Story Profilers

“Fucking Tara”: How The Wicked+The Divine Made Us All Murderers

The Wicked+The Divine, about gods reincarnated as pop stars, collectively called the Pantheon, to inspire humanity, is one of a growing handful of comics that has earned enough of my love that I avidly track the release of new trade paperback volumes. After Volume 3 hit the shelves, I was forced, to my dismay, to wait several weeks before I was actually able to find it locally. (Fun fact: In the interim, I chose Chew as the comic to sate my hunger for dynamically illustrated narrative. Unfortunately, it left me craving more, and I have yet to enjoy the second course.) Once I finally got my grubby paws on the third volume, “Commercial Suicide,” I blazed through it gleefully, with one exception. Issue 13, in which the goddess Tara is finally introduced to readers beyond secondhand descriptions, brought me to a full stop. Tara’s narrative, ending in her death, is a brutal critique of popular culture and sexism, condemning the sense of entitlement demonstrated by the media and the masses that sees fame and the famous as a commodity owned by all. Tara’s story is a battle for ownership, both over her art and her body, that engages with the reader in a remarkably meta way.

The series as a whole largely revolves around fame and the culture surrounding it, which in a world of social media intrinsically involves anybody with an internet connection. Half-formed opinions based on hearsay and memes are embarrassingly normal, and the number of people brimming with vitriolic loathing of Taylor Swift or One Direction who feel the need to shout their hate to the world is ludicrous. People respond to their art as if it is created personally for them, as if it is for them to own and rage against for not matching their personal tastes. The masterstroke of Tara’s story is that writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie, through their portrayal of the character in the first two volumes, lead us right into this trap. We are not passive readers observing the story from afar, but an involved member of the media audience complicit in her death.

Prior to Volume 3, Tara’s presence is minimal but emphatic. The first two volumes only reference Tara on eight pages combined, six of which are in the first volume. And with those eight pages, the WicDiv crew shape an artist profile that resonate with a specific performer archetype established in the common psyche: the Very Special Artist, a particularly pretentious creative type known to do things “for their art” or as a “way to express their truth,” but everyone suspects they just want the attention. Consider Lady Gaga’s antics over the years, for example; her memorable dress of raw meat has its own Wikipedia page. As Lucifer sneers in issue 3, if Tara was a murderer, “she’d want everyone to know. She’d have done an art installation about her very special murder.” People roll their eyes at the Very Special Artist, make some snide remarks about the nature of pop culture, and contemptuously deride the artist for not fitting within their comfort zone.

Gillen distills this ideal into two words, one thought that feels so reflexive as to practically be an ingrained part of Fantheon culture and, by extension, how the reader identifies the character: Fucking Tara.

Laura Wilson is a Pantheon mega-fan and protagonist of the first two volumes. As a result, she is simultaneously the reader’s proxy and a barometer for the general mood of the fandom-at-large. And she uses the phrase “fucking Tara” to refer to the goddess at almost every mention. At the beginning of Volume 1, as she watches Amaterasu perform, Laura’s internal monologue states that this new goddess is “better than Baal. Better than Sakhmet. Better even than Inanna. (She’s certainly better than fucking Tara.)” The bold and italics are actually in the text, guaranteeing that of the comparisons, the reader notes and internalizes this specific attitude, while the choice to make the comment a parenthetical implies that the disdain for Tara should almost go without saying. Of course Amaterasu is better than fucking Tara; how could she not be?

In issue 2, the next time Tara is mentioned, Laura discusses potential suspects for the divine murderer of a judge with Cassandra, a reporter and myth expert. When Cassandra suggests she try to visit some of the gods to ask questions, Laura retorts, “I can’t get to see Tara. She doesn’t see anyone.” Meanwhile, her internal monologue spits out another “Fucking Tara,” reinforcing the attitude. This moment also suggests that Tara holds herself separate from the rest of the Pantheon. Then, on the very next page, Laura rattles off where she’s seen the various gods perform: “I’ve seen Lucifer in Brixton, Minerva in a cinema in Shepherd’s Bush, Sakhmet at everywhere from Bethnal Green to the O2, and fucking Tara in the fucking West End.” No other god earns an epithet, and this treatment is consistent enough to suggest it is standard, possibly even an in-joke for fans of the Pantheon.

The other characters to mention Tara in Volume 1 are Cassandra, who doesn’t care enough about any of the gods to offer either preferential praise or condemnation, and Lucifer, who makes the aforementioned “art installation” comment near the end of issue 3 and defaces a poster of Tara with some classic devil’s horns and glasses at the start of issue 5. While adding her artistic revisions, Lucifer remarks, “What was it you said, Tara? ‘If you exist, you’re staring at me.’ It’s only because you think crotch-deep cleavage on a meat dress is casual wear, of course.”

And thus, by the end of the first volume, The Wicked + The Divine has convinced readers they not only know Tara without once seeing her in the narrative itself, but that she is worthy of disdain and jokes. Where Laura’s use of “fucking Tara” provides an instinctive shorthand, Lucifer’s comments directly shape reader’s perception of her as a Very Special Artist. Tara is the goddess that does not meet the public perception of her role. She keeps to herself, presumably out of arrogance (or so we think), and thrives on the attention and controversy generated by her standoffishness and antics. Readers know this archetype and embrace it with laughs and eyerolls, a mocking derision so casual it seems harmless. We all know of performers labeled as acceptable targets by pop culture. Hating them is practically a meme, and even mentioning them invites a joke.

Fast-forward two volumes back to issue 13. Overlaying the narrative with what eventually proves to be Tara’s suicide note, the thirteenth issue is an emotional sucker punch. In the issue’s opening pages, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Tula Lotay (whose color selections in the issue create a wonderfully organic, human feel) introduce the duality of Tara’s divinity and humanity. Performing as a goddess, she is adored. However, when she “powers down” to perform her own songs and poetry, the crowd jeers and riots. Ironically, the transition is symbolized by a mask. As a goddess, Tara is unmasked, catering to the crowd’s desires. When she switches to her own songs and poetry she masks her face, metaphorically distancing herself from the whims and ownership of the crowd while imploring the audience focus on her art, perhaps the truest representation of herself, over anything else. They throw trash instead.

Following this sequence is Tara’s testimony of abuse and harassment, revealing the barrage of propositions and threats that have followed her from the age of eleven and culminating in a two-page showcase of Tara’s Twitter feed (except it’s not directly called Twitter because ownership rights and things). The spread is the most chillingly horrifying moment in the series, showing a relentless onslaught of death threats, sexual harassment, and objectifying abuse, made worse by the fact that it mirrors the testimonies of women who actually do face this nightmare every day. Tying the posts together is #FuckingTara, turning our perception of the phrase on its head and retroactively making it a symbol of the misogyny that permeates our culture. While the wider fan culture uses the name to express frustration at Tara’s inaccessibility and failure to comply with their demands for her art, it is also a literal, physical threat demanding ownership of her body and creating a constant atmosphere of abuse, and one that the comic’s fans participated in.

Furthering this idea of ownership is the simple fact that the narrative never reveals Tara’s true name. While WicDiv is gradually revealing the human identities of the other gods, the only indication of Tara’s name comes in issue 15. Hazel/Amaterasu visits a shrine to pray for the dead and includes a prayer for “Aruna… I think she was Aruna.” There is no certainty in the statement of identity. Tara herself signs her suicide note, “Yours, Fucking Tara.” Fame devoured her, audiences claiming ownership, wiping away her identity, and reducing her to a caricature.

Tara’s narrative can be captured in her own words: “Fuck you. Fuck you all. I am not just here for your pleasure. Except I am.” Our media culture is highly reactionary, with the ability of social media mobs to gather and destroy lives within hours. While this aspect of the culture is noticeably toxic, The Wicked+The Divine forces readers to recognize that partaking in the frenzy can be casual and thoughtless. We became part of the pop culture audience passing judgment on an icon, and all because of some well-placed words presented in the right attitude. Become famous enough and anyone may feel like they can make demands on someone’s art and person. Tara holds a light to this attitude in its most seemingly innocent and dangerous forms, and then condemns us for it. Fucking Tara.

 

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One comment on ““Fucking Tara”: How The Wicked+The Divine Made Us All Murderers

  1. Opener
    March 28, 2016

    Awesome post. Bang on! Keep it up

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