The Wicked + The Divine: “Fucking Tara” and the Fame Monster

3

On Autonomy, Available Bodies and Asking For It

Spoiler Warning: This essay contains spoilers for The Wicked + The Divine #13.

During the first twelve issues of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine, all we know that Tara has been a running joke. Superfan Laura doesn’t see her as worthy of adoration like the other gods, and those other gods don’t think much of Tara either. Oh yeah, and she once wore a meat dress. It would be fair to say, however, that the other gods dislike her because she wore a meat dress. To them, “fucking Tara” is a literal pound of flesh signifying a truth none of the members of the Pantheon want to hear: that the gods are all, to some extent, on earth mainly as objects for fans’ pleasure.

The Wicked + The Divine | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By: Jamie McKelvie Art By: Matt Wilson Art By Tula Lotay

“As long as I’m being a god, they always love me.”

For Tara though, the pleasure is all theirs. Tara’s godhood is a curse that affirms her social currency, not as an artist, but as an object of desire, while all she has ever desired is to be seen as anything other than that. That she is made to feel ungrateful for her fame and deemed shallow by some of the other gods is telling; perhaps the other members of the Pantheon do not want to admit that they are the shallow ones for desiring and embracing their fame as a lucrative social currency and for reveling in their own godhood and the benefits that come with it. The other gods may feel that because Tara is beautiful, because she preens, she must not have any substance, or be on their level in a myriad of other ways. Even though Human-Tara actually is a musician (a fact that is never confirmed for any of the other gods), the general attitude reflected by the rest of the Pantheon is that Tara has not “earned” her godhood.

The Wicked + The Divine | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By: Jamie McKelvie Art By: Matt Wilson Art By Tula Lotay

That Tara is so isolated from the other members of the Pantheon also underpins the extent to which her godhood differs from everyone else’s; it’s not presented as a release like Inanna’s or as an affirmation like Baal’s. Most importantly, though, it’s not a surprise like Cassandra’s. If anything, it’s quite the opposite. As Tara herself remarks, “All my life I’d been told I was a goddess. Turns out, they were fucking right.” Notably, she also remarks, “I heard ‘hey beautiful, hey goddess’ turn into ‘I’m going to rape you, bitch’ enough times to know that the former is just the latter with a bow on it.” Unlike the others, Tara’s godhood does not come with benefits. Yes, all the other gods will die, but they will die having been adored and respected. Tara’s godhood, on the other hand, reinforces the fact that she exists only to win people’s attention at the expense of their respect. 

Human-Tara is already tired, frustrated, and reclusive, because of both overt and insidious forms of misogyny and rape culture, and one could reasonably even view the granting of her godhood as a similar type of violence inflicted upon her, reflected in her scream “all-the-way-down” upon Anake’s arrival, which of course takes place while Tara is isolated and vulnerable.

Tara screams because her godhood strips her of her remaining agency, while also confirming for her (and for us) the extent to which a woman’s appearance will still govern her social worth. Tara screams because her celebrity means that the public will feel even more entitled to infringe on her autonomy and command her person-hood, either directly to her face during a performance or even more harmfully hidden behind the zero-accountability mask of social media. Tara’s celebrity also means that she is put at even more risk for flat-out abuse; the harassment and threats of sexual violence that she has received thus far are now amplified and the public’s sexual entitlement to her body is simply framed as part of the deal, especially for a pop star. How convenient then that most pop stars are women and that pop music, where performers harness beauty and bodily labour, is still seen by critics and fans alike as the least credible genre with respect to creative artistic talent.

The Wicked + The Divine | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By: Jamie McKelvie Art By: Matt Wilson Art By Tula LotayTara’s credibility (or alleged lack thereof) is precisely the lens through which we are first introduced to her, and even that is bound up in her objectification. The first glimpse we get of her face is actually back in the opening pages of Issue #5 as a literal object that is being not desired, but violated, on a poster that is defaced and mocked by Lucifer. While planting an early seed of the toxic connection between desire and violation, Gillen and McKelvie also hint that if even the Devil herself demonizes someone for her choice of dress, it can’t possibly end well for that person. Luci scorns Tara’s “crotch-deep cleavage,” and by extension, likely believes that Tara must be “asking” to be objectified simply by assuming—correctly as it turns out—that everyone is staring at her.

The Wicked + The Divine #13 (AUgust 2015) | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By Tula Lotay

“Baal, try something if you like…”

That Tara is so flippantly discounted by someone in a prim, buttoned-up white suit only further highlights her body as a sexual object in contrast to Luci’s androgynous presentation. Furthermore, Luci’s style of dress points to the type of sexuality that would be called “brave” and “daring” by the same public that would label Tara by her appearance as the type of woman who must be “asking for” threats and sexual abuse or perhaps as the type of woman whose body has been so offered up for consumption as a body that she could, in fact, break the Internet with it. I don’t think that Tara’s likeness to this frequently demeaned celebrity is an accident either, especially since Tara could also definitely break Baal if she so chose.

That Luci is also a literal thin white duchess in comparison with Tara’s visible curves and darker-toned skin also raises red flags regarding sexually accessible bodies both within and outside of celebrity culture, especially since many flashbacks to a younger Tara confirm that no, it’s not a spray-tan—if Tara is in fact the Hindu Tara, I speculate that she would be South-Asian, which Gillen somewhat confirms. Despite Lucifer’s self-admitted rampant sexual appetite, the old racist tropes of “controlled” white sexuality versus “animalistic” WOC sexuality still apply (except for Asian women though—just ask Woden,) and Tara isn’t even afforded the benefit of this trope in the satiric, empowering way embodied by Sakhmet, a literal man-eater. The fact remains that a racialized female body is almost always a sexualized one by default (again, just ask Woden). Lucifer’s ethnicity and body allows her to present herself in a way that implies modesty (read: respectability) and to some extent, even allows her to deflect the public’s consumption of her body. Tara is never given these options; even as an eleven-year-old schoolgirl in a knee-length skirt and sneakers; she still receives cat-calls from strange men.

Though it’s pretty clear that Tara’s godhood and celebrity cause her to be seen as less than human instead of superhuman, her physique, outfits and mask are also the most consistent with those of many female superheroes.

The Wicked + The Divine | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By: Jamie McKelvie Art By: Matt Wilson Art By Tula Lotay

“I’m up here.”

The same type of criticism leveled at Tara, because of her appearance and outfits (explicitly so in Gillen and Lotay’s epilogue), has also been recently directed towards the depiction of a certain group of powerful superheroines.  The question here is: when does it become somehow acceptable, especially in the name of “feminism,” to ever regulate another person’s body or dress? (Hint: the answer is NEVER.) This type of regulation is even more damning when you consider that those who do not hide their bodies, or even those who enhance them surgically, have made an autonomous choice to do so.  To scorn their choice, or worse, to demand that they confirm or explain it, also infringes on this autonomy.

Tara also makes the autonomous choice to wear a mask, notably during the only times she ever acts on a desire of her own: to use some of the time she has to be taken seriously as an artist and to share her own songs with an audience.

The Wicked + The Divine #13 (AUgust 2015) | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By Tula Lotay

“There are some nights when they’ll put up with a few songs, a few of my actual songs.”

Here, Tara’s creative labour as a human artist is contrasted with her performances of divination as a goddess. When she tries to incorporate the former into the latter, she is maliciously called selfish and accused of inciting a riot after essentially asking her fans to acknowledge her creative labour instead of her godhood. Again, her agency (to tell her own stories) and her attempts to trade in a currency that is not corporeal are both denied by the public, and she is called an attention whore precisely for trying to deflect the public’s consumption of her as an object and re-direct attention to aspects of herself that don’t hinge on her appearance.

Also worth mentioning in this context is Woden’s own mask, which protects the exact type of sexually entitled, lecherous gaze that Tara’s is meant to deter, one of his only two lines to Tara in Issue #13 confirming any suspicions we may have had. And don’t get me started on his fetishizing of Asian women, which he claims is “an aesthetic choice” while Tara’s legitimate aesthetic choices as a trained fashion designer have been constantly maligned thus far. Woden, I hope you never get lucky again, because YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!

But of course, as Gillen points out in the most devastating way possible, so are we. To wait thirteen issues to humanize Tara for us means that we have been set up to read with her detractors. In designing this comic for public consumption, Gillen must know all too well that their core audience is likely made up of fans just like Laura, the exact type of fans who might feel that just because pop music isn’t their thing, pop artists don’t deserve respect as artists or possibly even as people. As fellow goddess Amaterasu cheerfully puts it, “Everyone loves you, except the haters.” We all know that Tara experiences those who love to hate more than any of the other gods do, and as Amaterasu also adds, “Some haters have machine guns.”

Well, machine guns or a Twitter account, especially considering that all the gods are teen-aged. Though gun violence in schools is less common than say, fifteen years ago, cyberbullying, to some extent, has taken its place. The reality is also that cyberbullying can and does lead to teen suicide, and (along with other forms of harassment) is almost always contingent on the fact that the bullies rarely, if ever, see their target as another human being.

Tara’s death packs such an emotional punch precisely because Gillen and artist Tula Lotay have humanized her by showing us her failed attempts to humanize herself, to both her fans and the other gods. By choosing to tell Tara’s story in this particular way, they also highlight the fact that since we haven’t been explicitly asked to care about Tara’s personhood up until this issue, we don’t, nor do we give much thought to why that might be. By the time we finally do begin to care, Tara is dead, and we realize that what we have been reading is her suicide note.

It would be easy to say that Tara asks to end her life because of the media, or because, in the words of a fellow meat-dress-wearer, she has simply fallen victim to the fame monster. But such a monster couldn’t also exist without an audience that is not only complicit in its existence, but actively contributes to its ability to cause harm. Gillen and Lotay don’t give Tara a way through instead of a way out precisely because the former would mean letting us off the hook as well.

Is it fair of WicDiv’s authors to victimize Tara simply as a cautionary tale for us? No, of course not, but nor is it fair that anyone, famous or not, should ever have to deal with what Tara does throughout this narrative either. The point seems to be that “fair” is irrelevant to the discussion, and that Tara signifies not only a truth that the other gods don’t want to acknowledge, but one that we don’t either.

Though Tara never asked to be a goddess, she never shirked her obligation to perform as one either. She still continued to go onstage, arms outstretched, waiting to be embraced by her audience or maybe to be crucified by them (and by us) instead. Though I don’t think Lucifer died for our sins, “fucking Tara” very well may have. Either way, the message is clear: try to be kinder, or else we all lose.

The Wicked + The Divine #13 (AUgust 2015) | Image Comics | Story By: Kieron Gillen Art By Tula Lotay

“Try to be kinder.”

Share.

About Author

3 Comments

  1. Thank you! I was getting really frustated cause didn’t find any in depth analysis of this issue in Internet. It bugged cause it was really good and i would put it on the top #3 Of the Wicked and the Divine run. Great Article. And Kudos to the creators for not holding back in the splash pages of the tweets.

  2. I loved reading this, in a weird depressing way. It’s kind of infuriating that I hadn’t come across a piece about it until now. That issue was so painful to read, but that’s kind of the point.

  3. The Dynamic Observer (@IzzyG1217) on

    This post was so great and further emphasizes my frustration because for the longest, I wanted to know more about Tara as a character. She seemed so intriguing, and I was curious to see how the writers would incorporate her and the mythologies that have a deity named Tara into the narratives. It’s like we got a great deal of depth and exploration in one issue to the point where I consider the best character, and then she dies. Hopefully, she comes back to us in later issues, but I don’t know.