Bechdel-Wallace Test

Research Paper behind the test

While researching Alison Bechdel, I came across an interesting characteristic that gauges a level of gender equality in fiction, based on Bechdel’s own idea. This characteristic notes the prevalence of the depiction of women based on their relation to men, rather than their own relevance. The requirements to be considered as having passed the Bechdel test are: the work has to have at least two women, the two must talk to each other, and they must talk about something besides a man. This rule was first proposed in Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For. One criticism of this test is in its varying levels of interpretation, in that one who follows the rule vaguely, including movies with more basic conversation,, might get different results from someone who follows the rule more strictly. I myself believe some works may fail the test given that a work might still pass the test and contain sexism, while works with leading female characters (and perhaps no other characters) may fail the test. However, the test itself is still interesting to say the least, and several variants of the test have been formed, such as in the LGBT community. Perhaps the test comments on the representation of underrepresented groups in works of fiction. Interestingly, not one of the original Star Wars trilogy or of the Lord of the Rings series passes this test. I was quite surprised; you would assume that such simple criteria could be easily met in a work of fantasy.

In “Materiality”, Bill Brown states that “materiality can refer to different dimensions of experience, or dimensions beyond (or below) what we generally consider experience to be… When you admire the materiality of a sweater, you’re acknowledging something about its look and feel, not simply its existence as a physical object” (p. 49). In the October 2013 The Atlantic article titled “The Geology of Media” (a part of Ian Bogost’s and Christopher Schaberg’s Object Lessons series), Jussi Parikka explores the materiality of the Earth by thinking of the planet as an object, and not simply as a collection of many different objects. Parikka acknowledges that “it feels insufficient to think of the geological Earth as an object, when it is made up of so many connected and interdependent things, such as the atmosphere.” He then explains how Scottish geologist James Hutton “reconceived [the Earth] as a dynamic entity, one that reached back millions of years.”

Parikka uses this consideration of a dynamic Earth to explore the materiality of digital media technology, pointing out that media is often seen as “detached from the human world” as an “immaterial sphere of communication”, yet is wholly dependent on the geological earth. “…the resources and materials gathered from geological depths enable our media technologies to function.” Parikka goes on to state that “the materiality of media is something ‘harder’ than the usual hardware layers we mistake to be the endpoint of media materiality. Our electronics are like mini-mines of minerals and metals themselves: copper, gold, lead, mercury, palladium, and silver, among other metals.”

While Parikka goes even further with the ways in which media technology (and the processes used to create it) affect the materiality of the Earth and with this idea of the Earth as a dynamic object, this brief exploration of the Earth as a material object that experiences both the withdrawing of resources to create media technology and the dumping of discarded media technologies ties back into Brown’s understanding of the experiential materiality of objects. Parikka and Brown share this understanding. As Brown perceives the MRI in relation to the human body, Parikka perceives media technology in relation to the Earth: as Brown’s “visualizing medium” (the MRI) at once materializes and dematerializes the human body, Parikka’s resource-extracting medium (media technology) at once materializes and dematerializes the Earth.

(Searcher, Blog Cycle 2.2)

After witnessing the unboxing of Anne Carson’s Nox both in class and online, I started thinking about other interesting ways in which books can be presented. I thought a while about books I have read in the past that had memorable presentations and I could mostly only think of children’s books, which depend heavily on their interface to captivate easily diverted minds. One book stood out to me in particular – a book actually within a book, The Monster Book of Monsters from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. A clip from the movie is shown here:

The Monster Book of Monsters has a very deliberate and (literally) striking display. The cover of the book is very obviously meant to reflect its contents. It is covered in fur with jagged edges and houses four beady little eyes paired with a set of dagger-like teeth and exposed gums, making the book appear lively and monstrous itself. When opened improperly, the book becomes frenetic and launches itself about in an attempt to attack he who mishandled it. This is clearly a way of indicating the danger of the beasts the book details and it could also be a means of preventing access to the information inside. The book is also a humorous reflection of Hagrid, the professor who assigned it to Harry Potter and his classmates. Hagrid is known for having special affection for dangerous and otherwise unwanted creatures, so it is natural (and amusing) that he would think it appropriate to assign this pugnacious book to his students.


As I read through Fun Home, it struck me as a middle ground between a zine and a book full of text. From zine culture, the book draws its use of images to add an incredibly personal touch to the story, and from “standard” books, it draws a linearity of style.

Zines are a way for counterculture to express things that might not be possible to express through any other form of mainstream media. What struck me most about the zine workshop last week was the different levels of complexity that were available to the creators of zines. Zines could be as simple or complex as the creator wanted, all while still being incredibly personal and profound. Fun house is like a zine in that Bechdel uses images to create a personal space where the reader can insert themselves into her position and see things through her eyes. She moves through the narrative of her story by piecing together bits of information that she has – phone calls, letters, memories, conversations – in an attempt to create a whole. This reminds me greatly of zines, many of which use cut-and-paste techniques to piece together many different ideas in new and interesting ways, often to convey a central theme.

Unlike zines, Bechdel has a clear, cohesive style. The drawing style and handwriting remains constant through the book, giving the story a cohesion that zines do not have. Zines can be created by many authors, all of whom contribute their own creative style to the zine. Fun Home is one single style – even variants in style (such as to show a photograph or handwritten letter) are consistent through the book. This helps the story have an overarching narrative that zines sometimes do not.

The combination of these things makes for an extremely powerful media artifact. Bechdel is able to combine the personality of a zine with the structure of its opposite and create a cohesive, meaningful story.

Sun Ra’s Space Is The Place is an Afrofuturist film that ironically is set in the future, yet it’s main character is seen frequently adorning cultural artifacts synonymous with ancient Egypt, and is experienced in the present as the viewer watches the film. Like this film, this mishmash of past, present, and future is arguably a common point of intersection for most archives. How often does the archive itself get considered as an artistic artifact however? Coca-cola’s The History of a Global Icon (experienced on a smartphone) seems to be solid example. What makes it so compelling is its ability to make use of a form of hypermediacy. On the phone’s screen itself, the user is able to see a digitally recreated office setting. The amount of detail put into the setting are an attempt at achieving both immediacy and hypermediacy. The user very quickly as if he/she has been instantly given access to a space for a specific space. The exploration of the office by the user taking place in conjuction with the positioning of the smart phone also helps to encourage the feeling of ‘being there’ in the actual archive itself. Selected artifacts within the digitally constructed space make use of hypermediacy by not only allowing the artifacts to be zoomed in on, but also providing additional information about the selected artifact. Taking a step back from analyzing the user experience of the virtual archive, and considering the virtual archive as the medium, I wonder if a design goal was to marry the idea of Coca-cola’s brand with being a leader of innovation or futuristic.

Fun Home is mostly a recollection of the events surrounding Allison Bechdel’s father’s death. These events are also embellished by the photos and other artifacts from her childhood. The most noticeable element of these artifacts is that Bechdel doesn’t simply include them in her book but rather, she draws them. This brings a new viewpoint to the artifacts as they are now influenced by her drawing style and also her viewpoint.

We earlier read about immediacy in which the gap between the signified and the signifier is erased. This means that the representation is perceived to be the actual object. Typically, in order to adequately gauge the meaning of the original object, one would have to see or know about the real object. However, in Fun Home, Bechdel removes the “actual objects” from her book and replaces them with illustrated versions of the originals. This could be perceived as avoiding the immediacy issue, as we never see the original artifacts. Since these artifacts are drawn how Bechdel wants them to be perceived, there is certain level of trust between her and the reader, as the reader has to trust that the artifacts are drawn to represent the actual objects.

However, this is obviously not the case, as Bechdel includes or omits certain details in the artifacts to achieve what she wants the reader to perceive. The first example of this is the picture of Bechdel in a dress on pg. 35. She states that she appears to be mourning and the picture supports that. The large presence of black in the illustrated photo definitely supports her mourning. Black isn’t as pronounced in the other comic strips, unless a shadowy figure needs to be drawn. So the use of a very emphasized black is the photo is most likely intentional. This is an example of Bechdel using her illustrated artifacts to amplify her story.

Another thing that these illustrated artifacts accomplish is immersing the reader into Bechdel’s story. The entire drawing style is consistent throughout the entire book. This creates an immersive world that the reader delves into while reading the book. The illustrated artifacts enhance this immersion as they are so well integrated into the story. Fun Home is Allison Bechdel’s story. It is told from her point of view and Bechdel is using her illustration style to show this. The illustrated artifacts, while not the actual objects, are more effective from this purpose.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is, at face value, just the thought process of the author thinking about and accepting her father’s sudden and unexpected death. However, looking deeper into through remediacy and materiality reveals a very complicated narrative that Alison gives to the reader, making it far greater than a story about a man’s death.

Looking at the story through redmediacy with both immediacy and hypermediacy, Alison’s story seems to become more than just the words and pictures. Each panel tends to have a sentence or two above the image it relates to, showing a hypermediacy tendency. The few exceptions to this trend are when smaller sentences are inside the pictures within a box, or the text itself has a box around it. These panels flip between minor information, such as siblings and meatloaf, to major information dumps, such as the secrets of her father. For Immediacy, all the story panels some shade of blue. The only place it is not blue is a three pages at the beginning and the covers. Here the reader doesn’t process any color, so they must directly visualize what the colors should be, giving them a personal and possibly more realistic few of what the colors were. At least, that’s what I caught myself doing.

Another hypermediacy example is the various letters, pictures, and tv shows mentioned and shown in the graphic novel throughout the beginning. For TV, there is text bubbles showing the parallels between real life and the imaginary. Books, the author or characters are shown through a picture, such as the Adams family. With the letters and book text, it is shown. For letters, immediacy is shown through cursive letters and light pen pressure, making it more difficult to read compared to other text. For books, the text tends to be printed legibly, with the occasional text bubble covering over a majority of the text. Another immediacy example from the text is form the story about the father getting stuck in mud when he was young. Alison decides to depict him as a milkman instead of a mailman, breaking the fourth wall to do so, and therefore shaping the perception of the reader to be more of the experience she had.

For materiality, I am unsure if I completely understand the concept, but reading Fun Home had me drawing parallels between the example given in the Brown text and Alison’s father. It starts off with him being a home renovator, maybe a little distant and cold to his family, but the facade mentioned in the text and images. Yet, one turn of a page and his character has a shadow cast upon him from his first secret. This theme continues throughout the first chapters as the author reveals more about his life, using the materiality of the idea of her father to have readers view him as various story tropes that she alludes to constantly.

Looking at the text in this way makes it more a deeper story for reader’s minds.

The combination of readings this Monday led to an interesting juxtaposition. Brown discussed in his paper the different forms of materiality that we perceive. Be it physical objects that we possesses and categorize or the delivering mediums for media. The in class example with Nox furthered the second point mentioned about materiality. Without its material structure and design, the book would carry a much different significance. We might have not even taken a look at this in class if it had not been printed in this manner. Which led me to consider if there are other books that use the physical medium to advance their meaning.

In a lot of books, this is also done for a more utilitarian purpose. Books that are designed to be handled by children are made from thick cardboard or plastics to prevent imminent destruction in the hands of the children. Textbooks are written in books that can withstand more wear and tear than your average fiction or nonfiction book. There are some practical books that cherish the medium, such as some wood working books made out of the different pieces of wood referenced in the book. Yet, this continues to be a physical practicality rather than delivering a message through the medium.

However this context of materiality is different in that the medium does not change the meaning of the media inside of it like it was in Nox. Anne Carson used the continuity of the paper and clippings to build the meaning of the book further through her use of medium. Agrippa have a similar usage of its medium through temporary computer program. These two examples prove the point that materiality does not need to exist solely for a practical purpose for the content inside.

For today’s discussion, I found Nok, and materiality reading very interesting. To me, Nok does not look like a “book”, because it a horizontal expansion of a journal collection in which the photos and notes were directly pasted on the papers. She can still able to add the pages on and make it as the longest “book” ever. Nok seems to present a long timeline with physical original photos, wrinkly or teared notes, and some marks. The material of items can give us a sense of how long they have been, or the attitude of author toward those items. Including the physical original items gives more value to the items, and provides more story about it. Clamshell-style book box drives a feeling that it is a common box storing the memory. It can be classified as an archive of the items and memory bonding to the time she was with her brother, and after his death.

Materiality have been elided by the medium as medium is message (McLuhan). As the same time, we also ignored the materiality, and the value of materials. The photos are scanned in, edited, and cropped; and the texts are retyped. All the books, and online articles look the same; and they do not have their own special physical characteristics to set themselves apart from the others. In the example of laptop which is the medium that we interact with the most, we too focus on the medium itself or the content (apps, webs, or programs) that we have never exam or explored its physical structure. How laptop works, or what are inside are still the unknown to us as the users. When we explore the materiality, we can see how it set the laptops apart from one to another in the same brands, and different brands. I can see the laptop itself can be considered an archive of laptop’s technology or lead to the other archives. Laptop contains the a version of its hardware, from there we can have a collection of hardware in the developmental order. Also, it leads us to different archives of individual parts (like chip) that inform us the history of its development, the company, and inventors. Ignoring the materiality makes the items within the same medium less unique, and interesting.

While reading Fun Home I noticed how the funeral house itself relates to the theory of materiality as Brown states in his article. Alison Bechdel states in her memoir on how the funeral home or ‘fun home’ as they would call it, not only represented a place where they had to do chores, but also a place where they had a lot of opportunities to have adventures. In a way the fun home was a real place where funerals took place, but to Alison it had a different meaning. The theme of double meanings and materials being dematerialized continues to show up in this book.

Another example of Bechdel blurring the lines of materiality are when she talks about her father. She continuously refers to her father as a fictional character and someone who is not a real person. She even goes as far to say when he died she felt like he had already been gone years prior to him passing away. Another way Alison sees her father as an unreal character is when she is describing the relationship he had with her mother. She states that she only saw her mother and father touch intimately two times while growing up. Bechdel also describes how she rarely had physical contact with her father as well. This lack of affection illustrates how Bechdel has dematerialized her father and has a hard time relating to him while growing up. Bechdel’s relationship with her father is easily summed up during her father’s funeral when she shows no emotion.

Fun Home so far is an interesting book that has helped me with examples from some of the topics we have discussed in class. While you were reading what stood out the most to you as relating to materiality or dematerialization?