Duck Duck Book

27 – bad language
12.15.2005, 4:28 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Bad language, naked ladies, and other threats to the nation : a political history of comic books in Mexico / Anne Rubenstein. 
Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 1998.
[MCL call number: 741.5972 R895b 1998; two copies, no holds]

This history discuses the social, political, and cultural impact of comics in Mexico during the period from 1934 to 1976.  It is an academic book, and suffers from some of the typical handicaps of scholarly works — unnecessarily complex prose, long sentences, interminable footnotes, and lots of references to things that other academics would recognize but that other readers (me, for instance!) may not.  But, I am writing about it here because I feel it is a useful book regardless.  Read on, please:

Rubenstein begins by detailing the origins of comic books and the comic book industry and the development of the careers of various influential writers, artists, and publishers.  She then discusses the history of several different periods in the development of the form, and of the reception that comics received from conservative groups, the government, and the public at large. 

Some of this discussion is very interesting: for example, in the second chapter ("Home-Loving and Without Vices: 'Modernity,' 'Tradition,' and the Comic Book Audience"), Rubenstein examines "lonely hearts" reader advertisements in comic books as a mechanism for determining how comic books did or did not affect the moral views and character of readers.  Her argument is that although conservative right-wing critics continually promoted the concern that comic books led an unsuspecting and vulnerable section of the public to believe that "loose" morals and "modern" personal and social arrangements were acceptable; in fact, the lonely hearts advertisements that many comics printed for free show just how traditional comic book readers actually were.  They were seeking partners with whom to embark on traditional marriages, with clearly defined male and female roles and responsibilities.  There is, Rubenstein argues, little indication that these advertisers were interested in the fast lifestyle, scandalous romantic and sexual escapades, escape from traditional gender roles, or modern domestic arrangements that conservatives so derided comic books for portraying.

Bad Language should be an interesting read, if you are looking for an introduction to this part of Mexican cultural history — but its scope and intended audience are sufficiently narrow to make it a challenge for readers who are not intensely committed to the subject.  My assessment is that the book is worthwhile, but features unrelated to the topic and argument make it less accessible than would be ideal.

And it is frustrating that although Bad Language is written and presented in a very learned style, it does not include a bibliography of sources — these are presented as they are referenced in Rubenstein's endnotes.  Reading the book made me very curious about some of the historical incidents and trends mentioned, and although Rubenstein's sources are well-documented and seem helpful, they would be more so if they appeared in a format intended to assist readers who are interested in further study of issues related to the various threads of her argument.


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