Wednesday, February 10, 2010

IQ Test: Catching Flies

This post pogos off a couple issues and some reoccurring topics which've been mulled around here before, but coalesced against current events they make for yet another introspective opportunity to editorialize on editorial cartooning. Talk about an infinite regress of objectivity and navel-gazing... more below the fold...

The instigating issue was a recent comment by President Obama’s chief of staff, who referred to liberal strategy as “fucking retarded,” which went viral and prompted in turn a round of righteously indignant poo-flinging from the sideline by the whack-a-mole quitter Sarah Palin. She popped up to call Rahm Emanual "indecent," "sick" and "offensive” and demanded his resignation. Yet in a stunning case of selective outrage washed by the cool, cleansing waters of hero worship, when conservative icon-in-chief Rush Limbaugh deliberately flogged the same phrase while decrying the insidious incursion of politically-correct word-police, his usual bile was
first met with deafening “no-comment” silence, then after the requisite cognitive dissonance he is now actually being defended for his usage of the supposedly offensive epithet. This Teflon Brand Hypocrisy is truly a thing of perverse beauty to witness, and never ceases to amaze and amuse.

Now Palin in particular has been a political chew-toy that reminds me of those little catnip infused pillows: cats first maul them with utter abandon, they go temporarily insane, and then as the flavor is gradually leeched away from constant drooling, interest is eventually lost and their attention eventually wanders away. Still, every so often one is excavated from under the couch and a brief interlude with triggered frenzy is resurrected before boredom returns. A metaphor, if you will, that suits this situation perfectly.

It's bemusing to continually read the projection and transference from fans of Palin when they mistake sincere acknowledgment of her influence and legitimacy, fears over what she represents, or even obsessive hatred, with what is honestly only simple fun at her expense. Far from suffering any “Derangement Syndrome,” she’s fascinatingly funny in fact: a break from the usual, predictable banalities of political (re: human) shenanigans - but like craning your neck to see an accident it's important to remember to keep driving and not cause another wreck. Because after the frivolities, there are many, many more serious aspects of Palin that merit criticism and comment than the swarm of mosquitoes probing her every orifice and office. A prime example would be the attention wasted on her Tea Party speech: instead of being distracted by what's written on her hand, or what she was wearing, we should listen to the damned words coming out of her mouth

Her being catapulted into the spotlight with the VP nomination and subsequent death-grip on the spotlight has simultaneously created and invited the self-perpetuating narrative of her yin-yang/love/hate celebrity dependence on mutually slavish media attention. I’ve joked before about how during the presidential campaign we could have used a 12-Step group devoted to just getting editorial cartoonists off Palin: we swear off her, stay clean for a while, until the next outbreak and the spiral descent into (her) madness starts all over again. I've noticed how many Alaskan bloggers have fallen into that same rut worn smooth by the easy pickings and low-hanging fruit served up continuously by her escapades: the more interesting sites have begun weening themselves away to address the many issues facing us up here.
Unfortunately there are a host of other political candidates in the Alaskan political landscape that are far more pressing, real and dangerous. They're just not as funny.

This chain of events led to some introspection on my part after I knee-jerked out a sketch that pointed up how some folks elect to studiously ignore the utter hypocrisy of the above-mentioned manufactured discontent. Case in point: it was amusing and ironic to note how the “fucking” part was ignored in lieu of honing in on the word “retarded." This coming from bloggers like C4P who routinely refer to Democrats as “libtards,” and insist on Democrats being behind the imminent collapse of standards of decency, if not Western civilization itself. Also interesting was how nobody thinks twice about using equally appropriate terminology like the classics “idiot,” “moron” and other diagnostic categories of the developmentally delayed. 
Side-note: this is on par with the peculiar and disingenuous habits of writers who try and pull a visually semantic switcheroo by disingenuously typing “f***ing” when trying to cover this story (or “sh*t” or “N-word”) – you’re not fooling anybody: polite company aside, the semiotics translates into the same exact meaning.

So originally I doodled out a series of panels with some crude caricatures of favorite politicians: Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, Senators Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young, State Legislator Mike Kelly and Sarah Palin. Text boxes that spelled out the following terms were juxtaposed against the art: idiot, moron, imbecile, cretin, retarded, and just plain stupid. But after sitting on the sketch for a few days (here's where the process of creating a drawing is the equivalent of slow-blogging- it's most advantageous to the impulsive and hasty), a feeling of unease gradually dawned on me over the thought of seeing this piece in print. Not because of any chickening out or loss of vision on my part - that sort of walkback been documented here before - nor fear of looking stupid, insensitive and crass, or worrying about hurting someone’s feelings with voicing my opinion (again, said process elaborated here). 
Instead, I was reminded of a high school experience that involving a diminutive but very intense girl from “Special Ed” who always used to single me out in the hallways and holler at me for skipping school. We had gotten to know each other because I was part of the burn-out stoner/hippie clique that hung around the back doors smoking, and in those days part of the rehabilitation of the "Special Ed" kids was to send them outside with big, clumsy wooden tweezers to pick up the trash left behind by the more intelligent and beautiful people. Needless to say that’s when I picked up the habit of pocketing my butts for disposal in a proper receptacle. And I’ve never forgotten how mortified I’d be while trying to look cool by my locker with my buddies an she’d tear me up & down for missing classes, being late and being a general loser. Funny/sad thing is, she was probably the last individual who still gave a shit about me before I finally dropped out, and definitely the only one left
who cared about, or even noticed my attendance anymore. To this day, she’s still the only person I feel I really let down, besides eventually realizing what I did to myself many years down the road.

That backstory cast a long shadow over my behavior, even today: the juggling act between the basic job description of being an editorial cartoonist, the venting of inner anger, the creative and artistic expression of opinion, the motivating influence of pointing out what’s fucked up with people and the world, and the reality of relationships with people you know and love. I can also point back at those same high-school days as when I first began to develop a reputation for being a disrespectful smartass, which got me suspended and beaten up quite a bit. So I eventually learned there are certain responsibilities woven throughout all these factors, and we all have to consciously choose what, when, where and why to take a stand or pick a fight; you might run the risk of losing not only friends, but anesthetizing or killing off the part inside of you that makes it possible to have empathy and forgiveness. But still... if you're not angry, then you're not paying attention. One of the functions and roles of cartoonists and comedians is to serve as a lightning rod, to say the things most other people are too polite to point out. It's an on-going balancing act. While juggling flaming chainsaws no less...
Hence the reworking of the concept into a variation on the theme that is much more palatable to me personally, and is in turn definitely more publishable. Still probably piss some folks off, especially the dolts it makes fun of, but I’m really not interested in changing hearts and minds on this matter, unless guilt and shame can do the trick (certainly worked wonders with me).  

*ProRegressive Alaska (postscript)

Sure, I’m probably the last person you'd expect to weigh forth on the matter of civility and decorum, especially given the nature of editorial cartooning to provoke debate, if not outright mockery. 

But the concurrent blowback over one of the more prominent Alaskan blogger’s usage of “slut” to describe Sarah Palin points up another opportunity to reflect on my experience in juggling what’s right (and when, where, why etc.). One of the things I love most about progressives in particular is the feral quality of the infighting, as opposed to the more staid musk-ox mentality inherent in conservative circles. It also is a spiffy way to keep folks on their toes, as liberals will jump all over each other and are not afraid call out the intransigents and ignorant alike, and remind everybody just what it is we're all fighting for. What a wonderful mess.
So when it comes to insensitive stereotypes and face-palming fuck-ups, I'm more guilty than most - it’s virtually guaranteed that I’ll screw up with another cartoon sometime in the future, but that doesn’t slow me down a damn bit, only tempers my judgment, in most cases. Theoretically. And it also doesn’t mean I’ll ever be above saying I’m sorry, having apologized before to people who’ve been hurt by something I’ve done. At the very least taking the time and consideration to listen, maybe offer up a firmly-grounded rational or rebuttal: these sorts of exchanges, even the more heated conflicts, have lead to some major breakthroughs in understanding, if not newfound respect. The maxim handed down to me by a former editor to never draw anything I wouldn’t personally hand to whoever I was making fun of is a very powerful lesson. That said, both apologies and civility (not to mention irony and satire) are probably forever wasted on some folks.
Which is why there are some instances and issues I’ll opt for wadding it up and throwing it at them instead.


  1. The catnip metaphor is the funniest thing I've read in a long time!


  2. You can learn a lot from watching critters....
    (besides laying on the couch all day sleeping)
    (and vole head love offerings for Valentine's Day)