Monday, June 17, 2013

Burning the Lot: A Review of "Joyland," Part 3

This -- in case you missed the title of the post somehow -- is part three of my Joyland review.  If you're inclined to do so, you can read parts one and two, but be warned: like part three will be, they are chock full of spoilers.  As for the novel, it's a terrific piece of work from Mr. King; I continue to be extremely impressed by the way the current era of his career is unfolding.  He shows no signs of letting up, and Joyland stands proudly beside some of the best novels he's ever written.

I'm less impressed by a recent decision that King made regarding the way Joyland would be published, and that's how I'm going to opt to begin this post.

We'll dive in momentarily, but first, some pulp paperback covers:

that's an awesome tagline up top

not real, but still real cool...

Before we go too much further, let me link to a site that has something to do with topless coeds reading outside.  I don't go looking for these sorts of things; it was one of the results Google returned when I was searching for pulp paperback images.  
Did I click on the link?  Yes I did.  
Did I bookmark the site for later perusal?  Yes I did.  
Do I apologize for those things?  No I do not.  If you think you would feel differently, you should definitely not visit that site.  Me, I'm gonna go back later and find out what these shirtless book-loving ladies are all about, and ponder the tragedy of my misspent youth.  I'll probably sigh a lot.  Might be time to bust out my Smiths greatest hits CD again, too...
It's a weird world we're living in, y'all.

You will never, ever, ever hear me apologize for loving this cover.  Not going to happen.

But I'm more than willing to admit some ambivalence about my love for it, not because I'm not sure that my own feelings about it are more or less beyond reproach, but because I cannot immediately be certain expressing love for the art isn't acting to further a societal problem.  Here is an image -- one not represented by an actual scene in the book, by the way -- of a scantily-clad woman seemingly being menaced.  Menaced by whom?  By someone we can't see.  In fact, whoever it is menacing this cute, pert redhead would almost have to be standing roughly where we ourselves are standing when looking at the cover; so in a sense, we are the person this woman is surprised by and/or scared of.

Is that a negative thing in any way?

I don't know.  I think I think that it probably isn't, but I haven't really put much thought into it.  I suspect that there are people who probably feel it's a bit misogynist, though; and I can't really say that my gut tells me they've wrong about that.
Let's look at some more Hard Case Crime covers.

I don't know that I'd use the word "misogynistic" to describe those, but the word "salacious" certainly applies.  So would "exploitative."  I'm not bothered by them.  But I'm not a woman; I don't know what it's like to be a woman, and won't pretend to.  By virtue of having a female friend who utterly adores images of Betty Page and Marilyn Monroe, I know that it's certainly possible to be a woman and enjoy cheesecake images for what they are: celebrations of the female mystique.  But there are also lots of women who find that sort of thing insulting, limiting, and creepy.

All I can vouch for personally is my own feelings, and seeing images like that does not -- as far as I know -- make me more likely to oppress women in any way.  So I feel like I'm off the hook.
Not everyone is me.  And the question I have to ask is this: is Hard Case Crime doing the right thing by creating these throwback-to-a-different-era pieces of art?  By asking that question, I am not passively suggesting that the answer is "no."  I genuinely don't know.  I don't feel as if men ought to have to apologize for thinking hot women are hot; similarly, I don't feel as if women ought to have to apologize -- not that anyone is asking them to -- for thinking hot men are hot.  Change those gender pronouns around any way you see fit, too; the same rule applies.  I kinda feel like we all ought to be perfectly fine with thinking that looking at a nude or semi-nude body appreciatively is a valid way to enjoy our time on planet Earth.  No need to have to worry that we're all perverts, or that we're going to Hell for it; that's just silly.

What I don't know is whether couching that pursuit in a context of Return To Yesteryear is the right way to go.  Because let's face it: yesteryear sucked for a lot of people.  Not so much for white men, but for everyone else?  Not automatically a walk in the park.  And part of me wonders if creating a line of paperbacks that purposely evokes a semi-misognynistic trope of days gone by isn't the wrong thing to do.

I don't have an answer.  I'm honestly not even hinting at one; I'm merely serving up some food for thought.  If anything, looking at those covers kinda makes me want to start a complete collection of Hard Case Crime books, because I genuinely love the art, both pruriently and aesthetically.  But I think it's a valid question to ask.

Wrapped up in all of this is another question that I think is valid: did Stephen King do the right thing by deciding not to allow an e-book version of Joyland to be published?

On this subject, my mind is more made-up: I think there should have been.
In terms of my own reading habits, I'm a physical-book consumer.  I've got nothing against reading digitally; I own an iPad, and I've got the Kindle app for my laptop.  I'll read something digitally if that's the only way I can get it, but I prefer to read an actual book.

Again, not everyone is me.  There are plenty of readers who prefer to read digitally, and in 2013 (...the future!...), they have every right to expect to be given the option to do so with a new release. 

King's stated goal in releasing Joyland minus digital is as follows (from the press release):

I love crime, I love mysteries, and I love ghosts. That combo made Hard Case Crime the perfect venue for this book, which is one of my favorites. I also loved the paperbacks I grew up with as a kid, and for that reason, we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book

King would later comment further that he wanted to do something to help bookstores, by virtue of sending some foot-traffic their way.  That's a very cool thing to do, at least in theory, but in the end, it's a futile gesture: Joyland is only going to sell X-number of copies.  In the macro sense of things, even if every single person who buys the novel buys a copy from a brick-and-mortar bookstore, it won't have a significant impact on the bottom lines of stores.  Book stores are dying because the industry is changing; this is cultural evolution at work, and there is no stopping it, no slowing it.  King's action is the action of a nice-hearted man, one who loves books and the places that sell them, but let's face it: this is tantamount to putting a Band-Aid on the wounds of someone who's just had his legs cut off and is in the process of bleeding out.

A few other points deserve to be made about all of this:

  • If King really wanted to drive foot-traffic to bookstores, why allow online-only retailers like Amazon to sell the novel?  For that matter, why allow the novel to be sold in stores like Walmart and Best Buy?  None of those are bookstores, last time I checked, and it's likely that the cumulative damage done to bookstores by Amazon/Walmart/etc. is vastly worse than the damage done by e-books.
  • Remember that image of Joyland I posted a bit further up the page?  Did you happen to notice that that is the cover of the audiobook?  That's right; the audiobook.  The very existence of the audiobook runs somewhat contrary to the idea of only being able to enjoy the novel in paperback form, doesn't it?
  • Of course, in order to get the audio version you have to walk into a store and get it; there's no digital-download version of the audiobook.  Except that there is.
  • There were also limited-edition hardbacks available to collectors.  Did I buy one?  Yes, I did.  I prefer hardbacks to paperbacks.  Only about two thousand of these were printed, so we're talking a tiny fraction of the reading public, many of whom will be collectors who never even read their hardback copies.  Nevertheless, a hardback ain't a paperback.

So, to sum up: the stated goals were to provide a paperback-reading experience similar to the one found by readers several decades ago, and in so doing to drive traffic to brick-and-mortar bookstores.  The reality, however, is that the novel is available from numerous places that are not brick-and-mortar bookstores, is available in two non-paperback formats (audiobook and limited-edition hardback), and is available as an audiobook via digital download.

In other words, "here's what we're doing, except that we're not doing that 100%."  It's a compromised gesture, and that makes it a hollow gesture.  If you aren't going to commit fully, why bother?  The end result was a fair amount of bad press for King from people who saw his decision as determinedly Luddite.

Now, about that.  I want to be clear: I'm not piling on.  I support Stephen King's right to do whatever he bloody well feels like doing.  And I'd say the odds are good that he had some sort of reason for doing this that I haven't taken into account.  MY only gripe with his decision is that he didn't commit to it as fully as maybe he could have done.  However, there have been people that have griped about how he's trying to harm the e-book industry with this decision.

Those people are morons.  King is one of the most famous pioneers of the e-book industry.  Do the people railing against his decision not remember The Plant?  "Riding the Bullet"?  "Ur"?  "Mile 81"?  Are they unaware that a Rock Bottom Remainders anthology called Hard Listening (which contains new fiction and nonfiction by King) will be available only digitally?  King has done quite a lot to shape and legitimize the e-book industry; to the people criticizing him on the grounds that withholding one measly little novel from being published in that format is tantamount to declaring war, I would say that their objection is so stupid a criticism that it goes right past stupidity and into ignorance.

That said, I sympathize with people wanting to read the novel digitally and not being able to, because it seems like their preferences are being purposely spurned in favor of...what, exactly?  King is obviously within his rights to go that route, but is it really worth making his readers who prefer digital feel slighted?  For King, the answer to that question must have been some form of a "yes," but it seems like a bit of a misstep to me.
There's been some controversy over the manner in which Joyland was published, but what matters is the work itself.  And my advice to you is that you read it.  Buy a paperback, buy the audiobook, download it on Audible, get it from the library; do whatever you feel like you need to do.  Just get it and read it, because it's a terrific novel.

Now that my mostly incoherent rant has ended, let's move into the review portion of this supposed review.
I don't have a particular focus this time out; I just had a few remaining points I wanted to make that couldn't be easily worked into the first two reviews.  So, it's a roundup.  Yeeeeeeeeee-HAWWWWWW!!!!!  I apologize in advance for how scattershot the remainder of the post is likely to be, but pard, it cain't be helped.

  • Devin becomes aware of Joyland through an advertisement in the magazine Carolina Living.  I could not help but remember how Bing becomes aware of Christmasland in Joe Hill’s NOS4A2: he finds an ad in the back of a magazine.  The circumstances are not by any means identical, but there is some definite similarity.  Odds are decent that father and son were reading each others' books while writing them; it’s fun to think of one of them being influenced by the other in that regard.
  • Here's a strong piece of descriptive writing from pages 19-20: “Lane Hardy took me all the way to the top and then stopped the wheel.  I sat in the swaying car, gripping the safety bar, and looking out at a brand-new world.  To the west was the North Carolina flatland, looking incredibly green to a New England kid who was used to thinking of March as nothing but true spring’s cold and muddy precursor.  To the east was the ocean, a deep metallic blue until it broke in creamy-white pulses on the beach where I would tote my abused heart up and down a few months hence.  Directly below me was the good-natured jumble of Joyland – the big rides and small ones, the concert hall and concessions, the souvenir shops and the Happy Hound Shuttle, which took customers to the adjacent motels and, of course, the beach.  To the north was Heaven’s Bay.  From high above the park (upstairs, where the air is rare), the town looked like a nestle of children’s blocks from which four church steeples rose at the major points of the compass.”  Makes me feel like I'm there!

map of Joyland [from the limited-edition hardback]

  • One of the novel's highlight scenes is the one in which Devin "wears the fur" for the first time, i.e., dresses in the full-body Happy Hound mascot suit.  I'm a big Disney World fan, so this stuff made me think of all those miserable bastards trapped in Mickey Mouse and Goofy suits on warm June days in Florida.  It also made me think of Scott Snyder, King's collaborator on American Vampire.  In a 2011 interview with Comic Book Resources, Snyder told the story of how he once worked at Disney World; among other things, his duties included playing the much-coveted role of Buzz Lightyear in-park.  Here's a quote from a report about one of Snyder's convention appearances, where he spoke on the same subject: "He then got a job as a janitor at Disney World, where he eventually worked his way up to 'rollerblading janitor.'  Snyder explained that eventually he was able to audition to become a character at the park, which involved dancing in front of a one-way mirror.  He started out as Eeyore and eventually got the much better part of Buzz Lightyear.  According to Snyder, working at Disney World was a bizarre blend of fantasy and nightmare (he mentioned once turning a corner to find one of Disney’s princesses in full costume sitting on a bench reading Guns and Ammo), which helped cement what he wanted to write about in his fiction."  I can't help but wonder if King heard this story from Snyder and thought the idea of someone playing one of those mascot characters had some juice in it.

Scott Snyder, not at Joyland
  • The presence of an amusement park and The Doors/Jim Morrison brings up an association with The Lost Boys in my mind.  Isn’t it about time for a top-notch remake of that movie to happen?  Preferably with Jon Hamm playing the oiled-up saxophone man...?
  • The staff of Joyland practically begs to be cast with a colorful assortment of character actors.  Given how well Tate Taylor cast The Help, his hiring as director for the movie version of Joyland is rather promising.  The Help has its fair share of detractors, but as far as I'm concerned the cast is beyond reproach.  If Taylor brings the same sensibility to Joyland, we'll have some excellent actors on hand.
  • Does the conceit of Rosalind “Madame Fortuna” Gold work?  If your answer to that question is no, then I totally get how you arrived at that verdict.  For me, though, it’s a yes.  Part of what makes Joyland tick is the peek behind the curtains of the amusement-park industry that it offers, and surely anyone who has even the remotest love for places like Joyland must wish in their secret heart that all sideshow psychics are charlatans 95% of the time and the real thing the other 5%.
  • The setting of Joyland makes me think of another King-family story: “Wonders,” a short story by Owen.  No plot similarities, except for the amusement-park-near-the-sea aspect of things.  I kinda wish a few freaks showed up in in Joyland, but I don’t know as they could have actually added much.  Either way, I freakin' love that story.
  • On the subject of the Talk: part real and part invention by King, I can imagine this element of the novel annoying and frustrating some readers.  (I’m on the record as being thoroughly disdainful of the private language in Lisey’s Story, so I get how a tactic like that can serve to distract rather than enchant.)  As for Joyland's Talk, though, I thought it was pretty great.  It (pardon the pun) speaks to the idea that the people who work in an amusement park must need to find a way of distancing themselves from their customers.  But really, wouldn’t all jobs that involve interacting with customers on a daily basis be like that to some degree?  Wouldn’t most places develop some sort of shorthand language to cope with it?  Joyland has it; I betcha Disneyland has it, too, not to mention Walmart.  Seems logical to me, and experience tells me that it’s at least somewhat accurate.  What’s more, I find that it actually adds a level of mystique to Joyland, rather than subtracting it.  It’s almost like saying that beneath the surface, such places have a wholly separate kind of magic – in the form of peculiar, semi-contentious lingo – that customers cannot access; that level is only for employees.  It’s in some way like the promise that inside that factory, there are Oompa Loompas; we may never see them, but nevertheless we know that they must be there, and that they must see wonders that we can only dream of.  In this case, the wonders consist of service tunnels where people in dog costumes can pass out if they need to; but it also consists of seeing the face of a child who believes they are talking to the one and only Happy Hound.  King does a great job with all of that stuff in this book.
  • Dev’s future landlady uses a microwave to make him some soup.  Is this an anachronism?  Wikipedia says it is not.  Same goes for another reference that seemed questionable: the "Is it live or is it Memorex?" ad campaign.  Bless you, Wikipedia.
  • There is a ride in Joyland called the Thunderball, which may or may be – on the part of the park's owner (as opposed to King himself) – an opportunistic reference to the James Bond movie of the same name.  The art for the UK limited editions of Joyland is by Robert McGinnis, who provided the poster art for that very same 007 adventure, which was the most successful Bond of all time until last year, when Skyfall took the crown.  The word "thunderball" has other associations, but in 1971, I imagine that most people would probably think of Bond when they heard the word.  Here come some of McGinnis's contributions to Thunderball:

  • Does it make sense that Lane is the first person in the book to mention the ghost of Horror House, given that he is ultimately revealed to be the girl’s murderer?  Upon skimming the book with an eye toward how King played with that character, I initially felt like having Lane do that was a cheat.  But I think I was wrong.  It actually works for Lane to do that; he is getting off on it, because he's got every expectation in the world that he has gotten away with the murder(s) scot-free.
  • A few more associations which floated to my mind while reading Joyland: (1) Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (obvious, both in terms of its carnival setting and in terms of the immense vein of melancholic yearning for times past running through both books); (2) Nick Cave's  “The Carny”; (3) HBO's Carnivale (which also had a character named Jonesy); and (4) the murder-themed dark ride inside Captain Spaulding’s gas-station/fried-chicken-joint from House of 1000 Corpses.  
  • I also remember how keenly horrified I was by horror-themed dark rides at the state fairs my parents used to take us to when I was a child.  I felt such an atavistic fear for them that I could barely even stand to go near them, much less inside them.  And as far as I can remember, I never did go inside one.  That sort of fear was a massively defining element of my formative years, and one of the things that helped me ease myself out of that stage and into a more rational and balanced one was discovering and falling in love with the work of Stephen King.  So in that sense, it’s immensely satisfying to me on a personal level for King to now, finally, tackle one of my personal bugaboos from childhood.  It caused me to reflect a bit, and so I began engaging with my own life in a way not entirely dissimilar to the way Devin is engaging with his own life in the novel.
  • “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction," writes King on page 43.  One of the more quotable sentences he's ever written, I'd say.
  • Returning briefly to the subject of The Beatles' "Run for Your Life" (previously discussed in part two of this review): I’d just heard the song -- specifically, its creepiness -- discussed on an old Rick Emerson Show top-five list a few days previous to reading the novel. The song was fresh in my mind when I read Devin Jones' thoughts about it; that made his thoughts seem more immediate and vital than might otherwise have been the case.  I also just listened to “Light My Fire” recently for the first time in a few years, and felt my love for The Doors kick in; so I’ve had some coincidental overlap with Devin Jones lately, and so 1971 didn't seem like quite as long ago as it would have otherwise.  Things like that are awesome, like when you’re listening to music while walking or in your car and the music syncs up with the real world in a way that briefly makes it seem as if you are living inside a movie about your own life, complete with overlaid score.  (For the record: as far as this blogger is concerned, "Light My Fire" is one of the best songs ever recorded.)

Ray Manzarek

  • Speaking of The Doors, they are mentioned several times in the novel, and “Ray Manzarek’s mystic, chiming organ” is mentioned specifically on p. 92.  Manzarek has died only a few days prior to Joyland's release, sadly.  Because they did more than a few songs that either baffle or annoy me, I’ve never been a huge Doors fan (the way I'm a huge U2 or Dylan or Springsteen or Beatles fan), but the songs of theirs that I love, I love…and there are more than a few of those.  At one point in time I owned all of their albums on CD; between the nostalgia brought on by Manzarek’s death and the recurrent presence of their music in this book, I’m now keenly wishing I still did own them all.  Any wealthy benefactors who happen to be reading this and wishing they could do me a solid, there's an idea for you on how your wish could become a reality.
  • Devin's relationship with his father is probably worth exploration, but I will let a mere mention of it suffice for our purposes.
  • Did the scene with the deer make anyone else think of "The Body" / Stand By Me?
  • From page 85:  "During my time at Joyland, I once heard Pops Allen talk about burning the lot.  In the Talk, that means to blatantly cheat the rubes at what’s supposed to be a straight game."  This leads into a heartbreaking sequence in which Devin reminisces about how Tom died young.  King tells us that when it came to Tom (and to Erin, too), God burned the lot.  He's clearly still bitter about it.  It's a strong moment, one of the book's best.
  • Unless there is a really subtle/obscure one somewhere, I don’t believe that Joyland has a single connection to any other King book or story.  If so, that makes it one of the very few that is true of, and the first since…what?  Cell, maybe?  I love the interconnectivity in King's work, but I also appreciate it when he just lets a story stand on its own.
  • Linda Gray’s ghost doesn’t appear to just anyone, it seems, and the only two people who see her in the course of this novel are Tom Kennedy and Mike Ross.  Both of them die unnaturally early deaths.  Coincidence?  Probably not.
  • Eddie Parks is motivated by loss in the same way that Devin seems to be, albeit with an entirely different result.  It is implied on p. 179 that – possibly as the result of neglect of his wife’s part (although given Eddie’s temperament, I tend to think that is an exaggeration, if not an outright lie) – his daughter got run over and killed, and it soured what was probably already a sour relationship beyond the point of repair.  My read on this is that while Eddie is undeniably a gross asshole, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t in love; and the loss of both his daughter and wife seems to have wrecked him.  “I could been with my little girl,” he says after telling Dev he should have let him die.  It’s also just as possible that he was at one point a relatively nice guy, who then allowed the losses to consume him and turn him into a bitter, angry old man.  Devin himself is in danger of becoming bitter and angry, and possibly old in the process.  If you recall part two of the review, he was also somewhat in danger of becoming similar to Lane.  Dev is, in some ways, interacting with examples of the type of man he could potentially develop into.  (By the way, Eddie's loss of a child to a car makes me think of Pet Sematary, although the connection did not float into my mind until I was writing this note.)
  • On page 199, there is a mention of an advert for some sort of carny attraction called Manly Wellman’s Show of 1000 Wonders.  This would seem to be a tip of the hat toward Manly Wade Wellman, the awesomely-named fantasy writer.  I feel certain that King must have had a reason for doing this, but a brief consultation of Google and Wikipedia does not immediately present an answer.
And with that, we have reached the end of this lengthy rant/screed/review.  Apologies for the sloppy arrangement of the content this time out; your refunds for this month's subscriptions are in the mail.  Probably in the mailbox right now, actually.  Have you checked?

There might or might not be a part four to the review at some point.  Once I get my copy of the limited-edition hardback, I might review it, if I feel there is enough to say to warrant it.

One way or another I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha I'll be back soon with a review of the recent CD release of a CD version of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, King's collaboration with John Mellencamp, T-Bone Burnett, and others.  Count the "of"s in that sentence?  Four of 'em!  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy; that can only mean it's time for me to go get some sleep.


  1. I'm picking nits here, but I also see Hard Case's decision to publish the book as a trade paperback--rather than a standard-sized pb--as inconsistent with the pulp aesthetic.

    As far as allusions to other King works, I believe the magazine Inside View is mentioned near the end of the book. If I remember correctly, this fictional tabloid figures also in THE DEAD ZONE.

    1. Picking nits is a thing I'm very familiar with; if you're doing it, then I must be, too. In fact, I'd intended to mention that trade-paperback thing myself, and it completely slipped my mind. Thanks for the save! And you're right; it IS totally inconsistent.

      Good call on the Inside View mention. I didn't catch that. Very cool.

  2. Inside View! Good call, I totally missed that.

    You mention Cell, and I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that that novel does indeed have a (tenuous) connection to other King works via Kashawakamak.

    You've well-mined this novel, I think. Good stuff here, and I particularly like your take on what Eddie Parks means as a reflection of what Dev might become. The whole ghosts of future past and present (and well past and present, too) theme works really well throughout.

    Those covers are such dynamite. Also: Janet Van Dyne? As in the Wasp? As a lapsed Marveloholic, I'm embarrassed to discover the Wasp's namesake had a series of pulp adventures. (I imagine they're different characters and all, it's just a fun coincidence.)

    I really have no problem with Joyland being published in a bigger edition than the standard-sized pb, myself.

    The Doors have some great more off-the-beaten-path stuff. If you (or anyone)'d like some get-you-started fodder for You Tube-ing, some of my faves include Shaman's Blues, Summer's Almost Gone, Wintertime Love, Blue Sunday, Ship of Fools, Land Ho, Not to Touch the Earth, Universal Mind, The Severed Garden. Oh yeah! Fun stuff.

  3. There’s a lot to talk about, so this may be more than one post.

    First, let’s talk about two women.

    This whole question of the appropriateness of the Hard Case Crime covers sort of brings up something I said in another topic on Bry McMillan’s blog, about the portrayal of characters like Seven of Nine.

    I think brining up that discussion again might be of some help.

    First off, in terms of the treatment women, even in a work of fiction or art, I noticed something interesting about people like Jeri Ryan and the difference between her and Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique.

    What follows is just my opinion, so don’t go by me, however, in reading an interview with Ryan, if I had to give an idea of what kind of woman she was, I’d have to say she was combined a certain independent rebelliousness with a kind of clever knowing about things like gender issues (just my impression) in which she seems aware of a lot of the objectification that goes on in art, and yet, here’s where the sly knowing comes in, she seems to know ways of turning it to a woman’s advantage.

    In many ways, it’s this clever knowing combined with a rebellious streak (much like her character) that might typify her as a “liberal” in the gender issue.

    A woman like Friedan, on the other hand, could best be described as conservative, yet in credibly enough, with a few liberal sympathies. Conservatives, in contrast to feminine liberals, are sort of what the word implies, always conscious of how they carry themselves and how they are perceived in public, being more concerned with what is or isn’t “demeaning”, a topic over which both liberal and conservative often disagree on, sometimes to a contentious degree.

    Now I could be (in fact I am) probably wrong, yet it seems what we have with women like Ryan and (to an extent) Friedan is a disagreement over an idea of what women should be, with liberals more open and conservatives more restrictive, and it’s in between these two that issues like the appropriateness of the Hard Case covers rests.

    This all just one opinion, however, and bear in mind there may be some who, taking into account the fact that I've based my life on the writings of Dave Barry, will say I'm not fit to judge in this regard, maybe it's as it should be maybe not.


    1. The funny thing is, I actually find myself on a more cautious opinion when it comes to certain ways of treating women in art. Bear in mind, also, I'm the guy who apparently got so ticked about the treatment of Barbra Gordon in "The Killing Joke" I wound up mentally re-writing things around that scenario (it's all still just in my head and that's where it'll remain).

      I think there is a line to how far you can go with the treatment of women in fiction, for my own part, as it turns out, and I think the "Killing Joke" incident shows at least a good place where that line starts.

      I don't know if that comes off as prudish or not. I'll admit I've never voiced any objections to the portrayal of characters like Seven of Nine, yet that just begs where do such events and actions fall on the scale?

      Is it wrong to write such roles for women? The problem with any answer, as pointed out in the first post, is the obvious fact that some women in fact seem to actually like displaying their femininity, an are routinely often called loose by others.

      I think the major criterion for judgment would have to be the question, "Are the reasons for such things natural or neurotic?"

      Granted physical attraction is a literal product of nature geared toward survival of the species, at what point does the natural become unnatural in terms of how women are treated?

      The answer (one I give based on what I've learned from psychiatry) is that it becomes unnatural when mutual interest becomes subordinate to the wish to dominate and control another.

      When that happens, technically, it isn't even about physical attraction, but about the false sense of security that comes from being able to order another around, a problem that works both ways for the genders, bear in mind.

      It's when such circumstances can be logically established that a line between nature and neurotic (sometimes into all out psychotic) has been crossed.


    2. Seven of Nine is a really good case in point. On the one hand, the character ONLY exists because the producers wanted to drum up some 18-34 demographic viewership and figured one quick way to do that would be to put a big-titted blonde in a skintight catsuit. Bingo!

      If that was as far as it went, it'd be offensive. But the fact is that the character herself is a smart, forceful, thoughtful woman who does not allow herself to be limited by her gender, or by the way she is likely to be viewed because of her physicality. It's a really interesting dynamic.

      I know how I feel about Seven of Nine, but I still can't quite make my mind up about Hard Case Crime. I love those covers; I just don't know if I should feel good about loving them.

    3. I think part of at least the beginnings of an answer might be to look into the origins the Hard Case label itself.

      Hard Case Crime takes it's inspiration from the dime store paperback Noir novels of the 30s and 40s, maybe also the mid to late 50s. In this sense, they specialize in printed Film Noir, and this quote from a movie review says it best:

      "Film noir has come to be known as one of the most distinct and "wholly American" film styles that grew out of a specific reflection of post-war American culture. The genre developed in the 1940s and 50s and featured expressionistic lighting, urban settings (often wet city streets at night), influence from hard-boiled detective fiction (James Cain, Raymond Chandler), depraved anti-heroes, moral ambiguity, fear of sexuality/women, and a pervasive feeling of dread/fate/alienation. Each of these qualities speaks to the preoccupations and anxiety of post-war America, and each is present in spades in Shutter Island.

      ...the post-war dream was marred by an insistent, unsettling anxiety—a Cold War/technocratic/Freud-era fear that the good vs. evil binary might in the end betray those who wholeheartedly subscribed to it. As a genre, noir was always about throwing such binaries into question, and asking the probing, frightful question of what might lurk inside the human heart—inside the "corridors surpassing material place."

      As such, the stories that inspired Hard Case dealt with various examples of psychological decay and depravity, some of it sexual.

      As a result a lot of the covers of Hard Case usually depict the graphic nature of a lot of the themes and issues in their books. Does this somehow excuse their use of women on these covers? Probably not, granted the fact that the artwork harkens back to similar magazine and paperback covers of old, when one goes to the originals, one is immediately struck by their almost innocent naivety.

      True, a lot of the covers featured women in compromising positions, and yes, it it could be argued some of them might have crossed the line into bad taste, yet I can't help but regard the great majority of them as the fantasies of 12 year olds just beginning to have the faintest groping's of the fairer half of life.

      Does that mean I say those old covers were harmless? Well, technically that all depends on the thinking that went on behind them. Even if it's true most of it was just based on adolescent fantasy, keep in mind Charles Starkweather died an adolescent.

      I do believe however this final quote from the same review about the genre in which Hard Case, as to the covers, maybe they should have toned things down:

      "It's a philosophy of life that the twentieth century—with its nukes, holocausts, and social Darwinism—seemed to support. And yet as much as mid-century film noir mistrusted man and placed him in the grime of his own wretchedness, it rarely threw in the towel on moral order. In those old hardboiled crime films, wrong choices always ended up costing. Sin always had its wages, and depravity was never abandoned as an unconquerable part of the self. And neither is it in Shutter Island."

      One final thing, I may be wrong, but I think the girl on the Joyland cover is supposed to be "Erin". Just a thought.


    4. I've been assuming that that was Erin on the cover. Thing is, there is no scene in the book that involves Erin being menaced, so it's a cheat of an image. I have no problem with that; it's a trope of pulp fiction -- and of B-movies -- to have a dramatic, eye-catching image on the cover/poster that is in no way actually present in the book/movie itself.

      I like those quotes from the "Shutter Island" review. I thought that movie was a bit of a masterpiece. Thing is, it accomplished all of those goals without relying on making the women in the story sexual objects. Especially in terms of the marketing. If Scorsese could do that, why can't Ardai?

      I don't want it to sound as if I'm being overly critical of Hard Case Crime, because I'm genuinely not upset or offended by what they do. But I wonder if that's a failing on my part. SHOULD I be?

      The argument could be made persuasively either way, I think. On the one hand, salacious pulp covers like that come from an era in which women were still being objectified, oppressed, and abused on a routine basis. On the OTHER hand, that era was the period in which women in America finally began the process of truly stepping out from beneath that oppression, and the gradual emergence of sexuality into mainstream culture was a part of that. For that reason, there is a certain brand of feminism that looks at stuff like those pulp covers, says "Look how incredibly fucking sexy and powerful we are!" and makes it a point of pride, as well as a sort of ironic rallying cry for continued forward progress.

      In the end, I tend to side with them. And most of the Hard Case Crime covers I've seen actually feature women in powerful roles. Yeah, sure, they're mostly naked; but anyone who thinks a woman gives up her power the second her clothes come off is a goddam fool, because MY understanding is that the complete opposite is typically true. I think Hard Case Crime is proceeding from that assumption, but part of me -- no, not THAT part... -- wonders if it might not have made more sense to try and ground the artwork more determinedly in the here and now, rather than strive to appeal to nostalgia for a time that, in some ways, is better off having ended.

      It's a touchy, complicated issue, and I figure it's always worth having a chat about.

    5. " And most of the Hard Case Crime covers I've seen actually feature women in powerful roles. Yeah, sure, they're mostly naked; but anyone who thinks a woman gives up her power the second her clothes come off is a goddam fool, because MY understanding is that the complete opposite is typically true."

      Again I think this type of empowerment thing can be done in various ways, some maybe better than others. It can be done the way Jeri Ryan has done it, another is through interesting stories like Neil Gaiman's Coraline, the book, not the movie, although anything that gets a kid to read etc. What author's like Gaiman, and maybe Hill have done is show the other social aspects without having to pander to the sex sells element.

      In terms of Hard Case crime, the problem to me seems that the original covers, as I said before, were mainly adolescent. We've grown up a lot since the days when a dime could buy an entire day. For instance, magazine pulp fiction has moved onto movies like Pulp Fiction, and I don't think even Dashiell Hammet had the guts to go that far in his work.

      The artwork of most Hard Case covers seems to be combining both elements, old forties style covers with a Tarantino sensibility. Now the thing I think has to be stressed if that surmise is correct, is that while Tarantino is definitely an Artist, he's not the kind that can ever act as babysitter.

      The irony is, even Tarantino has jumped on the empowerment wagon, in his own schlock way of course, but nonetheless there's an undeniable heartfeltness at the center of a film like Kill Bill.

      I think the key here might be to find the proper boundaries for all these covers, when is something "okay" and where the line lies, maybe even some of them should go back to a more 40s standards without somehow being restrictive, if that's even what people are gonna complain about if such suggestions were even made.


  4. Along the lines of this discussion, these are gorgeous:


    "Princess in Cell-Block AA-23" in particular.

    Extra points for the author's proper names.

    1. Yeah, the Star Wars one gave me a solid chuckle. They're all pretty good, though.

  5. I'm late to this discussion, but I just got done reviewing the book.

    I identified with Devin Smith like no character I've ever read. In 1985, My girlfriend who was back home while I was attending Ohio State was making it increasingly clear she was unhappy with the state of her life. She and a few friends packed their stuff and moved to California, leaving me devastated.

    To cope, instead of going home that summer, I went to work at Cedar Point Amusement Park which is on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie. There, I found a seasonal romance, hours of hard work frying french fries, and some new friends to help me find perspective. It was the best three months of my life!

    We did have a language all our own. Guests were called "Animals." Going into the park to ride rides was called, "playing animal." The food served in the park was called, "animal food." It was our routine for our cashiers to yell "show's out!" once an hour, letting us "fry boys" know to step up our frying because the dolphin show across the midway had just let out and we were the closest food stand.

    For those of us who smoked, lunch was called "smoke and choke" because you had to eat and smoke at the same time if you wanted to satisfy both needs. "Gone to commissary" was punishment for those who worked in foods. Commissary was where the park's foods were prepped and its dishes washed. It was hot, tiring work. I know. I got sentenced to commissary for two days on the dishwasher.

    Cedar Point employes about 3,000 people in season, so you didn't know everyone. But you knew your coworkers and my buddies and I made friends with some roller coaster ride-op people who'd look the other way when we would sneak through the ride's mechanical building to avoid the lines.

    There was a lot of other vernacular that I won't bore you with. (I've probably already bored you enough). King made up his own vernacular, but he was correct in knowing that amusement parks have a language of their own behind the scenes.

    1. No way, dude! That vernacular doesn't bore me in the slightest; the exact opposite in fact: I'm fascinated by it. "Playing animal" and "animal food" is good enough that I bet King would have used it if he'd heard it.

      Those are some thoroughly uncanny similarities you and Devin seem to share. I don't know whether to envy you or pity you, so I think I'll do a little bit of both!

      (By the way, folks, you should head over to Brian's blog and check out his review:

      He makes several very compelling points which I will leave it to you to discover.)

  6. Cedar Point was quite unabashed about how they assigned employees. The good looking women were "sweeperettes" who went around the bark with brooms and dust bins, cleaning up debris. They also put good looking women in the parking booths and in directing traffic in the lots.

    The real hotties were on the popular roller coasters, except for one that had a mechanical brake. There, big burly, good looking college football players manned the controls.

    Good looking football players also manned the cable cars because they had to be caught and held when they came in.

    Reasonably good looking people got put in food stands. I guess I was considered reasonably good looking.

    Chatty Kathy's did the weight guessing and pitched games. They were usually good looking too, but not as good as the coaster girls or sweeperettes.

    Those who were less attractive worked full time in commissary and inventory. Inventory people inventoried and delivered prizes and merchandise. They were out of the public view most of the time.

    College seniors with the right majors got administrative duties in the offices that were similar to internships.

    1. Sweeperettes...! That's fantastic. Wouldn't be my first guess as to where some of the more attractive lasses would be staffed, but I guess it makes sense.

      It's interesting to contemplate how practices like that must have evolved at Cedar Point over time, as responses to what it seemed like the park needed, and also as responses to the relationships between Employess and Customers. Sounds like a sociologist's playhouse.