Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The female pac-man figure in Catana comics acts like an infant most of the time and it bothers me.

I have a few friends that share Catana comics on Facebook. If you don't know what these are, they are comic strips about what it's like to have a heterosexual millennial relationship in today's world, only drawn with "Pac-Man"-esque faces. When my friend James asked me if I liked them, I realized with a strange sudden-ness that I did not. Of course, he was baffled. "Why not? They are so cute? Are they too saccharin for you?"
I had to think about it. No, they are not too sweet. I think the reason I didn't like them was that the presumption is that this is how a healthy modern relationship is supposed to be, yet the woman element (in particular) is infantilized. In other words, if you step back from it and look at the comic aware of your bias, I think you can see that nearly every panel has the woman acting like an adolescent child. We see it as "cute" and "saccharin" because of the nature of childhood. Of course, we don't actually know what any of these people would look like in a real world because it's a comic book. It's really a perfect storm, because it creates a "Mary Sue" element similar to what the author did in the Twilight books by giving us a protagonist that was so plain anyone could step into the role. In other words, Any one person can immediately step into the "pants" of these characters and assume "hey this is me." That's actually kind of brilliant from a pure marketing "let's make a goose that lays golden eggs" standpoint. So kudos to the author of these strips.

And make no mistake, Catana comics are popular and are only getting more so day after day. I find this phenomenon to be weird, and because I have a curious mind, I want to ask questions. It makes me psychoanalyze the audience of these comics for purely academic reasons. In other words, I'm not trying to be judgmental. People are free to express their love in any way they wish to in my book. But those who might be delighted by these comic strips could possibly fall into a few camps, and I'd like to discuss those in depth below.
The first camp is the atypical straight guy (lone wolf alpha male) that only likes women, period. Here's a person that might love the idea of having a partner who is childish and struggles to put on clothes, who struggles to make choices, who is short, easily confused, and reliant on him to act as the adult in the relationship. These kinds of guys are probably going to love reading Catana comics, because it reinforces a kind of worldview that they find comfortable.

The second camp is the straight woman who secretly desires a level of codependency, which is where the man is not only a lover and boyfriend but takes on several of the responsibilities normally associated with a "daddy." It's actually kind of fascinating, especially in today's world which is filled with all kinds of headwinds from searches for equality to society-wide anxieties that arise from a myriad of issues.

The third camp are going to consist of people who are no longer children but look back at their adolescent years through a lens of relationship envy--envy because it felt cozy because both partners were (effectively) children and didn't worry about bills or any responsibilities. In fact, there are no responsibilities at all in Catana comics. That real-world stuff exists beyond its borders. It's a place where only physical interaction (in the same way that children poke and prod at the world) matters. They only needed to figure out how to tolerate each other's farts and burps and laugh about that the way that children laugh at things.

The fourth (and final) camp belongs to people who suffer from (diagnosable?) chronic anxiety. These comics are like comfort food, indulging an idealized version of a childhood fantasy. It's the ultimate "I want to retreat to my pillow fort now and suck my thumb" expression combined with a desire to be taken care of by someone else.
I think that Catana comics are a perfect product for the times in which we live. The world feels like it is getting worse, unless you are part of the #MAGA crowd (at which point then the world probably feels great). I have many Trump-ian friends, and I don't understand...I don't understand any of it...but whatever. Maybe I wasn't meant to understand, and that isn't the point of this post. My brain just doesn't work that way. But for those who aren't part of that crowd, the world feels hotter and more miserable, more dangerous, more filled with hatred, brimming with intolerance, and with undercurrents that hint at the coming of some truly lasting evils that, to be fair, have always plagued mankind but in this circumstance it just feels different. Into all of this drops a comic strip which promises a return to childhood innocence, where one partner is enough to protect the obviously weaker one, and nothing else dares to intrude upon their idealistic existence. I get why they are popular. However, the reason behind that popularity is why I don't like them. In the end, I wish there were fewer adults in our country who desired an escape into childhood no matter how terrifying the real world has become.

8 comments:

  1. Reminds me of the book I finished yesterday. The 33 year old girl basically curled into the fetal position if left alone. It was pretty lame.

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    1. I wonder if there’s some strange sexism at play too that I never noticed. Men, once adulthood is reached, are no longer “cute” when they act like babies or infants. The behavior is condemned and those men will end up homeless if their behavior doesn’t change (or labeled mentally ill). Women, especially those who are considered attractive, can act like infants far into adulthood and it doesn’t seem to be condemned in the same way. Rather, it can be seen as “cute,” which is shocking to me. Anyway, my whole observations regarding this have kind of fascinated me more than they should. And there’s always the possibility that my observations are incorrect as my sample size is too small.

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  2. I've never seen these before. Perhaps it was your intro, but I found the comics very insulting. Girlfriend as puppy? Wow, that's awful. If I was seeing a guy and he was writing these, he would no longer be welcome in my world.

    I do have to take issue with your reply to Pat. Men do act like babies at times. When they get sick is one prime example. Watch any sitcom, and the male character plays stupid, especially to get out of doing things. It's not all the time, of course, but that exists in this culture.

    As for women acting like children... I don't see that as cute. That whole helpless routine makes me downright angry. Perhaps there are places where that is seen as cute, but that's not my reality. Stupid women get taken advantage of. It's not a pretty existence.

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    1. I agree we act like babies when sick.

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    2. Thanks for replying, Liz. There's a lot to unpack here. My feelings toward Catana comics are strongly in the negative. However, I didn't mean to insult you with any of my observations. Rather, I am trying to process what is going on here in these comic strips and why. But your observations regarding sick men acting like babies is valid. Thanks for pointing it out.

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    3. You did not insult me. Nor did I feel attacked personally. I didn't think I'd react so negatively to the comics. You were right, the female character in the comics did act like a child. And perhaps that's what people do like about them. I have no problems with your observations, just the comics themselves.

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  3. You've made some very astute observations here, Mike. A couple of the panel struck me as okay, but if they continue in this vein then the "little woman" (remember that condescending phrase?) is being a very much a child. Do any of the panels reverse some of these situation, like making the man the puppy in the relationship? If not, then they've got a problem indeed.

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    1. No, none of the other panels reverse what you are seeing. Also, the comic artist is a young woman. "Catana" is named after her (the main character). So this is apparently a view of her real life relationship.

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