Monday, September 29, 2008

1 State, 2 State, Red State, Blue State

It should come as little surprise that I'm still in search of comics I can read online. Not only am I finding new comics to enjoy (I spent my limited free time this weekend going through The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allen Poo for the first time -- good stuff) but I'm also finding new sources that I can use to find more new comics. It was through one of those avenues (and I honestly can't remember which) that I came across a series of politically-oriented comics.

Now, political humor is nothing new. As I recall, the very first instances of what we might recognize as word balloons were created for a political cartoon. And, of course, editorial cartoons frequently point out some of the absurdities of politics, to the point where several cartoonists have had very real death threats on their lives because their caricatures were published in the "wrong" country. About once every four years any more, there's usually a handful of semi-obligatory discussions with then-prominent cartoonists about capturing and exaggerating the likenesses of the day's politicians.

But what's interesting about political comics is that there's an inherent ideology behind many, if not most, of them. Take a non-political strip like Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield or Peanuts. Yes, those strips absolutely reflect the views and interests of the creators, and their humorousness is (like all humorousness) subjective. But they're also not reinforcing the beliefs of a specific group. (Sure, there's been some argument that Charles Schulz was promoting a decidedly Christian world-view, and I can see that in some strips, but his humor was largely not religiously allegorical.)

On the other hand, you can take a Doonsebury or a Slowpoke and the creators take a pretty decisive political stand on any number of issues. Recently, Gary Trudeau had one of his protagonists recently suggest that calling G.W. Bush the "Worst. President. Ever." was too understated, and today Jen Sorenson suggested some extreme measures for curtailing Republican presidential candidate John McCain's maverickness. And in both cases, I chuckled to myself because they both are promoting an ideology similar to my own by poking fun at those with opposing ideologies. When you really boil it down, even the forward-thinking, generally more high-brow approach Trudeau takes is essentially just a means of validation for my own beliefs.

"Ha ha! He's so stupid because he has different opinion and that makes me a better person!"

Not all political comics are quite so blatant about it, of course, but that's the basic message a lot of them carry. There's no idealogical validation in Frazz or Bob the Squirrel because the characters are fictional, and the only ideology they represent (largely) is the one imposed on them by the reader. By taking the leap into politics through political caricature, the creator is obliged to bring with him/her the ideology -- or at least an approximation of the ideology -- of the person(s) they're caricaturing. A drawing of Joe Biden or Sarah Palin will inherently be imbued with some aspects of the character because they're already public figures with much of their character known and disseminated via news outlets. That includes their ideology.

But here's the thing: even knowing that, I was still struck by some decidedly right-wing comics I came across this morning, notably Carl Moore's State of the Union. "That's not funny! He's citing specific criteria that doesn't begin to represent Barack Obama accurately!" Well, of course not! Because Moore was trying to do the exact same thing from an opposing ideology. He's validating the beliefs of people other than myself. It still took me a minute to calm down after my initial reaction. It's not a comic for me because I'm not the audience he's aiming for; he's attacking many of my ideological beliefs for the benefit of people who disagree with me. He's validating their beliefs just as Gary Trudeau validates mine.

I bring this up because we're just over a month away from the presidential election here in the U.S. and the campaigns are both going to kick into even higher gear than they've been in. People of all stripes are going to try to knock down their opponents, whether or not the candidates themselves agree with them. That's going to come out on talk shows, blogs, op. ed. pieces, and comics. And, if you live in the U.S., you will be inundated with this material. (Heck, I feel inundated already and I don't even watch TV!) But I'd like to remind folks to keep a level head and civil tongue throughout all this. People are inherently entitled to their beliefs, no matter how wrong-headed or pig-ignorant you might think they are. Comic creators are people, too, and have ever right to voice their opinions and ideologies in their work. If you don't agree, just leave 'em be and find another cartoonist who validates your own beliefs.

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