“Birdland Reconsidered”: Part Two (of Five)

Posted by on December 2nd, 2009 at 3:48 AM

Previously: Part One.

Story Structure

Birdland was originally published as a three-issue miniseries in 1990, with an additional fourth issue released as Vol. 2 a year later. This final issue functions as something of an epilogue to the first volume, which was a complete story unto itself. In the collected edition, released in 1992, Hernandez added additional pages in order to fuse these two volumes into a seamless whole; however, for the sake of analysis of the story’s main themes and symbols, it’s helpful to examine the two sections separately before stepping back to look at the complete book.

 

Birdland Section One

Throughout the first section (which is comprised of the first 69 pages in the collected edition), there are several clues that reveal Hernandez’s intention to satire Wilhelm Reich’s philosophies.

 

“Orgiastic Potency”

The most notable are the book’s many sexual scenes themselves. In Hernandez’s parody, all of the main characters (Fritz and Petra, Mark and Simon, Bang and Inez) have achieved maximum “orgiastic potency” and live ideal lives of free and open sexuality. There are no social, political or religious barriers to sexual relations in the “alternate dimension” of Birdland. Rather, the characters engage in one tryst after another, in a variety of positions and locations, often with different or multiple partners, fulfilling every sexual urge without any fear of moral, legal, social or health-related repercussions.

The pervasiveness of the pornography in Birdland may seem gratuitous, but the images are also skillfully used in service of the parody. The depiction of sex is cartoonish and hyper-exaggerated; there are cumshots on nearly every page; characters have incredible stamina; men require virtually no recovery time; the size and appearance of breasts and genitals are enhanced. In every way, the sex is garish and comical, yet conspicuously devoid of any semblance of realism.

BirdlandPage23 (1)

Fritz, the lisping psychotherapist who would later become one of Hernandez’s favorite characters, also shares some telling professional habits with Wilhelm Reich. Her use of hypnotherapy during counseling sessions to lull her patients into a trance, before taking advantage of them sexually, is directly based on Reich’s similarly infamous and highly controversial violations. According to his Wikipedia entry (which cites Myron Sharaf’s 1994 book, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich as source for this information), “from 1930 onwards, Reich became more interested in his patients’ physical responses during therapy sessions, and toward the late 1930s, he began to violate several of psychoanalysis’ great taboos. He began to sit next to his patients, rather than behind them, and started touching them. He would ask his male patients to undress down to their shorts, and sometimes to undress entirely, and his female patients down to their bra and panties” (in order to break through their “armor” and release their blocked flow of orgone energy). Of course, as with everything in Birdland, Gilbert takes this notion and exaggerates it to a ridiculous extreme. Rather than the awkward groping implied in Reich’s case, Fritz’s “sexual healing” includes oral sex, intercourse and group sex, in all sorts of bizarre positions and scenarios.

 

“The Secret of Why”

At their most fundamental level, the characters in Birdland are all searching for answers to some of life’s most profound questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? It may sound preposterous to imply that a smut-filled comic book has such lofty intellectual aspirations, but the evidence is riddled throughout the book.

For example, right off the bat, on the second page, in the midst of the first of many orgasms, Mark Herrera claims to have glimpsed “the answer…the secret of why,” only to have it disappear like a wisp of smoke as soon as his climax recedes. This reference to “a secret” is a direct jab at Reich’s belief that “orgone energy” is “life energy,” god-like in its power. In the throes of his orgasm, Mark thinks that he is glimpsing God and, recognizing the magnitude of the moment, asks Bang to get him pen and paper so he can write down what he sees but, of course, the vision fades too quickly. Thus he is compelled to try over and over again, each time pushing sexual boundaries further until he finds the meaning he is searching for. This misguided search is the crux of the parody throughout the book as one character after another seeks fulfillment and understanding through compulsive fornication.

But the truth they seek proves elusive. Rather than bringing them closer to God, their sexual explorations become increasingly desperate until, by the end of the first section, the characters are so completely out of control, they have become slaves to their own libidos.

 


 

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