#takedown: confrontation and empathy

#takedown: My evening on a pier with pick-up artists and protesters

By David Blumenstein, Pikitia Press

 Review by Anthony N. Castle

It’s easy to be creeped out by ‘pick up artists’. That’s why I signed up to attend a free pick-up seminar run by a guy named Julien Blanc. It didn’t turn out the way I expected! This story is about the people I met while we waited for Julien to show up…

The very title of #takedown implies the confrontation at the heart of last year’s Julien Blanc controversy. Once images had surfaced online featuring the ‘pick-up artist’ boasting of how he had gripped women by the throat and forced their heads to his crotch, the hashtag #takedownjulienblanc kicked off. As the date for his Australian seminar approach, public anger grew and protesters rallied to end Blanc’s tour and confront those in attendance.

Enter the cartoonist. #takedown recounts the events where David Blumenstein (Guardian Australia, Crikey, The Nib, Australian MAD) registered as an attendee at Blanc’s seminar in an attempt to understand how oafish machismo and blatant sexual assault might pass for socially acceptable mating rituals. Blumenstein’s cartoon avatar signs up for the seminar, meets those waiting for the pick-up artist’s arrival, talks with those on both sides, then leaves under the impression he has missed his opportunity to meet Blanc. On his way home, Blumenstein considers the causes of these attitudes and reflects on his own personal history.

Without Blanc appearing in the book or even a shouting match between those present, it may be tempting to label #takedown as anti-climactic or missing its final confrontation. However, it is the lack of confrontation that gives the book its hook. By denying the reader any fireworks or a glimpse into Blanc’s dim and opportunistic soul, it focuses attention squarely back on those seminar attendees whose ignorance, desperation and misogyny put them in a hashtag’s sights. We never meet Blanc, and that’s precisely why we get to know those on the pier. At the comic’s closing scene, Blumenstein leaves the crowd to walk with a friend from the other side of the picket line. On reflection, Blumenstein admits that he may have not turned out too differently from those on the pier had his life taken another tack. #takedown’s narrative opens on growing conflict but closes with a moment of understanding.

While this confessional approach can contextualise #takedown as graphic memoir, it also functions as graphic journalism. #takedown’s minimalistic approach seeks to represent the events in a playful but even-handed way, offering the closest thing a cartoonist can to reportage on a relevant turn around. The mostly monochromatic salmon palette and colour-holded black linework result in a piece that doesn’t feel overly dramatic. This particular scenario could lend itself to drawing the common stereotypes of feminist protesters and gormless chauvinists, but Blumenstein doesn’t go in for the low-hanging fruit. Credit must be given to his style as it humourously explores the psychology of those who might be interested in a vile lothario like Blanc but never takes us into the realm of caricature.

While working amidst graphic memoir and graphic journalism, David Blumenstein has captured a recent moment from Australia’s activist zeitgeist with a rather personal touch. Those protesters and pick-up artists on the pier are humanised as a result. The notion of #takedown might suggest a confrontation, and while some may be disappointed in the book’s resolution in that respect, it delivers something a little more useful; empathy.

David Blumenstein is a cartoonist, storyboard artist, writer, animator and graphic scribe in Melbourne, Australia. He has made comics for Guardian Australia, Australian MAD, Crikey, Junkee and SBS Comedy. He is also a founder of the cartoonists’ workspace, Squishface Studio.

For info on #takedown, check out http://www.pikitiapress.com/

For more info on David’s work, check out http://www.nakedfella.com/



About GC

Gary Chaloner is the creator of Flash Damingo and The Jackaroo, The Undertaker Morton Stone & Red Kelso. He's also worked on Will Eisner's John Law, Robert E. Howard's Breckinridge Elkins, Astro City, Doc Wilde and Unmasked. He's the co-convenor of The Ledger Awards and the host/publisher of the AustralianComicsJournal.com.

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