man -- whose goal is stereotypically to continue getting the "milk for free" for as long as possible. Snow's "You've defeated me" I took as a reversal of the "usual" game, with the man pressing marriage and the woman resisting.

Certainly, there is a strong argument that marriage shouldn't be "winning" or "losing" for anyone. But here it wasn't really the marriage that I saw as the "defeat", but rather Snow's inability to stay angry.

In any event, it is certainly ambiguous, and while I was not offended, it is certainly worth discussing. There are several good responses to that point in her own thread.

E: Exchanging Vows

For proposal and acceptance, we quickly move to the wedding, with King Cole officiating.

"Wilt thou obey him and serve him . . ."

Karen engages in book throwing:

Me: “She said WHAT? WILLINGHAAAAAAAAAAAAAM! *book toss*”

Straight out of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, folks, Snow White promises to obey and serve her husband.

As the kids say these days, what the fuck?

This is a stupid, hidebound, “romantic” gesture, but it’s also a solemn oath made by a fairy tale character, and those have narrative weight. Promises come up time and again in fairy tales and there are severe penalties for breaking one’s word. I don’t for one moment think that Snow White would take this vow lightly, or pass it off as cutely romantic. She is really promising to obey and serve him.

My take was, again, a little different. Perhaps because I had a traditional Jewish wedding, where both the husband and wife recite the identical phrase: "Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the laws of Moses and Israel."

Yeah, the laws of Moses and Israel include such favorites as the "Ordeal of the Sotah," which explains a husband's right to order the wife to drink bitter waters and swear and oath of cursing if he suspects infidelity. The unfaithful wife will then suffer thigh sagging and belly swelling. (Numbers, Chapter 5).

Let's say that there was never any thought on either party's part that we were agreeing to be held to ALL of the laws of Moses.

As I understand it, the "Obey" language was pretty popular until pretty recently. It wouldn't surprise me that in an isolated community like Fabletown it would retain currency -- as a tradition if not as an actual practice (which no one is here claiming).

Karen points out the "solemn oath" part, and there is certainly something to be said about the "Ella Enchanted" possibilities here. So, while I was certainly not offended by the traditional wedding vows, I can again see the point.

I: Idiotic Response

After Karen's article was linked to from the Comic Book Journal, writer Bill Willingham responds:

If you’ll forgive me being just a bit picky about today’s Fables/Fangirls Attack bit in your blog, I don’t think Snow White’s politics had much to do with why she was willing to take a vow considered so egregiously outdated by the current standards of some. I put it down more to the fact that she (like everyone) is a part of her culture and upbringing — and granted her conservative politics issue from that too. Remember the Fables premise is that all of these characters are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and they may, from time to time, act in character, which will perforce be a bit old fashioned by our lights. Since this series isn’t a political tract, nor a handbook of proposed conduct of any sort, I thought the story was better served by having her act more in according to her established character and background, rather than as an approved example of the current vogue in modern human enlightenment. Fables is (one hopes) a series of entertaining stories about folks who aren’t like us, not a set of lessons to be learned. I knew this choice would be seen as unforgivable by some, but that’s showbusiness.
This first paragraph demonstrates a complete missing of the point. No one was suggesting that he was not writing "entertaining stories," or that Snow White should "act in character." As I pointed out before, Snow White refuses to say the word "abortion" and in many other ways appears to be a very Republican/Conservative character. Perhaps it completely in character to use the "obey" vow (I thought it likely was). Karen obviously disagrees, and has good reason to.

Willingham's response was not -- like mine is, I hope -- an argument that Snow acted in character and not anti-feminist. His response was, essentially, "It's just a story, and as such cannot be critiqued." That, of course, is crap.

O: Over the Top Follow Through

Of course, that was just the first paragraph of the response. Paragraph two makes #1 almost not worth mentioning.

However, since I am a peacemaker at heart, allow me this opportunity to extend this olive branch to the esteemed Attacking Fangirls and any other segment of my readership that took similar offense at Snow’s wedding vow: I’ve decreed that all further printings of this story will remove the following panel where Snow turns to the audience and says, “And I require all Fables readers to follow my example.” Now, as far as Snow’s “you’ve defeated me” line. Yeah, that one was unforgivable by the standards of any age. They got me on that one. Get my suite at the re-education camp ready, I’ll come along quietly.
Because, of course, any objection to a story by a feminist is an implied call for censorship and Communist brainwashing.

U: Utter Contempt

As you can see, I started out pretty pro-Willingham in defending him against Karen's criticisms. That is, until he opened his big mouth and tried to defend himself, which is making me wonder whether I was giving him too much credit to begin with.

I still think Snow White acted largely in character, and was not upset with her choice of a traditional wedding vow. Sometimes that's just simply "how it's done," and if King Cole is the one who is performing the service, sometimes you just go with the program.

But to say I disagree with Karen's conclusions is not at all to say that I think she was wrong to raise the issues, or that I think she's trying to brainwash me, or I don't think she's making a lot of good points along the way.

Sometimes Why

Sometimes I wonder why writers feel obliged to step up and defend their work. If it is written well, it should stand on its own, even if some people will always misinterpret it. Fables is still one of my favorite comic books.

Bill Willingham, I now realize, is a jerk.

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Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
What a great analysis of two very different, very divergent viewpoints (make that three with your own in there!). I, too, don't understand why people insist that popular culture can't be critiqued. It just ain't so.

7:00 PM  
Blogger clmcshane said...

You've written a very nice article here, Ragtime. One of reading's greatest powers is that the reader's own experiences and beliefs contribute to their interpretation of the story. While I don't agree with Karen's conclusions, both of her articles were thought-provoking and interesting. I thought you did an excellent analysis of how your experiences led to a different interpretation.

I do have to disagree with you that Willingham is a jerk. While he has an extremely sarcastic sense of humour (that he targets regularly at himself) and on occasion shows a bit of temper, my interactions with him on his messageboard have been a complete pleasure. Once again, different experiences lead to different viewpoints.

Cindy McShane

7:57 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Um... don't take this the wrong way, but if both the husband and the wife recite "behold you are consecrated to me...", it's definitely not a "traditional Jewish wedding". In a traditional Jewish wedding, only the man says this. He consecrates; the woman is consecrated

7:05 AM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Hi Amy,

You are right. A critique can certainly be challenged on the grounds that it doesn't do the best job of explaining the text, but I hate the response of, "This cannot be criticized because it is just a story, not real life."

11:46 AM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Hi Cindy,

Thanks for reading. You said:

"I do have to disagree with you that Willingham is a jerk. While he has an extremely sarcastic sense of humour (that he targets regularly at himself) and on occasion shows a bit of temper, my interactions with him on his messageboard have been a complete pleasure."

Oh, he may be a completely pleasant person who regularly gets misunderstood, but in my book references to "re-education camps" are only one step (if that) away from "femi-Nazis" in my book -- depending upon your views of the relative evilness of Stalin vs. Hitler. It is not a response to the criticism, but a statement that the criticism did not have the right to be made, because she is acting like the "thought police."

It's the difference between saying, "I think you are wrong and here is why" and saying, "Shut up."

11:50 AM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Hi Lisa,

Okay, you caught me.

Technically, it was a Traditional Conservative Movement marriage ceremony. This will be different from a traditional Orthodox Movement marriage service (which may be what more people -- but not me -- think of as 'traditional'), and likely be different from a traditional Reform service (I don't know, off hand, whether the Reform movement has a standardized service.)

The point was that we went in, the Rabbi told us how it would go -- which was the same way that the Rabbi's last 2,000 weddings went, and all the other Conservative rabbis in the area's weddings went -- and we were not offered the opportunity, nor did we seek the option, of changing any of the central elements.

Some of the elements of the service are certainly more female-friendly -- for example, the marriage contract is amended to require the husband to give the wife a 'get' (a Jewish divorce) if she requests one. And that sort of change is -- in part -- why we are 'Conservative Jews' and not 'Orthodox Jews.' But neither of us went so far as to read, in translation, the entire Ketubbah (marriage contract). It just wasn't a consideration. We picked our rabbi, and then went along with his service.

And that's how I read 'Fables.' Of course Bigby and Snow will get married by King Cole, and as such they will use his standard wedding ritual.

12:01 PM  
Blogger DivaLea said...

Re Snow "losing" to the Big Bad Wolf:

I liked it much more the first time I saw BBWolf and Virginia in The Tenth Kingdom.
Snow was cooler, too.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous JRVJ said...


First time reader here (ended up here through ¡Journalista!).

Personally, I think Willingham was trying to say something else in re: the first paragraph (more along the lines of "Look, I don't pretend to be Ayn Rand. I have my opinions, but I don't treat my work as a prozelitizing pamphlet or a semi-treatise".

But that's just me.

As to the second paragraph, Bill could have been more elegant in his reply, but it wasn't Cerebrus 186, you know (and BTW - I'm willing to say publicly that even when I don't agree with Dave Sim, I tend to be enthralled by his iconoclasm).

As to BW being a jerk, no offense, but if there are two things I have learned in life is that:

a) It's usually not a good idea to get angry at people in solidarity at something they said at someone else (unless in case of a statement so Al Campanis like that you have to abhor it, which to me, this was not - Charles Barkley, of all people, had the best line during the recent Don Imus brouhaha, something along the lines of "You shouldn't fire people for saying something stupid one time, especially when they apologize").

b) It takes a little bit more than a loose phrase for me to label people.

I mean, ultimately none of us knows what BW was thinking that day, if he'd had some personal problems, etc.

Thank you for the attention.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Victoria said...

I just read Fables 50 this evening (yes, two years after this controversy was brewing) and I have to say it would have been more difficult for him to alienate me more. I was glad to find blogs discussing it.

His apologetic of 'tradition' is simply false on its premise. A traditional European marriage would have been a simple vow along the lines of 'I marry you'. Hand-binding would also be a representative tradition. His Protestant Christian, Anglo-American wording and ceremony are not the tradition of the fables in question, most of whom are from continental, pre-Reformation, even pre-Christian roots.

This was contrived conservative dogma being pushed for political ends in my opinion. And I had come to love those characters...

5:08 AM  
Blogger The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca said...

I feel bad because I didn't even notice. To me it was just a wedding ceremony, and I've never really taken spoken formula like that very seriously

11:49 AM  

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