I’m watching the roll-out of R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis: Illustrated.  Crumb’s complex, enigmatic, inspired and amazing work has always fascinated, as has his own very complicated personal history.  Not surprisingly, the book is getting a good bit of attention from what our friends on the right call the “MSM.”  Its reading has been predictable.  The book runs against the Topos of religion as best imagined within limits of sobriety, modesty, respect, and deference.  The sound of the other hand clapping has not come yet.

What will defenders of tradition say and think?  Some small burbles so far from the UK.  A story in the Telegraph, apparently, quoting some conservative Christians over there as horrified.  And a completely gratuitous and (actually) surprising item on the Fox News website, titled:  “Comic-Strip Artist R. Crumb Mocks Book of Genesis.” Leaving aside the cultural tone-deafness implied by the misnomer “Comic-Strip Artist” in describing Crumb (the genre of the graphic novel has apparently escaped notice in FoxLand) the larger issue is the inaccuracy of the headline.  The story, straight from AP, says nothing of the kind. In fact, Crumb is portrayed as wishing to treat the text with respect.  But, he is not too attracted to religion, and perhaps that is the problem, or the graphic way he portrays the more salacious passages.

These two aspects of this complex: the–let’s be honest–graphic nudity that is so Crumb, and so faithful to the text, and the fact that Crumb himself does not pass a litmus of proper respect to the tradition, are the bases on which we can expect some criticisms to be built.  Will they, though?  I wonder.  It would be different if it were a graphic novel obviously aimed at a youth audience.  Imagine what the reaction would be.  But Crumb’s audience remembers when the Stones were young.

But, I’ll await developments.  I think the “litmus” is in a way the most interesting dimension of this.  Time and again, we’ve seen moral panics about media attributable more to the question of who is behind a given text or image than to its content.  My most notable recent example is the differential readings some gave to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.  While the first Potter film and the first Ring film seemed to me to show spiritualism, pantheism, and paganism, the latter was argued to be a Christian allegory based on nothing more substantial (in my view) than exterior assumptions about  JRRT’s religious faith.

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