Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I resisted reading Alison Bechdel’s “tragicomic”, Fun Homefor a number of years, not because I thought it wouldn’t like it, but because of the people who recommended it–all white professors who dissuaded me from continuing my study of rape. But now that I’ve rejected academia I’m suddenly finding all sorts of things accessible that felt like chores before. I have to admit that I am glad that I waited to read this. I am thankful that I read Fun Home for the pure enjoyment of reading, because, boy, is it enjoyable.

Bechdel’s artistic and narrative style won’t be anything new to those familiar with independent comic artists like Harvey Kietel & R. Crumb or Art Spiegleman, but her story is unique in its politicization. Bechdel intertwines her story with her parents’ individual and collective stories, and roots them all in history without compromising read-/relateability. She humanizes political struggles while making the case for bookishness and autodidacticism. The only thing I found lacking in this book was the dearth of diversity. However, given the autobiographical nature of this story, perhaps that is less a commentary on Bechdel herself, as much as it is an indicator of the generally segregated state of our country.

So, read Fun Home. Buy it for the politically conscious and the comics-lovers alike, but whatever you do, please enjoy it for the well-crafted art it is.

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Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 7)

It appeared to me that FB Guy was hurting, and that the way he knew how to cope with that was to try to control someone else. The way he decided to approach me, a complete stranger, was wholly unacceptable. In my world, you do not name-call people you want a “conversation” with. In truth, I never excluded him. He was one of a long line of people who decided to take their shit out on me. This is a fact of life I understand but have yet to be able to accept.

I am sorry that he was hurt. I am sorry that he’s the product of a Hammurabian society that tells him that it’s okay that he treats perfect strangers with disrespect as long as he thinks he’s being disrespected. I am also sorry that so many people believe that people of color are edification objects, because that is what society has told them.

One of the many things I fail to understand about this interaction is the way that he just assumed that I would continue responding to him. Another thing I don’t understand is how my initial lack of response seemed to be a response to him–as if he really believed I had nothing better to do than shun or accept strangers on the Internet.

There are things I think I may never understand about this interaction. The things I do understand–the perfect encapsulation of micro-colonization, sexism, patriarchy, and white guilt–are only unique here in the obviousness of their combination.

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 6)

For me, with my limited experience and West Coast life, the most invasive and enduring effect of oppression that I am aware of in my own life is the way I burn up energy questioning myself. It is more pernicious than a general lack of confidence, which can be overcome by mastery and other such accessible means. It’s much deeper. It’s the sudden shift underfoot that occurs when everything familiar suddenly becomes threatening.

I accept that at this time I still fail to understand FB Guy’s point of view. I can connect to his hurt at feeling invalidated, even though it appeared to be my assertion of my own boundaries that bothered him so. As an Asian American woman, I can also attest to the deep disappointment that can breed resentment that arises when I behave outside of acceptable stereotypes by having boundaries. Moreover, I can connect to wanting to connect. I empathize with feeling helpless and weighed down by theory.

Theory can shoot a hole in you. It can point out all the things that are wrong, and how you’re contributing to injustice with everything you do. I believe that’s why all the students at the end of every social sciences class I ever took wanted answers above all else. They wanted to feel better. Having never understood their sunny versions of “better”, having feminist and anti-racist theory represent more of my life than I ever thought possible, I did not see the need for answers until now.

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 5)

In Totality & Infinity, Levinas posits that these are the two choices we have in the face of the other: to exert our totalizing forces and define the other, or to open ourselves up to the unknowable infinity in the other’s face. This is the dilemma of social interaction. But what happens when the face is replaced by a screen? Does it become easier to separate the autonomous other from the self?

I can tell you that initially I was bemused. I thought that perhaps he was someone who enjoyed getting a rise out of others, which would have explained his assignment of feeling/motive to me and my friend in my previous interaction. Not being sure if that was indeed what was going on, I decided to respond authentically. I am not a stranger to these situations–two different people with two different understandings of the way the world works at odds over meaning-making–and tend to throw a crumb to see what, if anything, bites. I was prepared for confusion, and I was prepared for the possibility that he wanted someone to engage with and to that end he might continue his challenging leaps in logic. I was, am always and will remain always, unsuspecting of the possibility of name-calling and personal attacks, because I believe that we are better than that behavior.

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 4)

I began to wear make-up every day when I was in university, not because I thought it would help me be taken more seriously, nor did I wear it because it felt mandatory. Rather, it acted as a projected image of a curated self I needed to survive. My life became centered around the idea of survival.

I learned to be distrustful of institutions: family, friends, church, state, academia–all make me nervous when they slide from individuals into group participants. All of my experience with institutions has shown me that is far too easy for loyalty to slide into groupthink as a system begins to police individual behavior. The Internet seems like yet another institution with rules and behaviors I cannot fathom.

I would very much like to believe that things would have progressed differently, with more empathy, had he and I been face-to-face. Truthfully, perhaps the only difference would have been my ability to predict his reaction and modulate my behavior, but that’s a difference with separate consequences all the same. I did not think we inhabited such different worlds that my words would be taken as “passive aggressive sidesteps” or “martyrdom” and my nod to girl culture would seem “condescending” and “elitist”.

I sincerely did not think he would be so angry.

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 3)

Anyway, she and I were going back and forth while I was taking a break at work. Two hours later I check back in, not expecting anything since it seemed as if our chat had wound down. Instead, one of her friends had been commenting–posting and then posting again as thoughts came to him. He wrote that the show is “self-deprecating” and the piece in particular was a “satirical look” at a “section of Asian culture” and “so much less a slap in the Asian populaces (sic) face”. He then wrote that “Ya’ll should wonder why you were OK with the show poking fun at one culture, then considered it crossing the line when they brought in another”, which he followed up with the comment, “This isn’t me screaming reverse racism because I’m white”, because, of course he did. 

Does this sound as familiar to you as it did to me? More to the point, why does this foolishness seem commonplace? Also, will people ever learn that telling people how they should think of you is a pretty clear indicator to the listener that you are a more unreliable narrator than most on the topic at hand?

I responded cheekily, with the outright assertion that I “have zero interest in getting into it with people I don’t know,” by which I meant “people on the Internet I don’t know irl.” But given my rule of giving everyone I encounter at least one chance, I went on: “You’re right the show is based on self-deprecation. However, there is no apparent ‘self’ in this [meaning the segment]. Rather, it’s one historically advantaged group portraying another group in a mocking and stereotypical way. I also think your assumptions about whether I was okay with anything and what my personal boundaries are are…symptomatic, to say the least. I would go on but there are too many issues to address here.” I punctuated all of this with a smiling emoji blowing a kiss, which I thought was, at worst, a mildly flippant way to say “no hard feelings?”  

Here’s a screenshot of his response, because I do not have it in me to type this up:

  

Cultural Exchange 1 (Part 2)

I still do not know what exactly happened. Or, perhaps I do know what happened, but am having difficulty digesting it. It seems like I have read so many pieces on the way marginalized peoples are told their experiences are invalid, that I can’t remember any particular one. Was it Susan Brownmiller or Angela Davis or Cornel West? Or was it all of them and then some?

And, is it really that I am having trouble trying to figure out how to represent what happened, or is it that I do not want to believe it happened at all? That writing around the actual event makes it easier to soothe myself without actually confronting the anger and hostility I was already subject to once?

I do know that I have almost always had difficulty feeling safe. It’s not that I feel threatened or even scared most of the time, it’s just a complete lack of belief in solidity. At any minute I could be a foreigner. At any minute I could lose my autonomy. At any minute I could be a victim. And in the eyes of those with power, it would always be my fault.