“Kylie Jenner is the first woman to break the 300 million Instagram followers mark” is one Tabloid headline of the past few days. Strömquist’s new work is about why so many people (including comic book writer Liv Strömquist) happily or at least compulsively consume the Jenners and Kardashians’ Instagram performance on a daily basis “In the Hall of Mirrors” (from the Swedish by Katharina Erben, avant, 168 p., 20 €).
To a certain extent, Kylie opens the door to the eponymous hall of mirrors and opens the first of five chapters in which Strömquist reflects and (psycho)analyzes her own social media habits in particular and the discourses on beauty of the present in particular.
On the first page, three horizontal panels each show five women crouching naked on the floor; their heads are bowed forward so that their long, loose hair covers their exposed bodies. The hair color of the figure on the right changes: it is turquoise in the first panel, pale purple in the second, bright pink in the third. While the other figures remain in the same position, in the last panel she raises her head and looks at the viewer. We see a voluminous, pink kissable mouth, a delicate nose and a big eye with long Minnie Mouse eyelashes (the other one is hidden behind the pink quiff).
The text of the choreography reads: “Once upon a time there were five sisters. They were the most beautiful sisters in the whole world. And just like in all sensible fairy tales, the youngest sister was the prettiest.” On the next page, the “most beautiful” is impressively staged in a new pose in a splash panel: The pink hair reaches over the expansive backside, which is complemented by a close-fitting, light pink dress and the artificial pose is additionally emphasized. Flowers are draped around her, some of which twine around bold pink letters: “Her name was Kylie” is written there.
On the next four pages you will find traces of individual Kylie postings on Instagram (for example in a Dior partner look with her little daughter, in a bikini, in blue jeans, as a sexy sailor) including the “I like” information and comments from fans ( “OMG those nails are gorgeous”, “You are so blessed lady Janner, stay that way.”), envious people and off-topic users who are just trying to use the reach for their own marketing concerns.
Wild pictures and well-dosed theory
The combination of video clip performance, psychoanalytically interpretable fairy tale vocabulary (Best regards from Bettelheim!), flower power reminiscences and psychedelic coloring, ridiculous poses and traced postings ensure a gaudy introduction to the discourse on the powers of attraction of Instagram beauties.
Above all, the trick of translating the real Instagram entries into images has proven to be particularly efficient. The shift from photography to comics irritates the passive reading familiar from Insta-Feeds and ensures that the details of the productions are given undivided attention. The artificiality and profanity of the poses, postings and paratexts are immediately exhibited.
So Strömquist first bombards the reader with a wealth of aesthetic impressions before turning to the theory. The added value that the medium of comics brings with it through the combination of image and text in popular scientific, essayistic discussions cannot be emphasized often enough. Not only, but especially when it comes to visual phenomena, as in the current comic, the image level can add rhythm to the explanations (as on the first page) and show the subject of the investigation, comment subtly, ironize and counteract it (see the Instagram post).
In addition to the visual fireworks, Strömquist also offers a concentrated load of theory, which (thanks to the medium of comics!) is prepared in individual panels in good portions. The importance of the typographic design should not be underestimated, “because Liv Strömquist draws the text as if each letter were an exclamation mark”, as Andrea Heinze does in her formulated a very worthwhile review for rbbKultur.
Man desires what others desire
Guest appearances of the graphic versions by a wide range of experts from philosophy and sociology offer the opportunity to quote and select good words presented in speech bubbles. Strömquist found explanations for auto-destructive Instagram voyeurism, among others, in the feminist cultural historian Camille Paglia, who is incensed about the culture of envy among women (“What a ridiculous attitude to take!”) and in the philosopher René Girard, whose mimetic theory is summed up in the following statement says: “People desire what others desire.”
Strömquist illustrates in small anecdotes that this theory can explain the obsession with being slim (which, despite all the calls for “body positivity” and distraction maneuvers that frame diets as purely health-motivated, dominates all of our actions). roughen Style and exaggerated representations captivate. You can marvel at the empresses Sisi and Eugénie measuring each other’s wasp waists.
The fabulous liaison of comic and essay
In a total of five essays, different aspects of today’s beauty debates are examined. For example, it is about the growing importance of sexiness for marriages today, about the fragile structure of relationships in capitalism, about questions of the definition and reception of beauty, about the hopeless fight against the transience of youthful beauty and the consequences of selfie addiction, in which the own image can become the enemy.
Norman Rockwell, all sorts of Bible protagonists, Eva Illouz, Susan Sontag, Hartmut Rosa, Snow White’s mother and Simone Weil all have words and pictures. Each chapter provides new visual ideas, theoretical approaches and inspiration, makes you thoughtful and cheerful.
“In the Hall of Mirrors” is after the surprise success of “The Origin of the World” (which I read five years ago for the Tagesspiegel) and the follow-up works (“The Origin of Love” in 2018, “I’m every woman” in 2019 and “I don’t feel it” in 2020) is already the fifth feminist comic by Strömquist, which in German translation available and which is also received euphorically outside of the comic bubble.
It can be strongly assumed that Strömquist will not run out of material for further works any time soon: Structural inequalities were exacerbated during the pandemic (and there was already enough to be problematized before). I’m looking forward to comics six and seven and so on. And maybe in the meantime other comic creators will also discover the potential of essayistic comics to convey feminist and other topics: We definitely need more Strömquists in the comic segment!
Our author Marie Schröer is a cultural and literary scholar as well as a freelance cultural journalist. Since 2020 she has held the junior professorship for cultural semiotics and cultures of Romance countries at the University of Potsdam.