Maus is no ordinary book. For one thing, it’s got no words. Okay, that’s not quite true – it’s got little words. Little words in speech bubbles because it’s a cartoon book, a comic. But this is no everyday comic strip. What makes Maus incredibly original is that it’s a graphic novel about Jewish author Art Spiegelman’s father’s experience in the Holocaust.
I would say that, in fitting with its topic, Maus is an unusually un-funny comic. But that’s not quite true either. Maus is funny; not during the Nazi period of recounting admittedly, but in the juxtaposing story line of 1990s America. In this story line, cleverly intertwined with the past, Spiegelman’s relationship with his father is illustrated, often very amusingly. His father is portrayed as being stereotypically Jewish – excessively mean with money for example – to the point where he could be a caricature. The depth in Maus comes with the contrast between the man who is, now, a Holocaust survivor near the end of his life, but who was a man fighting for survival, & taking very shrewd/difficult/intelligent decisions back in the 1930s and 40s. A sort of hero figure then, Spiegelman is overwhelmingly fallible-seeming to his son now (a parent-child relationship that is infinitely relatable). The obvious frustration Spiegelman feels with his father is made a lot harder due to his knowledge of the hell his father encountered in the past. Therefore, lots of his father’s most irritating traits are rendered a lot more understandable – yet they remain excruciating to Spiegelman (for example, his father’s secret throwing out of his favourite jacket because it looked too ‘shabby’ – the author being some 30/35 years old at the time).
Overwhelmingly, Maus is a story of contrasts. And, of course, a shocking account of the Polish-Jewish experience under the Nazis. To be honest, I don’t especially like cartoons and I don’t think I would necessarily read another graphic novel. But something about Maus, maybe its honesty about Spiegelmen (senior), its humour, its credibility, its unexpected form, its clever art (Jews are portrayed as mice/Nazis as cats) makes it utterly mesmerising. I read it once, and then immediately read it a second time. This book really isn’t like anything I’ve ever read before; it’s part masterful artwork, part psychology and history – and, ultimately, a piece on humanity.
I’m not someone who feels huge affinity to youth culture (if that’s a thing), but events like the 1968 teenagers’ revolution in France, and the American teens’ ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30’ badges , and the student education demonstrations in the sixties have made me realise that maybe there’s a bigger prospect of power among young people than I’d realised. And maybe Owen Jones isn’t being too optimistic with his politics of hope.
Our generation, I think, is being encouraged to think politically. Social media is probs the biggest catalyst; Twitter in particular being a device created purely to provide a platform on which an individual’s thought is expressed. Even if it is just baked beans rule! or an admission that every MIC character is a total arsehole, I’m pretty certain everyone I follow has tweeted something political in the last month, and with surprising fervour. I’m told (okay that’s an outright lie, I watched) that Toff from MIC (T-O-F-F) did actually tell viewers to vote !!! (and then tweeted “classic politics student”; I feel like she thinks she just solved apathy in a 30 second e4 clip). MIC aside, what Twitter does is tell us our opinions matter (unfortunately maybe to a gross effect – it’s way too easy to self delude into thinking people care about my cats). Facebook, Twitter and all the others have made politics and information accessible, condensed into controversial/funny forms – like @PoliticalReacts or @David_Cameroon – which are ultimately just more accessible than reading The Economist. (and cheaper; dirty Tory money maker slime)
Most obviously, social media and young people (and,NGL I’m pretty sure it’s NOT bunch of 50 year olds who invented the Lil Nige FB account either) gave birth to the cult of Milifandom – which admittedly failed in its support of a Labour election victory, but overhauled assumptions that young people only care about baked beans. There were some really inspiring accounts from Milifans, such as/;
The point is, although this cult was partially born through desire for attention and the draw of rebellion from a Murdoch-made norm, it wholeheartedly and crucially emerged through empathy.
And I believe empathy is key in the youth revolution (or the future youth revolution). The massive Green surge among students proves our very real anxiety about the environment (which David Cameron, despite being pictured almost strangling two huskies w/ ‘animal love’, is slashing the budget for) and, primarily, the pain austerity causes. COMRES recently reported that the Tories only won a majority with voters over 65. Even if some of our generation get rich quick and turn right, surely that’s a pretty hopeful future for our cause; a more equal and fair society. Plus, there are only like three Tories in my Sixth Form. And one of them left.
Finally, I believe platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and our generation’s ingrained liberal-ness (on race, sexuality, class – grossly even in the 80s homosexual propaganda was illegal – we’re the first generation to grow up under relatively un-discriminatory laws) has lent us a sense of solidarity. Compounded in the Tumblr days of ‘communities’, be them gothic, LGBT+ or punk, we are to our core an empathetic and inclusive cohort. Our use of media as sources of information means we’ve partially evaded the pitfalls of brainwashing from the right wing media; instead of Murdoch supplied, our resources come from random, angry journalists on Twitter, RTed facts, other youth blogs, real, inter/national blogs (FREE and therefore not just rich people’s books/influence in the papers) – and just think of the wealth of Feminist/Socialist/etc. accounts on social media. We’ve witnessed injustice too, the Iraq War, the crimes of the banks, the scandal of MPs’ bonuses. My hope is the injustice this Government is set on causing will initiate the final development of our politicising; the result being maybe not outright revolution. But, at the very least, a fight.