Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

I’ll tell you why I love Jessica Rabbit. First of all, let’s take off our judgment lenses for a moment. So what if the woman is an elegant, sexy and seductive cartoon character? So what if she has become an iconic sex symbol next to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna? She’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way. Jessica Rabbit is an extension of her artist and male audience’s desires, lacking agency in representing herself as she wishes.

What is so intriguing about her character is that she understand that she is a prisoner (or slave) to her artist and male audience. In the book, Jessica Rabbit is just as sexy, but is an immoral character and wife. In the film, however, she is re-imagined as a moral figure–that is, she has a conscious: “Why don’t you do right, like other men do?” The point is that she is molded to the desires of her artist-creators (writer/artist) and in such a way that reflects the desires of her mostly-male audience. As a cartoon (and a female, too) she has no agency over how the world views and interprets her. In the media today, we see a similar occurrence–that is, female models are hired by companies owned by men, and laid out on pages, television and computer screens in ways that entice a majority male audience.

I sympathize with Jessica Rabbit. That is, I can see how women (and people in general) become objects that are interpreted by others (and society) as “good” or “bad”. The human mind tends to organize. In trying to organize the world around us, we create categories– binary oppositions. Organization is good, but human beings are complex and the world we live in is not simply black and white. The most troublesome category, I think, is that which divides people as either “good” and “bad”. Most of the time, we label others by what we see, not by what we know about them. For example, if I see a woman decked out in a mini-shirt, and sexy heels, I shouldn’t assume she lives immorally. I cannot assume that someone who is covered from head to toe is a better person. For all I know, the girl in the mini-skirt has a closer relationship to God from the inside.

What does it mean to be “bad” anyway? I wouldn’t even call my worst enemies “bad people”. If you smoke one day, does it make you a smoker? If you lie one day, does it make you a liar? Moreover, do bad habits make bad people? Do the occasional poor decisions and personal weaknesses mean an inability to become a better person? I don’t have a definite answer to these questions, but I am inclined to say “no”.

If there are “good” people, then why have religion and moral codes to encourage improvement? If there are “bad” people, why believe in God’s mercy at all? Once we label someone as “good” or “bad”, we take away their agency–we rob them of their complex conscientious human and spiritual nature.

Jessica Rabbit understands she is a character, and characters are created by writers/artists– from the perspectives of writers/artists. Good and evil, as we imagine it, are also perspectival. In a Nietzschean sense, there is no absolute truth. Instead, truth is examined, evaluated, and filtered through a lens. In Islam, for instance, there are thousands of scholars who work on interpreting texts (Qur’an, hadiths). Not all of them agree; not all Muslims agree.  A common motivation (belief in one God and Muhammed, peace be upon him, as the final prophet) is what drives scholars and lay Muslims to seek truth. But every culture has it’s own interpretation of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.

There is always a filter in between human beings and Truth. In the case of the character Jessica Rabbit, it is her artist’s will to make Jessica Rabbit an object– an embodiment of heterosexual male desire. In the real world, it is the social norms, mores, perspectives; our physical bodies and limited minds–and our inclination to categorize people and the world into binaries– that leads us to reduce complex characters, human beings, into simple adjectives.

6 thoughts on “Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

  1. It becomes so easy for us to objectify others. I pray we all learn to see what is human, beautiful, true and good in others.

  2. I would tend to agree with you, even though you really didn’t ask for my opinion. The problem is that for social considerations such delineations become necessary, such as in some legal considerations within Islam. Arbitration upon the nature of one’s being is solely within the realm of Allah (swt): only God can say this person, this being, IS such and such. However, for the sake of society and the limitation of our own psychology, humans beings can only judge – and indeed, must judge! – on the basis of actions since we can’t peer into a persons heart or even intentions. If not by that, then by what other criterion shall jurists make their designations? Of course, those delineations have their limitations. I guess this might be part of the dialectal conversation between the Muslim jurist, the fuqaha, and society.

    As for perspectivism and relativism, we gotta be careful with that, especially as Muslims and even Christians. The whole point revelation is to set particular standard for what is “good” or what is “evil,” which is why the Qur’an is the “Furqan,” the Criterion for Right and Wrong, which, given the presence of liberal secularism, would be a problematic statement. What if what a society determines to be “good” – say, for example, as the Nazi’s did, that the mass killing of Jews is “good” – does that make the act intrinsically good? And how would we know so? Do we have a right to make that a priori assumptions, as Nietzsche himself asked, as to the morality of a certain act? I certainly don’t think Nietzsche would have agreed with this act, but it’s at least worth asking the question.

    From my understanding of Muslim jurisprudence, I think you might be confusing this with what a society/culture deems socially equitable or just (mar’uf in Arabic) and morality. The scholars differed on the basis of time and space, not in terms of what was deemed moral or not.

  3. “As for perspectivism and relativism, we gotta be careful with that, especially as Muslims and even Christians. The whole point revelation is to set particular standard for what is “good” or what is “evil,” which is why the Qur’an is the “Furqan,” the Criterion for Right and Wrong, which, given the presence of liberal secularism, would be a problematic statement.”

    Why do you think Muslims should be careful to acknowledge that society, culture and experience affect the way we interpret Scripture–and arrive, at times, at different interpretations (relativism and perspectivism)? In accepting this, I see it as agreeing to disagree…but still working together with a common motivation: that is, to arrive at Truth and Knowledge (in the case of Muslims, that Truth would be sought through our Holy Scripture, the Quran)…

    “The scholars differed on the basis of time and space, not in terms of what was deemed moral or not.”

    Could you explain what you mean by that? From what I know, Islamic scholars continue to disagree on what is moral or not. For example, Islamic scholars consider women working at supermarkets or women driving to be immoral conduct. Some Islamic scholars believe music to be haraam, while others do not. This, to me, is a disagreement on what is considered moral conduct based on interpretation of scripture. Not to mention the different schools of thought–

  4. I DO think that society and history influence how the scholars interpret – or should interpret – scriptures. I heard this story that each of the scholars of the four madhab, Imam Abu Hanafi, Malik, Shafa’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal were asked why they differed from each other. They each said that the evidence was the same, but that they differed in time and space. These scholars were concerned with legal issues in their times, and sometimes their rulings came into conflict with even the Qur’an because of circumstances. For example, I heard that in the Hanafi school, merchants were allowed to deal in usurious (riba) transactions because the Muslims at that time were put in a position where they had to, even though the moral imperative is against riba. Same thing can said for Muslims being allowed to marry Hindus with the Moghuls in when they got to India. In these cases, they really didn’t have any other choice because of historical circumstances.

    I don’t think though that relativism and perspectivism are necessarily related to scriptural interpretations of Divine Sources (Qur’an and Sunnah, or in the case of the Maliki school, Qur’an, Sunnah, and the normative of the Prophet in Medina) because what’s “moral” and what’s “legal” are two distinct things. The issues with music and women are about permissibility – can or should we do this – not over morality – is such and such intrinsically right and wrong – because such things, as I understand, or only within the realm of God. [big sigh and scratches head, somewhat confounded] I think relativism deals with the moral category not legality, though I think morality and legality can be conflated. The historical circumstances of India made certain impermissible things permissible from a legal standpoint.

  5. Two more things I forgot to mention:
    1) As for the Hanafi example, it deals with the Muslim merchants trading with non-Muslim merchants in non-Muslim lands. I believe the largest Muslim empires – the Abbasids, the Ottomans, and I think the Mughals – were mostly of the Hanafi persuasion so that they had to deal vast arrays of people.

    2) This whole issues is what Nietzsche meant by the death of God. Since, in the Christian European context, the idea of God became irrelevant in the moral sphere, human beings had to occupy vacant stop left by God and fulfill the role of deciding morality. This is the reason why Jews, Christians and Muslims – really anybody who believes in divinely inspired revelation – has to be careful when invoking relativism. Some people, like the Ash’aris in Islam (al-Ghazali was an Ash’ari and apparently so is Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. In fact, most of the Muslim world is theological Ash’ari), claim it is only through revelation that we can know “right” from “wrong.”

    Anyway, sorry for spaming your blog sis. I tend to enjoy conservations of this nature. :D

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