Posted by CN Staff on June 18, 2002 at 10:05:40 PT
By Jesse Walker
Source: Reason Magazine
A kid calls the FBIís terrorism tip line. "I am very serious," he says. "I know of several Americans who have helped train and finance Osama bin Laden." The feds ask him for the names. "Well, letís see. First one is Reagan. Thatís R-E-A-G...Hello? Hello?"That was an October edition of The Boondocks, Aaron McGruderís comic strip about a precocious black radical. The cartoon caused a small furor, with several newspapers refusing to run it. The New York Daily News went further, dropping the strip for a month and a half, while other papers shuttled it to the opinion page.
If that sounds familiar, itís because McGruder is scarcely the first cartoonist to have run into such troubles. Walt Kellyís Pogo -- a much better strip -- paved the way in 1953, when it caricatured Joseph McCarthy as a wildcat named Simple J. Malarkey, prompting papers to move the strip to the opinion page, to threaten to drop it entirely, and, in one case, to alter Malarkeyís face to tone down the senatorial resemblance. But the king of the controversial cartoonists was Garry Trudeau, whose Doonesbury first caused an uproar in 1972, a year before Kellyís death.It was a Sunday strip. Zonker, Trudeauís permanently blissed-out hippie, was asked to entertain a boy at a day care center. He obliged with the tale of a "gentle freak named Douglas" whose kindness to rabbits was rewarded with a weekend in Nirvana. There, the gods gave him "his weight in fine, uncut hashish."As soon as the episode appeared, complaints poured in. The editor of The Abilene Reporter-News wrote, "I have seldom experienced such an angry reaction on anything in my 20 years as the chief editorial executive of this newspaper."I found that quote on, Trudeauís newly revamped Web site, which includes a self-congratulatory archive of "controversial strips." There is a pattern to these ire-inspiring cartoons. The early ones -- the aforementioned tale of rabbits and hash, or the 1973 strip declaring that Watergate conspirator John Mitchell was "Guilty, guilty, guilty!!" -- are famous, at least to those of us who follow the funny papers. These episodes made Trudeauís reputation and built his audience; for every editor who refused to run them, another two picked up the strip. Sometimes the figure being satirized even issued an angry public rebuttal. The original George Bush, in his vice presidential days, declared that "the American people are going to be speaking out, and weíll see whether they side with Doonesbury or the Reagan-Bush message."The controversies kept coming, through the í70s and early í80s: A law student reveals heís gay; a woman goes to bed with a man not her husband; a reporter takes a tour of Reaganís brain. When Frank Sinatra was awarded the Medal of Freedom, Trudeau ran a series on the singerís mob ties. In 1985 the Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Doonesbury, implored Trudeau to withdraw a series mocking the anti-abortion film Silent Scream. He published it instead in The New Republic.If there was brilliant satire here, there was also brilliant marketing: Doonesbury was now branded as a strip for smart people. Trudeau had already won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, an award never before given to a comic strip (and rarely given to someone who is actually funny). Now he was being published in The New Republic, which in those days stood at the commanding heights of the Washington pundit class. When Trudeau won his Pulitzer in 1975, the Editorial Cartoonistsí Society passed a resolution condemning the decision. No cabal of thinkocrats issued a similar dictat 10 years later.With influence came power. While newspapers steadily reduced the sizes of the strips in their funny pages, Trudeau alone was able to insist that his cartoon stay unshrunk. Not that it always mattered what went on in the comics section: Like Pogo before it, Doonesbury was often printed on the opinion page, away from all the cartoon rabble. Papers originally shifted the strip to the op-ed page to ward off childrenís eyes and reader anger, but its new residence soon became a mark not just of danger, but of seriousness.But for a humorist, the wrong kind of seriousness can be fatal. Keep reading that archive of controversial strips, or examine the Web siteís even more extensive timeline of Doonesburyís history. Gradually, two things happen: The controversies become less familiar, and the strips become less funny. The two phenomena were conjoined in 1990, when some papers refused to run a bland series mocking Dan Quayleís notorious purchase of "Pedro, the anatomically explicit gag doll." When the Pine Bluff Commercial blocked the strips, its editors wrote, "Those of us in the newspaper business are obliged to cover the tasteless, but we see no reason to publish material on this page that is both tasteless and boring." The site quotes the Commercialís complaint. It fails to note that the paper had a point.By 2001, while McGruder was stirring up trouble with The Boondocks, Trudeau was quietly withdrawing the cartoons originally slated to run the week after September 11. The strips had questioned the presidentís intelligence, you see, and now just wasnít the time for that sort of thing. A handful of papers accidentally printed the withdrawn strips, and Trudeau received some angry e-mails. One appears on the Doonesbury site: "How can you possibly be so insensitive and out of touch with the national sentiment? I am shocked and dismayed that your September 17 strip would attack the president in a time of national crisis."The scathing reply: "In response to the 9-11 attacks Trudeau withdrew a week-long series of daily strips critical of Bush -- already mailed to client newspapers -- replacing them with ĎFlashbackí strips. Unfortunately a handful of papers, including the one you read, did not follow these instructions for the first few days of the week of 9-17."Not that Trudeau gave up on satire. In a November strip -- a good one, to give the cartoonist his due -- Karl Rove informs the president that "it turned out that the missile defense program, and corporate tax cuts, and subsidies for the power industry, and oil drilling in fact, most of the items on our political agenda...are all justified by the war against terrorism!""Wow...what a coincidence... thanks, evildoers!" replies Bush.Neither Rove nor Bush felt the need to respond to the cartoon, and no newspapers refused to run it -- or if they did, uncharacteristically fails to mention it. Instead, the site has printed a selection of e-mails attacking the strip. "Garry, the blood of the Sept. 11 victims is on your hands," says one. Another asks, "What junior college did you drop out of?"So Trudeau still has the power to piss people off. It says something, though, that he has to publish their complaints himself.Controversy and quality are not the same thing, of course. But there is a direct link between Doonesburyís declining relevance and Doonesburyís declining merit, a common cause for both afflictions. Trudeauís career arc mirrors the evolution of baby-boom liberalism, from the anti-authoritarian skepticism of the 1970s to the smug paternalism of the Clinton years. In 1972 the strip was engaged with the world; in 2002 it is engaged with itself.I mean that literally. In 1972 Doonesbury rewarded intelligence; in 2002 it rewards familiarity with its own mythology and conventions. In 1972 it trusted readers to know the politics and pop culture of the day; in 2002 it trusts us to understand that a floating waffle represents Bill Clinton, a floating bomb represents Newt Gingrich, and a floating asterisk represents George W. Bush. The strip has grown so self-referential that it makes jokes about its own self-referentiality, with Sunday strips devoted to charting the relationships among the characters. And so Doonesbury folds in upon itself, and Trudeau ends up producing his own fan fiction.This becomes even more obvious at the Web site -- not just because it is filled with trivia games and the like, but because it now includes every single Doonesbury since the strip was launched in 1970 (plus the two years of Trudeauís college strip Bull Tales, featuring the same characters, that preceded that). The result is one giant hypertext novel, a nearly complete guide to the Doonesbury universe. Only a 1977 TV special, a 1983 Broadway musical, and some Web-only material produced during the 2000 election are missing.One effect of this is to put the oldest and most recent strips on the same plane, to let one jump easily from the í70s to today and back. The results do not flatter the modern cartoon. True, the drawing is better-crafted now, though thatís not necessarily an improvement: Thereís something to be said for the static poses of the stripís first decade and a half, at least when compared to the sometimes self-indulgent shifts in lighting and camera angles that prevail today. In its art as in its humor, the early Doonesbury combined understated irony with bursts of absurdity. The later strip never stops hitting you over the head.A subtler change: how young people talk. Trudeau was in his 20s during the stripís early run and thus had no trouble imagining that college students -- at the time, most of his major characters were in college -- would be smart and engaged with the world. (Or, in the case of Zonker, smart and engaged with his own world.) They have the same self-awareness as the strip, and they speak like educated people. When draft registration returned in 1980, for example, the cast discussed it like this:Zonker: Itís not fair! Why is it we 20-year-olds have to pay for the failures of U.S. foreign policy?Mark: Thatís the way itís always been, man.Mike: Well, itís not like weíve been drafted. Carterís just trying to send the Kremlin a message.Those characters, like their creator, are now middle-aged, and they still speak the same way. Meanwhile, thereís a new crop of college kids in the strip, and they donít know much about the world. They speak the way an older man expects teenagers to speak: They say "yo" a lot, and they ask questions like, "Can you teach us how to get shaggy with the babes?" If Trudeau no longer captures the Zeitgeist, it might be because heís started writing about it from the outside.But the biggest change is political. There was a libertarian streak to í70s liberalism: Disillusioned by Watergate and Vietnam, invigorated by the rebellions of the í60s, it was socially tolerant, supportive of civil liberties, suspicious of executive power, ready to investigate and dismantle the national security state, and even open to deregulation when it was presented in populist garb. (Few remember that it was Ted Kennedy and Ralph Nader, not Ronald Reagan, who pushed through airline deregulation.) Needless to say, this current quickly disappeared -- banished from the Democratic mainstream by the í80s, its last gasp in that party was Jerry Brownís presidential campaign of 1992. But it had an effect on popular culture, not least with the pox-on-all-houses tone of the younger satirists and their outlets: Trudeau, the Rolling Stone that published Hunter Thompson in his heyday, the early Saturday Night Live. This obviously wasnít a strong strain, or else it wouldnít have vanished so quickly in the í80s, either capitulating to the new political tone or adopting the anybody-but-Reagan stance that flung liberals back into the arms of Hubert Humphrey. (Walter Mondale, actually, but for practical purposes theyíre the same thing.) Still, for nearly a decade, an anti-authoritarian style was regnant within American liberalism.Not, mind you, that Trudeau was a libertarian then, any more than he was a Clintonite 20 years later. But there was an unmistakable shift in the stripís political tone, even when the stripís politics stayed the same; it moved from the clever to the loud, from the smart ass to the ass. If there was a turning point, it was the late-í80s introduction of Mr. Butts, the enormous talking cigarette who soon came to embody the entire tobacco industry. ("Hey, teens!...Getting hooked on cigarettes is fun -- and surprisingly easy! For just a few dollars a day, youíll have a glamorous new habit for life!") Similar characters followed, notably Mr. Jay, Mr. Brewski, and Mr. Dum-Dum, representing pot, alcohol, and firearms.What did this mean for the strip? Consider one issue where Trudeauís opinion hasnít changed but his tone has: gun control. First examine this 1981 exchange between the stripís resident outlaw and a flunky from the National Rifle Association, set in a Washington bar:Springfield: Duke...itís me, Springfield! From the N.R.A., remember?Duke: Oh...Springfield, whatís the idea of sneaking up on me like that? I coulda blown you away!Springfield: Iím sorry. That would have been your right.Now jump to 1993, as a giant cigarette and a giant bullet prepare to lobby Congress.Mr. Butts: Still on a tear, Mr. Dum-Dum?Mr. Dum-Dum: Hey! The N.R.A. never rests! The gun-control nuts keep trying to slip the Brady Bill past us! But it ainít gonna happen! No way! Weíve been shooting our way out of tight squeezes since 1871! And look at the results! Over 70 million happy gun owners ready and able to defend our way of life!Mr. Butts: Wow...are we safe yet?Mr. Dum-Dum: Not yet. Tragically, many children are still unarmed!I disagree with Trudeau about gun control, but I still think the first strip is funny. The second one just hectors us. It isnít controversial so much as itís annoying.Trudeau is not the only cartoonist to decline with age. Frank Kingís Gasoline Alley brought high art to the Sunday funnies in the 1920s and í30s, but it never matched those masterpieces in the decades that followed. Charles Schulzís Peanuts was in top form from the mid í50s through the mid í70s, then grew blander; by the end, it was not so much a comic as an outgrowth of the greeting card industry. Even Pogo peaked early, in the 1950s, though it stayed funny, relevant, and controversial until its creatorís death in 1973.If Trudeauís only sin were not living up to his early work, that would be understandable. But heís moving toward a far less pleasant future, toward a fate like that of Liíl Abner auteur Al Capp. Cappís strip, insightful and hilarious in its day, was little more than a permanent tantrum at the end; it felt like the product of a befuddled old man, desperately angry at the youth movements of the í60s but too far removed from them to lampoon them effectively. (There was sharper satire of the hippies in the underground comics of Robert Crumb, wiser cracks about the New Left in -- well, in the early years of Doonesbury.) Thereís an unpleasant parallel between Liíl Abner making dumb jokes about "Joanie Phoanie" Baez the millionaire folk singer and Doonesbury shooting witless potshots at Mr. Dum-Dum. And thereís another parallel, no less ugly, between the decay of Cappís generation of liberals and the decay of the later left that shocked Capp in the í60s, reinvigorated liberalism in the í70s, then suffered its own sad decline.If Doonesbury is still sometimes interesting, it is because its world is so vast, so sprawling, that it cannot help intersecting with ours. After losing his way in the late í80s, Trudeau recovered, temporarily, with the Gulf War. His barbs werenít as sharp as they were during Vietnam, but the universe heíd built allowed him to examine the new war from multiple angles -- one week in Iraq, the next in Washington, the next in Hollywood. Even Mr. Butts briefly became funny, putting down his satiric sledgehammer to tend bar in Kuwait, where his fumes mixed with those of the burning oil wells.In that way, occasionally, Doonesbury returns to form: when the stripís Vietnam veteran returns to Southeast Asia, when its title character starts a dot-com, and even, yes, after September 11, when each of the comicís scattered characters responded to the crisis in his or her own context. Garry Trudeauís fans surely enjoyed such moments, and perhaps a crank or two even sent some angry e-mail to the cartoonist.Itís not clear, though, that anyone else noticed. The strip still appears in almost 1,400 newspapers, but itís lost its cultural cachet. Years ago, Henry Kissinger remarked that the only thing worse than being in Doonesbury would be not to be in Doonesbury. At some point since then, the strip simply stopped being a fashionable place to be seen. Note: The decline of Garry Trudeau -- and of baby boom liberalism.Associate Editor Jesse Walker is author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America (NYU Press).Source: Reason Magazine (US)Author: Jesse WalkerPublished: July 2002Copyright: 2002 The Reason FoundationContact: letters reason.comWebsite: DL: Articles & Web Sites:Doonesbury Town Hall Political Cartoons Funny About Comic Strip Character's Life Least 2 Newspapers Pull Doonesbury Installment
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Comment #10 posted by Dan B on June 19, 2002 at 04:29:47 PT:
Socialism and Communism
What the USSR claimed was socialism was really a bastardization of Marx's communism. There is a difference, however, between outright communism and socialism: com*mun*ism n. The ownership of property, or means of production, distribution and supply, by the whole of a classless society, with wealth shared on the principle of "to each according to his need," each yielding fully "according to his ability" | the body of political and economic doctrines which sets forth the establishing of this as a revolutionary aim through the dictatorship of the*cial*ism n. A political and economic theory advocating collective ownership of the means of production and control of distribution. It is based on the blief that all, while contributing to the good of the community, are equally entitled to the care and protection which the community can provide. The theory assumes different forms according to the relative stress laid on its social, economic and political corollaries. Thus, Marxian socialism is concerned very largely with the economic issues, and postulates the communal ownership and control of the means of production, distribution and exchange [My Note: this is the philosophical foundation upon which workers' unions are built]. Christian socialism stresses the social aspect, making the theory a way of life. Democratic socialism stresses the political aspect, accepting a compromise in the economic field between state and private enterprise [My Note: this is the kind of socialism Industrial Strength refers to when speaking of socialism in Canada, and it is far different from that found in the former U.S.S.R.]. All forms of the theory agree in being opposed to uncontrolled capitalism and in seeking equality of opportunity for all members of the community.Incidentally, when the corporations take over the democratic process, as is currently the case in the United States, what we then have is neither socialism nor democracy, but a flat-out capitalistic oligarchy of the rich. This is also not a good scenario. As with all things, the key is balance, not either/or, black/white, right/wrong thinking. This philosophy deals more with human behavior than with straight mathematics.Dan BAll definitions taken from The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary, Encyclopedic Edition. 1988.
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Comment #9 posted by Industrial Strength on June 18, 2002 at 22:16:11 PT
Are marxism and socialism the exact same thing? Obviously they are similar, but Sweden is a socialist country, Canada is more or less modified socialism (or modified free enterprise, depending on how you want to look at it) and we are far, far less puritanical than your 100% capitalist country. Maybe im just failing to fully understand what your saying.
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Comment #8 posted by gloovins on June 18, 2002 at 22:01:48 PT
my take on Gary's strip(s)
1981 exchange between the stripís resident outlaw and a flunky from the National Rifle Association, set in a Washington bar:Springfield: Duke...itís me, Springfield! From the N.R.A., remember?Duke: Oh...Springfield, whatís the idea of sneaking up on me like that? I coulda blown you away!Springfield: Iím sorry. That would have been your right.Now jump to 1993, as a giant cigarette and a giant bullet prepare to lobby Congress.Mr. Butts: Still on a tear, Mr. Dum-Dum?Mr. Dum-Dum: Hey! The N.R.A. never rests! The gun-control nuts keep trying to slip the Brady Bill past us! But it ainít gonna happen! No way! Weíve been shooting our way out of tight squeezes since 1871! And look at the results! Over 70 million happy gun owners ready and able to defend our way of life!Mr. Butts: Wow...are we safe yet?Mr. Dum-Dum: Not yet. Tragically, many children are still unarmed!WHAT IT SHOULD OF FINISHED WITH:Mr. Butts: Yea, but they make great smokers, plus they can get a gun at 18!WRITE-IN JOHNSON / VENTURA in 2004
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Comment #7 posted by E_Johnson on June 18, 2002 at 14:59:21 PT
Marxism is a secular Puritan religion
I think of Marx as the next stage of the Reformation, the modern logical abstraction of Christianity to the point where God is now completely gone but an ideology remains to claim the same level of unique authority as a religion would claim.And it's ideology that associates all forms of deliberate physical pleasure with the decadence of the rich, which is very close to what Christian ideology, most notedly the Puritans, tends to do.That's not to say that everyone who signs up as any kind of socialist feels that way.But I feel that Puritan slap coming from McGruder on weed.
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Comment #6 posted by Industrial Strength on June 18, 2002 at 14:31:24 PT
E Johnson
"Socialism is like atheism meets Puritanism." Perhaps im just ignorant, but I really do not get that. Im not really a socialist, im a Canadian. However, just for peace of mind, could you dumb that down for a lesser being?
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Comment #5 posted by JR Bob Dobbs on June 18, 2002 at 14:09:18 PT
Huey and pleasure
  One of my favorite Boondocks cartoons attacks the drug war and shows Huey having fun. In it, he's calling the Drug Enforcement Administration, asking them when they expect the War On Drugs to be won, since it's been going on for 30+ years and cost so much money. They get hung up on, and Caesar says, "You're right, this is more fun than playing outside."  True, Doonesbury tackles the drug-reform issue more often, but don't think the Boondocks never has. As opposed to Crankshaft, which sometimes makes me wonder if the ONDCP has worked out a deal with cartoonists similar to its failed deals with TV executives...
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Comment #4 posted by E_Johnson on June 18, 2002 at 13:28:51 PT
Boondocks rocks many boats but not prohibition's
Yes Boondocks rocks in the way they criticize the government and also in their assault on Gore, but I have McGruder pegged as a Puritan leftist from the way he mocked Snoop Dogg and Dionne Warwick when they were busted for weed and his snooty attitude towards popular culture.The socialist tendencies of black radicalism are not helping the marijuana movement.Socialism is like atheism meets Puritanism.Let's all do good works and not indulge in excess pleasure, which if we're worried about frugality in the name of equality, ends up meaning NO PLEASURE except that derived of course from doing good works.Huey is all invested in doing good works, and he ends up being profoundly anti-pleasure.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on June 18, 2002 at 12:28:40 PT
Off Topic
The news is really slow these days. It must be the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are here. Seriously though I watched PI last night and one of the guests said to Bill that they were going to miss him. Bill sort of grinned and said but not for long. I sure hope he will be picked up by another network.
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Comment #2 posted by Morgan on June 18, 2002 at 12:11:20 PT
Cartoon World
Mike Doonesbury is the central character in this strip. And I think Trudeau purposely makes him an 'everyman'. A door into which we 'everymen' can relate, and enter into this cartoon world. All the other characters represent the various societal factions that make up this (and his) wonderful, chaotic world.Any change in Mike's character is rightly dictated by the overall prevailing mood of the American populace, just to keep the center from spinning out of control. If he does that (giving him more rebellious attributes), it would more than likely doom the entire strip. Unless, of course, the prevailing mood of the American populace gains some more rebellious attributes first.Although personally I can relate to Mike Doonesbury (with a little bit of Zonker thrown in), and have always enjoyed the strip, I'm finding that I'm relating more and more towards the 'Boondocks' main character 'Huey'. (Aaron McGruder, If you're reading this, your strip ROCKS!)And this coming from a middle-aged, white, ex-marine, reformed republican, redneck Texan. I should be ashamed of myself. But I'm not. Must be from hanging out too much at Cannabisnews. 
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Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on June 18, 2002 at 10:28:36 PT
Characters have lives of their own
One problem with dissecting a work of narrative art from a political point of view is that it ignores the organic nature of narrative art.I don't think Garry Trudeau has the ability to keep Mike Doonesbury a Libertarian if Mike Doonesbury wants to grow into a typical nineties liberal.Now one might argue here that Garry Trudeau has totalitarian control over Mike Doonesbury, being his Creator, and so can control everything Mike Doonesbury does says or thinks.But aha -- Mike Doonesbury was born in Trudeau's imagination, not in his rational mind. If someone can control their imagination with their ideology -- then that person is not an artist and that person will not be able to sustain a work of narrative art of any quality.The way an artist approaches a character in a narrative sense is to seed the character with some basic DNA and then let the characater grow organically in the imagination, let the character be himself or herself. This is how it is really done. This is how the work of writing is done. The artist should never be in total control over what the chacaracters do say think or believe. And trying to be in total control over them is a strategy known to lead to artistic failure.Libertarians are so reasonable, but reason is not what produces art.Is there any hope for Mike Doonesbury though? Can't we shame Trudeau into searching for some more rebellious attributes for his main man?Well what about all of the real Mike Doonesburies out there? What about them? 
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