Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Creep of Creepy [or How I Found Out I Was Counterfeiting]

Berni Wrightson's Wolfman = COOL!
Years ago there was a horror magazine called Creepy filled with black and white stories of the macabre, the unusual the horrific. It was forbidden fruit for many a 13 year old boy who sought to grab a copy that had to stay hidden from the ever-watchful eyes of censoring parents – who were right, of course.

But that was its appeal: it was WEIRD and WRONG and filled with stories of DARK JUSTICE in which malefactors received horrific unnatural recompense for their heinous crimes. It was CREEPY.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from an ex-friend about a picture I had stored on Facebook. It was of him holding a can of “Whoop-Ass Chili” with the “Chili” removed. So it looks like he’s holding a can of “Whoop-Ass” – and he has this expression on his face like “You want some of this, big boy?” I thought it was hilarious. I explained that he was a brilliant man but unrelenting in verbal battles. I got the photo from a forum we both frequent, who know him well, and where he had posted the original. 

Oh yeah – forgot to tell you that part, didn’t I? The original pic was him showing off a food item. It was NOT a can of Whoop-Ass Chili. I grabbed that image from the web to modify and put in his hand.

People got upset. Very upset. I went “Wha…? It’s a JOKE – c’mon, get a life!” and moved on. No biggie, I thought. He’s been so vicious and name-calling, insulting and insinuating, how is this TOO far? I’m not placing his name even on the file – and I am NOT sharing it with anyone who had not seen the original either!

Get over it!

Now my ex-friend did write that he did not believe I was meanly-spirited but that I am "really, really bad at judging these things." And that it was… get ready for it…

It was CREEPY.

He said I had a penchant for it. A blindness in this area that I needed to reflect on.

So I’ve been reflecting. 

He was right.

Here’s How I Got CREEPY, True Believer
I had been hurt by my ex-friend and wanted to say something about it. I wanted him to tone down his verbal barrages, because I had grown up with flare-temper men and women who had issues. It literally hurt to read his posts. He’d cut loose with 300 word paragraphs with nary a breath or break.

I’d learned a long time ago that humor and cartooning can make a point that even your target can laugh at.

Not this time.
Awful, ain't it?

You already know why if you have spent more than four days on the web. You have seen evil done and misinformation and bad Photoshop work everywhere. Every image in the political spectrum from Sarah Palin to Barack Obama has been manipulated for humor.

But here’s where it gets bad: good humor, and editorial cartooning, depends on exaggeration for effect. It DEPENDS on caricatures, stereotypes and over-simplification. The very things verbotten in literature, we cartoonists use to elicit a laugh. They are our tools in trade.

There are all kinds of cartoons: tasteful understated cartoons, gross cartoons, and obscene cartoons. It is a form of visual parody we love and identify with. You can slip a lot into a cartoon from your side of the political fence and find opponents willing to listen. They are powerful, but, like I said, they depend on simplification to garner your attention and emotional altruism.

There are no “realistic” cartoons. They are self-defeating.

So I failed in my humor, as my ex-friend said, because I crossed a line. An invisible line.

What line, you may ask? The line of realism.

It looked too realistic.

No. Forget that.

It looked REAL.

Like the original pic. Like I took it myself. It was not longer a cartoon; it was a counterfeit.

You see, I have a curse. It is usually helpful in task-oriented situations: I am a perfectionist. If I see that I can make something better, I do. I hate sloppy. Hate it.
 From Understanding Comics
by Scott McCloud, p.11

The more specific the image, the more narrow the scope of appeal. The closer to real-life, the closer to an op-ed piece or slanted review/report instead of an allegory or fable. It is just the way we are. We can “hear” a story of colorful figures far faster than a report of cold hard facts. Broad strokes are inclusive; narrow strokes are exclusive.

I also grew up with a love of special effects and making things that were fantastic look realistic. I was twelve when Star Wars came out. I was twenty-two when I first even saw Photoshop, and was using it daily ten years later. I love making something un-real look real.

But if you do that in real life, with real people and real objects? It is no longer cartooning.

It is counterfeiting.

No one would have been upset if it was clearly seen to be photoshopped. You can accomplish that by doing a hack job of cut and paste, and everyone just snickers.

Conversely, if you do an excellent job of wrapping the fingers around the object, dropping the light levels and skewing .05 degrees in the vertical plane to make sure you cannot tell the object was emplaced after the fact, you have gone too far.

Your craft has crept up to become a curse. You have become CREEPY.

You don't want that.

This blog has run long, so I must end with something that connects it to Jesus, right?

Well, Jesus knew the power of story and how people thought. He did not mind offending the educated, the politicos or the self-righteous legalist. He wasn’t swayed either by simple emotional appeals or moral misdirection. He says it like it is and pushes buttons.

Yet there comes a point in His ministry which He is obviously using restraint, and is holding back to keep from overwhelming people. He won’t tell His disciples everything He knows or show everything He can do so as to not scare them. He is careful in what He reveals. He is so meek that after He casts out thousands of demons, when the people ask Him to leave, He just up and does it.

You see, Jesus was CREEPY. He could do terrible things and wonderful things and people knew it. He cursed a fig tree, told a storm to shut up and a dead man to get up.

But He also needed one thing though when dealing with living human beings.

Their agreement. Their permission. Over and over He asks, “Do you want to be made well?” “Do you believe?” He never demands our personal rectitude or fights to remind us He is the Son of God. He simply is power held meekly and gently. Because He acts in love, He steps aside often for the wounded, the weaker, the fearful.

He listened to them. He did what they asked Him to do.

Yesterday, my ex-friend told me what I did with his photo was CREEPY. He wanted me to take it down.

He was right, so I did. I did it because Jesus would. I did it because I love my ex-friend.

My ex-friend does not love me. That's just a fact.

But Jesus said something about that too. ;)


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