Friday, June 9, 2017

Eth's Skin and the New Mythology

I stumbled across the webcomic Eth's Skin recently, and before I get to trashing it, it bears mentioning it's actually decently made despite some stumbling. As skinchanging's a topic near and dear to my own heart, I went into it wanting to like it. Its setting manages to successfully dodge the standard fantasy RPG derived "there's a village near a forest" schtick, and I'm all for reinventing wood and water. The author seems to have wanted from the start to avoid overly-convenient magic, even for magical races... turns out fish tails are damned inconvenient for getting around on land. Overall, the visual style manages to hit that sweet spot between recognizable and detailed which makes for quality cartoonin', aside from minor quibbles like buckskin-clad characters' backpacks looking like they were bought at Sears. The faceful of mer-boobies you're treated to right off the bat seems a bit too desperate for attention, but what the hell, at least it's context-appropriate.

And then the "event" which kickstarts the adventure happens: the title character runs into a selkie and is entranced by her passive +5 mind control aura into grabbing her seal skin, thereby dooming her to a life on land. Now, an unlikely band of heroes must seek to remedy the situation... by teaching you to always respectfully ask what someone's preferred designated personal pronoun is!
Jumpin' whiplash, Batman!
Huh? What?!?

Well, ok, it doesn't take over the entire tale of traveling and questing, but the many occasions of politically correct rhetoric are shoehorned so awkwardly into the narrative as to feel a lot more jarring than mere mermaid nipple eye-pokes. In one instance, the skinned selkie postpones a perfectly workable outraged tirade against the indignity and injustice she's suffered to calmly ask her attacker "what are your pronouns?" the better to complain about "their" crime. Seriously? I'd think if someone scalped me, the least I'd feel entitled to is casually mistaking his sexual identity.
Come on. By what storytelling logic do you devote an entire page to beating your audience over the head with "this is how to introduce yourself!"

There are better methods of interjecting such special group interests into an otherwise unrelated work. Jennifer Diane Reitz' three inter-related comic strips are full of homosexuals, transexuals and other designated "deviants" being oppressed by their society, especially in Pastel Defender Heliotrope. He/she/they/schlee obviously has an axe to grind, but at least it's lent some convoluted relevance within that universe beyond mere thunderous proclamations, a context and causality like religious authoritarianism or an alien race intellectually incapable of adopting change. The real story was about collapsing universes. At least it has some semblance of internal coherence, unlike pausing the action mid-conversation for a page at a time to show the audience this very important thing which is supposed to be perfectly beneath notice for the society in Eth's Skin.
That mountain you just tripped your narrative into? It's a molehill. An utterly inane molehill. Even the moles are asleep.

Mythical heroes, creatures and villains are not about these trite, mundane little details. Not that there isn't plenty of deviance and social commentary in mythology, mind you, whether intended by the original authors or not. Hell, chapter two of most creation myths is a nonstop orgy of sibling incest. The good stories, the ones worth remembering, feature those minor points somewhere in the background.

Achilles dresses like a woman and plays "hide the pickle(s)" with Patroklos and nobody cares because his actual, relevant persona was a bulletproof bad-ass with a freaky heavy metal origin story about skinny-dipping in the river of death! His choice of liaison is nothing in itself. We accept it as implicit motivation for the real action.
Baba Yaga doesn't launch into interminable weepy monologues on ageism; she's earned her wrinkles by learning all the secrets of the world and crafts flaming skulls and breeds magic horses and she'll boil you in a cauldron as soon as look at you.
Loki turns into a mare so he can get impregnated and give birth to an eight-legged little pony. Slightly confusing! Yet still, what idiot stops to ask the personification of apocalyptic chaos "hi, what's your pronoun?" His own wife probably doesn't even give a shit what he calls himself, considering the slightly more worrisome fact that instead of girl/boy, his sperm's apparently a pot luck of "girl/wolf/snake."

In one respect though, the author of Eth's Skin fits perfectly into primitive superstitious mentalities. Designate a taboo, and anyone breaking it is utterly, iredeemably guilty regardless of context. See Hercules enslaved for killing his family while brainwashed by Hera, Oedipus gouging his eyes out for crimes committed in ignorance mandated by the immutable laws of the universe, etc.

Eth steals (or dare we say "rapes" as that's what the act is hinted to symbolize several times over) Rel's skin, and repeatedly accepts all guilt in various browbeatings or soulful repentance.
Being mind controlled into doing something is no excuse for actually doing it! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea *braaaaaiiiiiiins* - culpa!
Never mind that just a hop and skip later we see Rel bragging about how her selkie magic's awesomah powah should trump anyone else's because she's just that irresistible.
No excuse! Otherwise you're victim-blaming!

Fuck's sake. Could you at least not trip over your own propaganda?

Eth's Skin has apparently not updated in five months, so it may as likely as not have vaporized as webcomics are wont to. I hope it comes back at some point. I want to see more stories about skinchanging, and I'm perfectly fine with using this as metaphor for the social ills of today, as long as the story avoids the monstrous presumption of portraying the superficial talking points and catchphrases of contemporary politics as the alpha and omega of ethics. Kory Bing, who colors the damn story, has her own comic about skinchanging symbolic of identity conflicts, yet Skin Deep still manages to dredge up some semblance of perspective. Eth's Skin on the other hand is so laughably emblematic of the doublethink of modern snowflake propaganda, the same imbecillic Orwellian Newspeak we thought we'd ditched back in the mid '90s with "womyn" and the banning of the word "black."

Here's a society in which everyone's non-binary to the point where it's supposed to be an accepted norm yet we must pause every ten pages to proclaim this! Also, when someone who openly brags about having power over you causes you to do something, it's no excuse to actually do it! Also, women are unstoppably powerful yet at the same time helpless victims who should never be called upon to analyze their own role in interacting with those evil, evil oppressive sexual aggressors.

This is what we've made of the grand fears and ideals of mythology, huh? Herakles asking the Nemean lion "what're your pronouns" before profusely apologizing for grabbing some skin. Please. Write your own stories, people. Don't just regurgitate fundamentalist pamphlets.

No comments:

Post a Comment