Opus 117: NOUS R US (June 15, 2003). Fantagraphics' plea for help out of its impending financial contretemps was heeded in sufficient number of buyers of books that the publisher is now out of the woods. The response to the appeal, co-owner Gary Groth said, was "heartening and amazing," adding that he was "deeply grateful for the people responding." A press release noted that "we have moved from depression to elation to a state of dizzying exhaustion over the course of [a] long, frenzied week." In the wake of the week's success, Fantagraphics extended its appeal to retailers, asking them to order books now instead of, er, later. ... Marvel prexy Bill Jemas announced on June 9 that, if sales warrant, he is ready to reprint Trouble No. 1, the new comic book that tells us, among other things about Peter "Spider-Man" Parker's childhood, that he was conceived out of wedlock. If Marvel does reprint the title, it will be its first departure from a policy of not overprinting (or reprinting) titles, a policy that has frustrated comic shop owners who have the option, with most publishers, of going back for additional comic books if a title proves a better seller than they'd imagined it would be when they placed their initial orders. Jemas allowed as how he might authorize the reprinting of other issues of other titles, if sales (or potential sales) seem to justify the maneuver. One of the strategies of the current policy, which is to print only the number of comic books ordered by shops, is to reduce waste, inventory, and expense; an accompanying tactic, however, seems to be to force comic book shops to order more of a given issue than they think, at first, they might sell because if they need more copies of an issue, they can't re-order them. ... Elsewhere: Marvel enters the young adult fiction arena with Mary Jane, a hardcover romance novel written by Judith O'Brien with illustrations by Mike Mayhew. ...
This one you have to see to believe. I fumed here awhile back (Opus 113) about the desecration being perpetrated at newspapers where the management squeezes, shrinks, and stretches strips to make them fit preconceived layout designs that, apparently, were devised without regard to either of the two dimensions most strips come in. Well, the ultimate squeeze play is being committed at the Buffalo News where, in the case of Cathy, the paper stacks the strip in two tiers, squeezing the top panels and stretching the bottom panel to make the whole thing fit into a perfect square. Take a look and then go to another room to hurl. Where's the outrage?
The tv network for men that has begun offering Stan Lee's "Stripperella," an animated cartoon starring a Pamela Anderson simulacrum (whose super powers include an ability to shoot sparks or bolts of lightning or some other sort of projectile from her bosom), has taken the name "Spike"-that is, "Spike TV"; the name is supposed to evoke thoughts of things masculine, they say, but I can think only of Snoopy's misfit brother out there all by himself in the desert with the cactuses. ... In Andrew Smith's column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal for April 20, the good Captain Comics (Smith) turns to the subject of Lee's engagement with Stripperella and other recent projects, echoing imaginary fanboy alarm: Stripperella? Where's the man's dignity? Well, Smith says, "My love and respect for The Man is unsurpassed, but let's face it: dignity has never been his bag. We may want him to be a phlegmatic elder statesman, but Stan always has played to his two strongest suits: creativity and sheer hucksterism. There's not a dignified bone in his body, and that's always been one of his charms." Pointing to Lee's "incredible body of work," Smith allows as how he has nothing to prove, so why not "let the old goat have some fun" with another incredible body of work. "He's earned it," says Smith. Hear here. ... And, speaking of hucksterism, I'll be looking forward to the arrival in September of the "unauthorized biography," Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon, whose prospectus for the tome describes Lee as "a dazzling writer, a skilled editor, a relentless self-promoter, a credit hog, and a huckster." All of that, I'm sure, but also a cheerleader for comics storytelling whose undeviating enthusiasm inspired writers and artists and created a universe. ... Incidentally, the one-shot comic book that Humanoids Publishing was going to produce this month, Stripperella, has apparently been canceled. ...
Women's groups in Tanzania have taken up cartooning as a way of informing the female population of their rights. The low literacy rate in the country gives comic books a potency that the written word alone lacks. "Even those who cannot follow a written story can get the message through cartoons," said Tanzanian cartoonist James Gayo. Because of the effectiveness of the medium, more women are becoming cartoonists in order to get the message out. ... Dark Horse is negotiating with Pulitzer-winning novelist Michael Chabon about comic books based upon characters in his novel, The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay; as one of the characters in the novel, I fully expect to be contacted at any moment, or at least recompensed. ... "Finding Nemo" set a new record, $70.6 million at the box office, on its opening weekend, making it Pixar's third consecutive hit and inspiring talk about the computer-driven operation supplanting the old hand-wrought animation of the Disney half of the partnership. I enjoyed "Nemo": its story was intelligent and complex (with two story threads interwoven) but cohesive, and the animation was technically impressive. But I've never been very fond of fish as comic characters: they're all face, and even if they dash about a lot (which they do here), the principal action takes place on the visage. That seems to me a cop-out. But there is undeniable liveliness in this undertaking (unlike "Shrek," which seemed to me to plod into near motionlessness)-enough to approach the comedic energy of Disney's best films, which, in my view, diminished considerably after "Alice in Wonderland" with notable exceptions like "Aladdin." ...
British Prime Minister Tony Blair took time out of his April schedule to record a few lines for his guest appearance on "The Simpsons," which, throughout its history, has featured a steady parade of moguls and celebrities (including Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Taylor-but not together); Blair is a long-time fan of the show. ... Doonesbury has set up shop at Slate.com, hoping, we gather, to increase viewership of the strip. Said Garry Trudeau's representatives: "It was lonesome out there [all by ourselves] in the ether, and now we are happily nestled among reams of sparkling content and bodacious commentary." Sponsor of the comic strip site is Audible.com, a leading retailer of audio editions of books, newspapers, periodicals, and public radio programs.
Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg mascot for Sugar Flakes, will be 50 this year, and his creator, Jack Tolzien, now 82, wants his due. Through the years, at least five other personages have claimed creation of the growling cereal schlepper, but while the character was "developed" over months and years by various people, Tolzien is the one who thought him up. He was working at the Leo Burnett Agency in Chicago, and it took him about three months, he says. "Sugary, cotton candy at a carnival-a little frosty snowman-clowns-a sugar-baby cartoon with a wand-nothing was seeming to work," Tolzien said, recalling the gestation period. Then "the animal thing started to work," he said. "Rhinos and hippos were too fat. I settled on a tiger because it could be colorful. He had no teeth and that made him friendly. I had him saying, 'They're Gr-r-r-reat!'" Sounds like no contest to me.
Steve Sack at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune just won the annual Headliners Award from the Press Club for his editorial cartoons. Sack, incidentally, has recently taken to drawing his cartoon in pencil with pencil shading, producing pictures with all the nuanced grays that pencil can create (and that modern printing's enhanced technology now can reproduce almost exactly). And Kevin Kallaugher (Kal) of the Baltimore Sun won the Overseas Press Club Award for 2002.
Al Capp's comic strip character Li'l Abner "doesn't live here" if we believe the title of a session at a recent East Kentucky Leadership Conference. The leader of the discussion group said people throughout central Appalachia are getting fed up with being thought of as simple-minded Li'l Abners. "It's important for people to realize that we've come a long way," said Ted Spears, vice president for development at Pikeville College. The message, said Spears, is directed partly at CBS, which is rumored to be thinking about developing a reality tv series called "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" that would transport a mountain family overnight to a life of urban luxury.
Garfield always celebrates his birthday, and this year, he turns 25 on June 19; the orange lasagna-lover is in 2,570 newspapers, which, combined with 550 licensees world-wide, puts the feline on the map in 111 countries. Jim Davis, the cat's creator, enjoys comics other than his own, and among them is Darby Conley's Get Fuzzy, which, as we all know, involves a bachelor's interactions with his pets, a gentle somewhat simple-minded dog and a sadistic conniving Siamese cat. "I think it's hysterical," Davis said of the strip. "That cat has at least twice the attitude of Garfield. He's a sociopath!"
The fair use clauses of the copyright law were examined, so to speak, in a recent exhibit at the Resource Center for Arts and Activism in Washington, D.C. "Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age" displayed many works that, were the venue not a "research facility," would never have seen the light of day elsewhere. And some-like Kieron Dwyer's Starbucks parody, Wally Wood's Disneyworld orgy and satirical use of several corporate mascots-when they were exposed to daylight in the past, were promptly shut down. Michael Sullivan, writing about the show in the Washington Post, makes a useful distinction about parody and satire: "from a legal standpoint" parody is "making fun of an artistic creation, such as Barney the dinosaur" while satire is "using the likeness, or trademark, of Colonel Sander's face, as artist Aric Obrosey does in a tweaking of advertising, to make fun of society."
More Funky Stuff. At Tom Batiuk's second strip venue, Crankshaft, which is drawn by Chuck Ayers, Batiuk began at the end of May to revisit the Alzheimer's issue he first explored in 1995 when he revealed that one of the characters, Lucy McKenzie, had the disease. "It is not lightly that Alzheimer's is characterized as the 'long good-bye,'" Batiuk said. "I knew going in that the Lucy's story would not be a short or simple one to tell. It would have to not only deal with the victim of the disease, but also with the primary care giver and extended family and friends as well. It would also have to be told in a time frame that didn't trivialize or minimize the devastating effects of the disease." Lucy's illness has reached a crisis point as Batiuk took up the story again. Her sister Lillian, caring for her, tells her neighbor how difficult it is to watch Lucy's deteriorating condition: Lucy has always been somewhat forgetful, Lillian explains, and now "it's hard to know where Lucy ends and Alzheimer's begins." Says Batiuk: "My job is to present stories that will interest and engage newspaper readers. In doing so, I try to make the humor authentic and natural so that my characters are reacting just as the reader might. We can't laugh off the seriousness of Alzheimer's, but humor can be a great poke in the eye to that terrible adversary. It is to that thought that the story of Lucy and her sister Lillian is dedicated."
At the Mouse House. Disney's new chief of animation, David Stainton, plans to "shake it up" at the Burbank headquarters. The animation division, the heart and soul of the company and steeped in tradition, has suffered demoralizing layoffs, deep cost cuts, and the biggest flop in its history with last fall's "Treasure Planet." To regroup, Stainton favors "breaking the mold," and he alarmed an assembly of 525 animation employees in April when he announced that he wants to produce lush, classic fairy tales-perhaps "The Snow Queen" or "Rapunzel"-entirely by computer. Said veteran animator Glen Keane ("Tarzan," "Aladdin," and "Pocahontas"): "He's trying to steer the studio in the direction that half the artists are afraid to go and the other half are headlong racing down that path." Stainton was picked for the job, the fourth honcho in as many years, because of his money-making successes with direct-to-video projects like "Lion King II" and "Piglet's Big Movie." Although he's not noted as a creative person, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" grew out of his idea, his outline, and his making the case for the movie to his bosses. Among his intentions are plans to recruit live-action movie directors with distinctive styles to help create animated films. One thing Stainton says he knows for sure: the Studio's core audience is 4-10 year-olds and their parents. "If you think you're making a movie for everybody," he said, "you're making a movie for nobody." He said that lack of clarity of focus in "Treasure Planet" contributed to the film's abysmal showing.
The Iraq invasion cost Disney: terror fears inhibited visits to its theme parks while reporting the battlefield action raised operational costs at ABC, leading to a 12 percent drop in net income for the quarter ending March 31. The bright spot was in the movie division, which logged an increase of $27 million compared to last year, due, presumably, to strong sales of DVDs and videotapes.
Disney's effort to unhorse the Slesinger claim to royalties from Pooh revenues got a setback in May when a judge ruled that a Milne granddaughter could not reclaim rights to the bear. Had this effort succeeded, Slesinger's rights would have terminated.
(Big THANQUES, Mike Rhodes.)
FORTHCOMING. Andrews McMeel has announced the fall publication of at least eight comic strip reprint volumes, including Doonesbury, Dilbert, Get Fuzzy, For Better or For Worse, FoxTrot, Zits, Baby Blues, and Close to Home collections. But the one I'm looking forward to most is Cartoon Success Secrets: A Tribute to 30 Years of Cartoonist Profiles. As many of you probably know, I write for PROfiles and have for over a decade, and I've come to know and appreciate its founder/publisher/editor, Jud Hurd. Jud will be 91 in the fall when the book comes out, and he's spent much of the last winter browsing through 136 issues of his quarterly magazine, culling from them the conversations he's had with such stellar comic strip icons as Rube Goldberg, Walt Disney, Milton Caniff, Herblock, and on and on. It'll be a treat to have all this between the covers of one tome. ... Checker Book Publishing, headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, where Milton Caniff grew up, will bring out in September the first of its quarterly 200-plus-page books reprinting Caniff's Steve Canyon. The first volume will begin with the strip's debut in January 1947; each volume will include about a year's worth of the strip as well as contextual and interpretive material. I hope the latter will be more accurate than the press release announcing the project: it asserts that Caniff syndicated Steve Canyon himself "under his own copyright." Not quite. He owned the strip, but it was copyrighted by Field Enterprises and distributed by King Features; once distribution ceased, the copyright would revert to Caniff. In any event, having the early years of this masterwork in circulation again will be gratifying. ... At from Top Shelf, BOP!, more Box Office Poison stories from Alex Robinson; it's out there already.
IS CRITICISM OF ISRAEL ANTI-SEMITIC? On Thursday, June 5, about 100 Chicagoans mustered at the Gothicky entrance of the Chicago Tribune to protest the paper's publication on May 30 of an editorial cartoon by Dick Locher, one of the Tribune Media Services roster of editooners (who also produces the comic strip, Dick Tracy). The protesters were urged by Rabbi Michael Siegel to cancel their subscriptions to the Tribune and to contact advertisers with their concerns and to persist until the newspaper's editor, Ann Marie Lipinski, apologized for the offending cartoon. The street demonstration was but one incident in a week's flurry of letters to the editor, phone calls and e-mails, and editorial comment in the Tribune and elsewhere. The cartoon that inspired this furious outcry was a comment on the situation in the Mideast. Locher drew a bridge spanning the Mideast Gulch with a caricature of Yasser Arafat at the far end. In the middle of the bridge, a caricature of George W. Bush is on his knees, laying down dollar bills-in effect, carpeting the bridge with them. At the near end of the bridge is what might be taken to be a caricature of Ariel Sharon-except that the nose on this character is a ponderous hawk-like beak and Sharon's nose is scarcely his most prominent feature (his jowls are). On his dark suit is a Star of David, which Locher presumably intended to suggest that the Sharon-like figure represents Israel. Observing Bush paving the bridge with money, "Sharon" says: "On second thought, the pathway to peace is looking a bit brighter." This cartoon, charged the protesters, is virulently anti-Semitic.
Said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (quoted by David Astor in Editor & Publisher Online): "The image of the stereotypical, greedy, hooked-nose Jew who is motivated by money has been a persistent theme in anti-Semitic literature through the centuries." Foxman's view was echoed in the uproar that ensued in print. Reader outrage prompted response from editorial writers at the Tribune and elsewhere, and most of them claimed that Locher had somehow crossed from pointed legitimate commentary to blunt bad taste. The Tribune's ombudsman, Don Wycliff, fell all over himself in his haste to condemn the cartoon. Allowing that the "best editorial cartoons have all the nuance and delicacy of a stick in the eye" (the "best," mind you), Wycliff asserted that "there are lines that a cartoon should not cross." And Locher's cartoon, he averred, crossed them.
Locher, a 1983 Pulitzer Prize winner, disagreed with the charge. "I had no slur in mind whatsoever," he told Astor, adding that he was surprised people interpreted the cartoon as anti-Semitic. He's not anti-Semitic, he said, and to inject an anti-Semitic message into the cartoon would "dilute its message." Said he: "I was trying to go to bat for the American taxpayer. Israel is a good friend, but let's get an accounting of where the money is going."
In pondering the assorted editorial comment on the cartoon, it's annoying to note how much verbal energy is expended in blaming the cartoon (and, by extension, the cartoonist) rather than the editors who published the cartoon. I'm reminded of a story told by Jeff MacNelly, the Trib's editorial cartoonist until he died three years ago. MacNelly didn't like attending editorial board meetings much, but he came to them anyway. One day after one of his cartoons had provoked outrage among readers, his arrival at the meeting was greeted by his editor's saying, "Here's the son-of-a-bitch whose cartoon cost us hundreds of subscribers." To which MacNelly, not turning a hair, rejoined: "And you're the son-of-a-bitch who published the cartoon." Yes, the cartoon was the cause of the outcry, but the decision to publish it was taken by editors, not the cartoonist. Most editorial comment on the Locher cartoon got around, eventually, to assuming some measure of the responsibility (but, typically, only after spending paragraphs deploring the unfortunate imagery of Locher's drawing).
In his rush to proclaim editorial innocence, Wycliff managed to contradict himself, fore and aft. The intended message of the cartoon, almost everyone agreed, employed the "road map" analogy with the road going over a bridge. The Trib's editorial page boss, Bruce Dold, is quoted as saying, "I think Dick Locher intended to comment on the influence the U.S. can exert through the foreign aid it provides to Israel. ... It also implied that the U.S. is bribing Israel to support the road map to peace, but there is simply no evidence to support that." And Wycliff agreed: "... money has never been the decisive issue in the Middle East dispute." Then, almost immediately, he offers evidence that, decisive or not, U.S. aid to Israel is an issue.
Dold was out of town at the time Locher's cartoon was picked from a supply of syndicated cartoons to which the Trib subscribes; the selection was made by his deputy, Wycliff explained, John McCormick, with the help of another editor, Dodie Hofstetter. Said Wycliff: "McCormick said he settled on the Locher cartoon because the policy issue it depicted-the use of U.S. aid to influence the Israeli government-was one that had often been discussed in editorial board meetings." There may be, as Dold says, "no evidence" to support the contention that the U.S. is bribing Israel (although the Bush League pretty clearly did some bribing in March to enlist multi-national support for the invasion of Iraq, so there is precedent for the assumption), but there was evidently debate a-plenty on the issue, so making a suggestion about the financial leverage the U.S. has in the Mideast was clearly not an exercise in wild improbability. At the Denver Post, which also published the cartoon and was deluged with reader objection, editor Sue O'Brien said the cartoon's implication was "seriously incorrect" factually; but she also said that "this newspaper has urged on several occasions that U.S. aid be conditioned on Israel abandoning its policy of building settlements in the occupied territories." We may safely conclude from the Wycliff and O'Brien testimony that using U.S. monetary aid to Israel as an inducement to the Israeli government to conform to U.S. wishes is a matter of discussion and commentary. Locher's supposition about the role of U.S. aid in the Mideast is therefore entirely within the realm of legitimate comment. His imagery, however, is undeniably flawed. But so is the judgement of the editors who chose to publish his cartoon. (As one editorial cartoonist, commenting on the brouhaha, said: "As every reporter knows, the job of editors is to protect journalists [and editorial cartoonists] from their own mistakes.")
The reaction at the New York Daily News was pretty even-handed in apportioning blame: "Granted, Locher and his editors should have recognized that the images are familiar ones in Nazi propaganda. They didn't because political cartooning is a form of pictorial assault that depends on exaggeration, and editors tend to get used to over-the-top metaphors from cartoonists. Because the possibility of going too far is built into the business, it's important to know a cartoonist's track record before screaming for his head. Locher has no reputation for anti-Semitism. Another cartoonist, Steve Kelley of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, told me: 'He would have had to be an idiot to deliberately insert an anti-Semitic message into the Tribune, and he is not an idiot.' One obvious problem with a controversial cartoon is that you can't fix it by taking one or two things out, as you can with a column or a news report that goes too far. You have to kill it or let it be. This means editors are often torn between a form of censorship-like monitoring and an anything-goes acceptance."
The caricature of Sharon, if that is, indeed, who Locher intended to depict, is scarcely up to Locher's usual standard of deft depiction. But, as at least one other editorial cartoonist suggested, the hawk-like beak, while distorting beyond recognition the Sharon caricature, may have been intended to suggest a hawkish (that is, militaristic) stance with respect to terrorism, surely a fair representation of Sharon's policy. But it was the use of the Star of David on Sharon's coat that probably sent the cartoon veering off toward anti-Semiticism. Said one cartoonist: "Putting the Star of David on a character in a cartoon doesn't just indicate Israel but also Jews in general." (I'm quoting without giving names here because I'm resorting to online conversations, and I didn't get permission to quote everyone; at the same time, I don't want to claim for myself the perspicacity of others more articulate on the issue than I.)
Steve Greenberg, editorial cartoonist at the Ventury County Star in California (whose permission to quote I asked and received), had the best over-all analysis of what went wrong: "The problem with Locher's cartoon mostly has to do with the Jewish star as the label, indicating Jews in general as opposed to Israel in particular. I think he's supposedly drawn Ariel Sharon (a weak caricature, and the sharp nose doesn't fit) but what he needed to do was draw an Israeli flag-which includes the star but also a white field with stripes above and below the star-and not just the star. The flags of Greece and Norway have a cross in them, but that's different from Christianity as a religion, and the flags of Turkey and Algeria have a crescent and a star, but that's different from Islam as a religion. A cartoon about a money-oriented Israeli politician is fair game, but one about money-oriented Jews isn't. By errantly using a symbol of a religion instead of a somewhat-similar symbol of a nation, Locher brought the cartoon into shaky territory. The moral: draw the correct symbol."
While Sharon's nose probably compounded the offense by seeming to employ another of the aged visual devices for demeaning Jews, the nose alone wouldn't have tipped the scales. As Locher himself observed, "Editorial cartoonists work with exaggeration." Arafat's nose is big, too, he said, "but nobody said that was a slur."
Mike Miner in the Chicago Reader made note of the inconsistency: "Locher's big-nosed Jew was vastly less derisive and, if you will, [less] anti-Semitic than the big-nosed and rat-tailed Arab (labeled 'Saudi Arabia') of the cartoon on the Tribune editorial page this past Tuesday [June 6, in the very midst of the protestings]. This one was by Michael Ramirez of the Los Angeles Times. It ran above a raft of letters denouncing Locher's drawing as anti-Semitic, and it had the effect of a rejoinder, as if the paper were saying, 'But you like this, don't you?'"
Joseph Berger in the New York Times quotes Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, who said "it was difficult to 'imagine a cartoon that isn't offensive in some respect to someone,' adding that the subject of the Mideast is 'one of the most radioactive in terms of creating offense.'"
And some groups of the historically persecuted have better protest organizations than others, Jews first among them. Not that they are not entitled, or justified, after centuries of benighted persecution, to have the means of protecting themselves against the abuses of bigotry. I'm not suggesting that Jews (or African-Americans or Mexican-Americans or any other similarly abused ethnicity or race) shouldn't have agencies the purpose of which is to protest the defamation of the group. They all clearly should have such organizations. The lot of Jews has doubtless improved because of the efforts of organized protestation. At the very least, public consciousness about bigotry and its evils has been raised. Not enough, probably-given the evidence of the present embroglio-but some. Arab-Americans, on the other hand, have yet to mount an effective operation for protesting the stereotypical imagery so often employed against them in our culture. The U.S. cultural detritus is rife with demeaning images of unkempt, bearded Arabs wearing sheets and towels on their heads and riding comical camels. Seeing paved streets in Baghdad was, to many of us, a surprise. So there is work to be done yet on behalf of humanity in all its variegated manifestations.
In the meantime, what happens to commentary on the Mideast? The New York Daily News stated the issue bluntly: "Suppose you think Bush really is bribing Israel to go along with an unworkable peace plan? Is it anti-Semitic to have this opinion? Or is it okay to think it but not okay to do a cartoon about it?"
One cartoonist, pondering the problem, opined that "editors will be very wary of putting anti-Israel cartoons into their papers. Pro-Israeli activists are on the alert to make sure to intimidate any anti-Israel cartoons that might possibly slip through the cartoonist self-censorship/editorial censorship process because it's obvious that intimidation works."
Another cartoonist commented: "It's simply a reality that certain stereotypes (hooked-nosed money-obsessed Jews, watermelon-eating blacks, sombrero-wearing snoozy Mexicans) are far less acceptable than others (dim-witted pot-bellied rednecks, fat corrupt and sunglass-wearing Arabs, Quiche-eating lily-livered French). There are lots of good reasons for this, most having to do with the history behind the aggrieved groups. Several years back I was in a meeting with editors wherein we discussed our company's anti-harrassment policy, which in part strictly prohibited 'written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability.' That's when I realized I commit a fireable offense at least three to five times a week. Most cartoonists do, I guess."
That's going a bit far, I ween. Most political and social commentary doesn't, three times out of five, denigrate or show hostility or aversion toward an individual or group because of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability. Denigration abounds; ditto displays of hostility. But not because of "race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability." Still, I persist in the hope that most cartoonists will continue to commit as many fireable offenses as they can by making their commentary as uncompromisingly and fiercely biting as their muse and political inclinations dictate. Intimidation must not work. Reason must. Editorial cartoons might, occasionally-given the human frailties that infest both editorial cartoonists and their editors-cross the line in terms of taste. In such instances, editors, like the Trib's Lipinski, might have to issue apologies, as did she: "I take exception to the imagery used in the cartoon and deeply regret the anguish it has caused some of our readers. At the same time, I know that hate was not the intent of the cartoonist or the editors who selected it." On June 8, the Trib carried a full-dress editorial admitting that "we failed to recognize that the cartoon conveyed symbols and stereotypes that slur the Jewish people and that are offensive. The editors of this newspaper regret publishing the cartoon." At last, the editors unequivocally take responsibility. The editorial concluded with the sort of commonsensical observation that should always be a guide: "The paper is put out by fallible human beings. It is written and edited by people trying their best. We regret when those efforts fall short."
In assessing the alleged damage a cartoon may inflict on the public weal, as Alex Jones observed, "you have to calculate the intent and the context, and a Nazi organization issuing an offensive image is not the same as the Chicago Tribune."
And editoonists would do well to remember Joseph Berger's remark, casually made but potent with unintended advice, that "there is an art to hitting the mark without causing what the military might call 'collateral damage.'"
At the same time, editors must take the ultimate responsibility instead of trying to shift the blame to cartoonists. Astor reported that, as of June 5, no newspapers had canceled their subscriptions to Locher's syndicated cartoons. If they did, they would be misplacing blame-or, if not misplacing it, at least trying to slough it off. Five months after 9/11, at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, editooner Mike Marland drew a cartoon showing Bush flying an airplane into twin towers labeled "Social Security." The cartoon was widely condemned as blatantly insensitive to a nation still in shock. Marland, appropriately, apologized. His editor was fired. Appropriately.
Editorial cartoonists are paid to present opinions in the form of visual metaphors that will stick in the backs of the minds of their readers and influence them. They should not shrink from the obligation to make the metaphors as vivid, as memorable-as outspoken-as possible. Editors are paid to determine what goes into their newspapers. They decide. And they should be held responsible for that.
CIVILIZATION'S LAST OUTPOST. Those who opposed the recent FCC rules changes point to radio as the canary in the coal mine that died. After the FCC relaxed radio station ownership rules in 1996, according to the Columbia Journalism Review (March-April 2003), 4,407 of the nation's 11,000 radio stations changed hands. "Two companies, Clear Channel Communications and Viacom, now attract 42 percent of radio listeners and industry revenue." Clear Channel owned only 36 stations before deregulation; it now owns 1,225 in 50 states.
The music industry is alarmed because corporate ownership can dictate play lists for station disc jockeys. Play lists can make bestsellers-and destroy them. The sad fate of the Dixie Chicks in the wake of their criticism of George WMD Bush's foreign policy is a vivid demonstration of the power of radio dj's. The Chicks' virtual disappearance overnight from the musical airways of the country cannot be purely a reaction to their fans' disapproval of their denunciation of the Bush League. Public opinion polls showed, at the time, a significant division of opinion on the Iraq Invasion; presumably as many people sympathized with the Chicks as those who did not. But those folks did not own the radio stations. Nor were they likely to be country music fans, I suppose.
But whether or not corporate ownership of radio stations played a role in the plummet of the Chicks' fortunes, it could have. And that's scary enough.
In all this discursive brouhaha about the FCC, however, the truth has yet to emerge. All the hand-wringing about the concentration of voices and the consequent elimination of the diversity of viewpoint essential to the informed body politic that guarantees democracy, all the pooh-poohing of these alarms by contradictory others who say, with condescending confidence, that the variety of information sources is a sufficient hedge against a monolithic view (which it isn't because this assertion assumes the Internet as a source, and its news niches are either operated by news media giants or by individuals whose reliability is questionable)-in all of this, or, rather, in none of it, are the two chief motivating opinions acknowledged.
The real reasons for all the excitement? On the one hand, Democrats opposed the changes because they fear the proliferation of more Fox-like media outlets. And the consolidation of media ownership opens a definite opportunity for Rupert Murdock and other conservative moguls ("mogul" actually means "conservative" these days) who have the wealth and power to acquire more outlets to do so. We can only shiver in anticipatory horror about what would happen to the Democrat party if other Fox networks cropped up and began actively indoctrinating viewers in the conservative point of view. But none of the Democrat critics of the FCC rules change said anything about this, their most basic fear.
On the other side, Republicans said nothing about the real reasons for changing the rules. They say the old rules are outmoded by technological advances, but the real reason they advocated the change was because the big four broadcast networks need to expand their sources of advertising revenue in order to make up for the loss of income caused by the viewer-desertion to cable tv. The more outlets a company owns in a city, the more enabled it is to rake in advertising dollars. In other words, from the Republican perspective, the issue is not about politics: it's about money. It's about the fiscal health of big business (which, as everyone knows, is the backbone of America).
While we're flailing around about The Media, let's consider the conservative strategy on the subject of the so-called "liberal media." The strategy is to keep calling the media liberal so that all outlets, print and broadcast and cable, will be defensive about it and bend over backward to avoid seeming to be liberal. And that effectively eliminates the voice of opposition. If we assume that Fox News is the standard for "fair and balanced news," then the nature of the accusation becomes clear: any news outlet that does not reflect the biases of Fox is assumed to be biased in favor of the liberal position. Since unbiased, objective reportage would not reflect the Fox bias, objective reporting is perforce labeled "liberal." Cute. And it's working.
Incidentally, speaking of (or at least alluding to) accuracy in reporting, there were no panoramic shots of the square in Baghdad where the emblematic (and highly photogenic) toppling of the statue Saddam took place-nothing filmed from far enough away to reveal that the bawling multitudes applauding the symbolic fall of Saddam consisted, actually, of a knot of probably 50-150 persons in one corner of the square not a teeming mob of square-filling dimensions, the impression of the pictures to the contrary notwithstanding. The toppling took place, conveniently enough, right in front of the hotel in which international journalists were housed, making "reporting" the event a simple matter of sticking a camera out of the window.
But the news media are beginning to perk up, to reassert their claim to being the Fourth Estate in the governance of the land. Long acquiescent in shadow of the Bush League's march to totalitarian rule, the news media now sound, occasionally-increasingly, even-an inimical note. In magazine after magazine, we see the Bush League claim that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction being questioned, now that they are nowhere in evidence.
If, as Boy George and his minions have begun to assert, the much touted Weapons of Mass Destruction were destroyed just on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, why didn't anyone in the Saddam regime say so? Surely they would have. After all, their country was being invaded in order to eliminate those WMD; so if they themselves eliminated WMD, then there would no longer be any justification for the invasion, right? Why, then, would they stay silent on the subject? There was only silence because WMD were not destroyed just before the invasion. Probably, they were destroyed years and years ago, just as the Iraqis have always said. And since they were never believed by the Bush League, they saw no point in trying again. What then, was Saddam up to with his endless gamesmanship, his balking and then complying, back and forth, back and forth, his tirades of defiance and protestations of innocence? Perhaps he really was hiding WMD, and perhaps we'll eventually find them. Perhaps he was merely maneuvering, desperately, to forestall a foreign take-over of his country. Perhaps the ambiguity he fostered by seeming to have WMD when he actually didn't (or vice versa) gave him, in his own mind at least, power or political stature he felt he didn't otherwise have. Who can say? And until we understand the Arab mind and sensibility better, it'll be difficult for us to say with certainty anything much about Saddam without hard, physical evidence in hand. He was a butcher; we have evidence of that aplenty.
On June 12, Ted Koppel's "Nightline" examined the history of the WMD issue as a cause for the Invasion. I don't doubt that the Bush League felt Saddam had the weapons; but it's now likely that their feelings on the matter colored their thinking, leading them to overlook all intelligence except that which supported their conviction. Iraqi defectors told administration officials that Saddam had WMD; other defectors told them he did not. But we never heard about the latter.
UNDER THE SPREADING PUNDITRY. It's never been about oil. That's what the Bush Leaguers say. And I believe them. Iraqi oil money will be used, they say, for the benefit of Iraqis-specifically, for the purpose of reconstructing the country. Well, yes. And most of the reconstruction, it appears, will be done by U.S.-based multi-national companies like Cheney's Halliburton and Bechtel and others.
In this coy circumstance the real nature of the utopian neoconservative operation is revealed. It's never been about oil. It's been about power. Whoever controls the world's oil fields will have the power to dictate terms to others. And what does the U.S. intend to dictate? Just this: it aims to create on a global scale the environments, social, civic and financial, that are hospitable to U.S.-based mulitnational companies whose sole object is to make money for their owners and stockholders. Thus, the invasion of Iraq is about capitalism, about entrepreneurial enterprise, simple and not-so-pure. Not about oil. Oil is merely the symptom.
For a society like ours that has thrived on capitalistic principles, what is the harm in foisting off onto all the rest of the world the same organizing ideas? Certainly in the U.S., we can have little to carp about when it comes to the social influence of capitalism. Capitalism has been the drum-beat that has kept cadence for the march of civilization. It has brought us unprecedented standards of living, comforts and amusements beyond the most frenetic imaginings of, say, Third World citizens. Capitalism also gave us Enron and Worldcom. It is, in short, not an unmixed blessing that we seek to impose upon the peoples of the world. We have not yet quite mastered it ourselves in this most advanced and powerful of the world's nations.
And for the effect of capitalism on the human psyche, witness the American tv industry which dumps onto its eager consumers a half-year of re-runs. And we have no objection. We make no complaint. We have been numbed into submission, into happy complaisance. Where's the outrage? We are truly robotic couch potatoes, and as such, deserve no better. Alas.
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