Jun 27, 2016

Why I Read "Pearls before Swine," Homophobia and All

As social media makes everyone's life a fishbowl, an ongoing issue becomes: should I read this book or comic strip or see this movie after the author or director has made a homophobic comment?

There are really 3 questions:
1. Should my money go to help support someone who is homophobic?
2. Will other people think I'm homophobic, too?
3. Will the product contain homophobic scenes, situations, or comments?

I don't care about #1 and #2. After all, there are dozens or hundreds of people involved with every movie, tv show, and novel.   Some are homophobic, some are not.  My money is going to support all of them.

But I draw the line when they let homophobic scenes, situations, or comments leak into their products.

So why do I read  Pearls Before Swine (2001-)?

It's an acerbic newspaper comic drawn by Stephan Pastis (top photo), who grew up in the Bay Area in the 1970s, went to UCLA, and worked as a lawyer in San Francisco before breaking into cartooning.

Not the background you'd expect in someone who is homophobic.

The characters are crudely drawn stick figures:
1. The misanthropic Rat
2. The goodnatured Pig
3. The pompous Goat

4. Larry the Crocodile
5. Zebra, who is surrounded by predators ineptly trying to eat him.

There are frequent gay subtexts in the relationship between Rat and Pig, who live together and behave like romantic partners.

And between Zebra and his predators.  Their lame attempts to eat him can easily be read as attempts at seduction.

But universal heterosexual desire and behavior is assumed throughout.  "How about a man hug?" the lion asks, suggesting a hug between two heterosexual men with nothing homoerotic involved.

Rat claims that is impossible for men and women to be platonic friends, since the man will always want to have sex with the woman.  Pastis later explained that he wanted to specify "straight men," but the syndicate nixed it, because "kids read the strip" and might ask their parents what "straight" meant,.

Traditional gender roles are promoted throughout.  When Zebra is found with a People magazine, his lion friend tells him that the female lions (who do the hunting) will think he's "weak, effeminate.  An easy mark."

Wait -- aren't those female lions strong and powerful?

When Pastis wants to identify a character as gay, he throws in antiquated stereotypes about fashion and show tunes.  Once he congratulated himself over including an up-to-date reference to the movie Brokeback Mountain (but he was careful to specify that he would absolutely never, ever, ever see it himself) 

Ok, Stephan, you don't like gay people.  I get it.

There have been occasional "pansy" and "fairy" slurs, plus a pun on gay men as "queens."

And when Goat discovered Rat and Pig in bed together, and concludes that they are...you know, Rat screams in a homophobic agony that has to be seen to be believed.

So, after all that, why do I continue to read the strip, and buy the collections, including the big treasuries with Stephan Pastis' comments?

1.  I like the idea of Pastis learning that gay people read his strip. They actually put their hands on the treasuries!  Even worse, the treasuries are on a bookshelf in the room where they engage in their sickening, disgusting sexual acts!

2. There are plenty of unintentional gay subtexts.

3. I love the Croc accent.

4. There are a surprising number of muscular guys with their shirts off hanging around the strip.  Pastis loves drawing hunks.

5.  Bottom line: it's funny.

See also: R. Crumb, from Fritz the Cat to Gay Marriage.; and Get Fuzzy.