Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Intellectual Growth Is a Faux Pas

"Well you've got me working so hard lately
Working my hands until they bleed
If I was twice the man I could be
I'd still be half of what you need"

NIN - Ringfinger

The webcomic Faux Pas did not immediately capture my attention. I ambled through its archive in less of a binge and more the way you occasionally grab a few dry but satisfying crackers out of a large box. Not that it's bad, mind you, but its setting, plots and humor are fairly conventional and a bit too prone to repetitive self-reference. Foxes and bunnies cohabitate a human farm alongside domesticated animals. Their PG-rated hijinks usually gravitate toward vaudevillian two-man acts, pratfalls and comedies of errors.

I was surprised however at the slow but sure intellectual growth it's accumulated over the years. Such well-traveled paths don't usually lend themselves to character growth. Garfield hates Mondays and eats lasagna. Garfield always hates Mondays and eats lasagna. Faux Pas, however, has managed to advance in a way not usually seen even in webcomics. Usually, while an author's artistic ability and storytelling intricacy / cohesion will vary along a comic's length, their philosophical / moral outlook either remains constant or becomes ever more exaggerated as the market share they've staked out (embodied in the comments section) reinforces each author's original leanings to the point of fanaticism.

Faux Pas' character roster was rapidly divided into straight men and jokesters, with the same targets constantly receiving the same abuse. This included a hefty dose of the usual battle of the sexes, which is to say a lot of supposedly thick-headed males meekly accepting females' verbal, emotional and physical abuse for failing to live up to ever-shifting female expectations. Because you see, that's what strong women do, with the only repercussion being a constant barrage of... praise, for being so sexy-badass.

Then, over a period of (as I can discern) the past three or so years, things gradually shifted.
An insecure male fox, instead of simply being adopted as a convenient victim, is being coached into standing up for himself against his mother's expectations.
The busybody old hen was revealed to be universally dismissed, ridiculed and even reviled for her constant interference in others' lives, to the point where even I thought the backlash against her was getting a bit extreme.
The rage-prone lagomorphic matriarch was ever so gently called out on her habit of long-term imprisonment and psychological torture of random critters.
Most interestingly, the resident femme fatale Dusk is gradually finding her abuse of others results in alienation, and is being eased out of her habits of  self-serving manipulation and terrorization - by a lowly male, no less!

The change was so gradual that I barely registered it as a decisive change at all... until comic #2082 involving Dusk's one friend / life coach Fluffy, who's been suffering a string of summary (and blatantly shallow) rejections from every female rabbit he approaches.
Fluffy: "Maybe I'm trying too hard to find a suitable doe."
Dusk:  "Nope! A male is expected to do anything and everything to impress a potential mate."
Fluffy: "Uh-huh... and what does the female do?"
Dusk (very smugly):  "She'll let you know if you're getting it right. ... If she feels like it!"

It's lovely. So simple, right there in black and white. Certainly this has been the pattern of much of Faux Pas' humor to date: male fails to meet female's arbitrary standards. Laugh, damn you. Yet now, instead of the punchline consisting of the male's failure, it's the female demand itself, and it's delivered by Dusk, who's already transitioned to being recognized as a negative character. It's equated with Dusk's sociopathic narcissism. That all-pervasive female expectation of men tripping over themselves to fall at your feet lavishing attention and service upon you is... a joke.

Faux Pas concerns itself with anthropomorphized barnyard critters, and it might be easy to dismiss this episode as simply an observation of lower mammals' mating patterns.... except we ain't nothing but mammals, ourselves. It's long past time we stopped  glamorizing female instinct and male susceptibility to female manipulation. Recognize that when the same behavior shows up century after century, aeon after aeon, species after species, we should be much more wary of the high likelihood of falling prey to it.

Male slavishness would indeed be funny, if it weren't too true. To be sure, Faux Pas has hardly pulled a one-eighty, nothing like Sinfest's by now infamous descent into feminist fanaticism. It's just opened itself to seeing the ludicrous side of the overentitled "fairer" sex, an almost diametrically opposite process of broadening rather than limiting thought. This sort of thing would give me hope for the future if I weren't already bracing myself for the inevitable backsliding into socially acceptable male-bashing.

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