While I've got nothing on Ethan when it comes to comic book consumption, there was a time when I had a pretty decent comic book collection.
I was really good friends with Spider-Man (in all its forms), I listened to reggae albums with G.I. Joe and occasionally I went snorkeling with Conan.
Another comic I used to buy was The Phantom. I always bought The Phantom for my brother. In hindsight, I think I did that so that I could read The Phantom without any of the stigma that was so appropriately attached that particular comic. The Phantom was always kinda lame. The Phantom.
I was always a bit uneasy reading The Phantom and I could never quite put my finger on it. It's now approximately 5 years since I bought my last Phantom comic. Now that I'm a little older, a little wiser and the insanity caused by my untreated syphilis has started to take hold, I think I can articulate what it was about The Phantom that made me uncomfortable.
Most of the examples I will be citing come from The Phantom Golden Age Special. This was printed in 1994 and features "UNEDITED, UNCENSORED 12 COMPLETE CLASSICS!" I don't know what in the name of the three Gods that I believe in I was thinking when I bought this monstrosity. At the time I was 14 years old and the ten bucks I wasted on this thing could have been put to better use, namely a hooker and/or crack. Furthermore, the stories that are in this Big Book O' Phantom were originally cerealised (small joke there) in newspapers. Since they were printed in the Big Book O' Phantom unedited they contain a small recap at the beginning of every page which makes reading it a pain in the ass.
Anyhoo: The Phantom, in hindsight, seems to be nothing more than a hotbed of colonialist propaganda and sexism. This is the only way that I can explain some of the plots that are found in The Phantom.
Think about it: Bengal (a microcosm for all of Africa or the third world) exists as a place of darkness, corruption and evil. Along comes a white man who can reportedly never die. This white man is able to not only restore peace and order to Africa he is viewed as an immortal divine being. If it weren't for The Phantom (white man) then Africa would sink back into the mire of corruption and evil it been residing in.
Frantz Fanon would be spinning in his grave.
The first story I'd like to use as an example is called "The Crybaby". It was printed between 25th August 1958 and 1st November 1958.
The plot is pretty simple, there's this kid called Cecil who is a bit of a pussy who is getting beaten up every day after school by a bully called Mike. Cecil, being the pussy that he is, runs away and gets lost in the jungle. The Phantom comes across Cecil and saves him from a tiger that had apparently been stalking him.
When Cecil tells The Phantom that he doesn't want to go home because his mother will be angry with him The Phantom takes him under his wing and teaches him about life in the jungle. The Phantom then teaches Cecil how to hunt, kill, fight and solve all of his problems using violence.
Cecil then goes back and kicks the shit out of the bully.
I guess you could say that the moral of the story is to face your demons or something like that. However, the way I see it The Phantom is saying that any self worth is determined by a healthy machismo.
The Phantom promotes a culture of violence and chauvinism amongst men.
The second story I'd like to cite takes place between the 25th April 1943 and 4th July 1943. The story is called "The Ismani Cannibals".
In this story some cannibals kidnap two ladies and plan to cook them up and eat them. The Phantom rides in and rescues them and with a little sleight of hand convinces the cannibals that he is a shape shifting God and that they are to never eat meat, any meat, again.
Now this might seem like an innocent little story but when seen through glaucoma afflicted eyes (much like mine) there appears a more sinister narrative underneath it all.
Let me break it down for you: The white man (The Phantom) convinces the black man that he is a God and using his influence completely undermines hundreds of years of culture.
The fact that the black people were cannibals creates a nice moral high ground, one that's easy to get to. It's OK that the white man has gone to Africa and is completely obliterating African culture, cause hey, black people are all evil cannibals anyways.
In "The Golden Princess", printed between 14th January 1945 - 24th June 1945, The Phantom rescues Diana from a tribe called the Mooli.
This at first seems like a straight forward story. However, if we are careful we can see through this piece of colonialist propaganda.
There is a little detail that I'd like to share with you about the Mooli tribe. Their "Golden Princess" is a white girl who the Moolis took to be some sort of priestess due to the colour of her skin. It seems that according to The Phantom black people are just looking for someone white to worship.
If that's not bad enough, when The Phantom confronts the Mooli tribe he picks up a statue of the Mooli God, Mooli-O-Mooli. Proclaiming "Just as I suspected! Hollow! Mooli-O-Mooli, You're a fake!" The Phantom casts down the idol and shatters it. Upon seeing the destruction of their God, the Mooli tribe bow down before The Phantom in reverence.
I think what The Phantom is trying to say here is pretty damn clear and needs no further elaboration.
Of course, it isn't simply colonialist attitudes that The Phantom is brainwashing kids with. In "The Governor's Family" which aired between 17th September and 1st December 1951 it seems that the lesson is misogyny and sexism.
This story was about the rotten, spoiled family (mother + son) of a Governor that gets kidnapped. The Phantom subsequently comes in and rescues them.
The point of contention rests in the treatment of women. The Phantom and the son go hunting because evidently it is the role of "men folk" to rustle up the food.
This automatically recreates traditional roles; the men hunt, the women cook. Even the smarmy git of a son gets in on it "But, mum, us men can't cook. We hunted the rabbit, now it's up to you." When the mother protests that she wouldn't know how, The Phantom replies "Time you learned how." This is clearly because a woman isn't a woman if she doesn't know how to cook.
It doesn't end there however, as the woman derives an extraordinary amount of pleasure from having cooked the food which suggests to me that no only do these traditional roles exist, women only gain satisfaction by existing within them.
Incidentally when The Phantom is beating the crap out of some bad guys, the son gushes "isn't he terrific?" to which she replies 'That, that brute? Well in a way, I guess he is'. The caption reads "In spite of herself, the governor's haughty wife is thrilled". It seems that buried in all women (even conservative snooty bitches) is a sexual beast just waiting for a man to show her who's who and what's what.
After she gets home safe and sound the Governor's family is changed and changed for the better. The son promises to catch up on his school work and be better behaved and the wife decides to start cooking for her man and be a better wife, whatever the fuck that means.
"The Professor" published between 3rd December 1951 and 15th March 1952 also yields some fine examples of the sexism that exists in The Phantom.
The professor is a woman who decides to write a book about The Phantom. When she asks the opinion of an official at the Jungle Patrol all he can say is "Er. (gulp), I was wondering how you'd look without glasses". Classy.
It doesn't end there however. When the professor states that she is determined to write her book the Jungle Patrol officer thinks to himself "Spends all her time writing books - with a figure like that! Wow!" Double classy.
Strap yourself in kids cause the best is yet to come. The next thing he says to her is: "It's, er, odd to call a pretty woman like you "professor". What's your first name?". Woo.
Then, when the professor is at the airport and about to go home she says goodbye to the Jungle Patrol guy to which he says "This isn't goodbye." And then promises (threatens?) "I'll look you up in the States, professor".
The only redeeming feature about this particular story is that the professor maintains some dignity by standing up for herself. However, this is all undermined because the professor is shown to not be very bright on account that she can't figure out that her guide is actually The Phantom. This is despite the fact that the guide was nowhere to be found when The Phantom was kicking the shit out of random people. It doesn't take a genius or a professor as it were, to realise that there is something suspicious about the behaviour of the guide, that and the fact that guide went into the jungle wearing a massive trench coat and hat.
It seems to me that the Ghost Who Walks is nothing more than the spectre of a colonialist, chauvinist and sexist way of thinking. I'd hate to know what damage The Phantom did to me when I was 14. I suspect that The Phantom might very well be the reason I can't get a girlfriend. No wait, that would be my face. Nevermind.
This was scrawled on a scrap of paper that I found on a train:
Of course, there are differences:
The Korean War was actually a 'police action'.
These days there is no need to hide war activities behind the label 'police action' or indeed any other benevolent labels.
In fact, calling it a 'war' seems to be a calculated decision.
Before they called it a 'police action' to placate the people, now they call it a 'war' to placate the corporations and shareholders.
Published on Friday, 1 November 2002
I hope that what I have written will be of some assistance.