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Garry Trudeau on the state of satire

The newly launched Comics Riff blog talks to Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau about the state of satire in America today.

Is satire’s influence on politicians and the electorate any greater or lesser than, say, when “Doonesbury” launched?

I’ve never felt any of us had significant influence. The fear of public ridicule is universal, but I see no real evidence of it moderating behavior. What is different is that satire is now a pervasive part of public life, in part because every move a politician makes can be recorded. And he need not actually do something reprehensible to be vulnerable. A lot of what late-night shows do now is not just found humor — it’s manufactured. A politician can merely scratch his nose, but if the tape is sped up and looped, it can look like he’s ripping his own face off. And any kid can knock this kind of stuff off in his bedroom and throw it up on YouTube. … Satire is no longer in the hands of responsible licensed professionals like me.

Any thoughts on this election year, from a satirist’s point of view?

It’s a beaut, because everyone’s paying attention. But remember, the worst president in U.S. history is still in the White House. For Big Satire to ignore George W. Bush during his final year in office would be foolish — and wildly ungrateful. He’s done so much for our profession, and he may yet have another war in him. We still owe him our fullest attention.

Community Comments

#1 Malc McGookin
July/15/2008
@ 11:50 pm

Trudeau’s opinion of satire as an ineffective weapon (if ousting the sitting government is your aim) is borne out by the evidence.

Spitting Image, the puppet satire programme which lambasted Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative governments during the 80s oversaw her three consecutive election victories, followed by two victories with her Conservative successor at the helm.

Spitting Image was genuinely funny, and the puppets were skilfully made. It was unbelievably expensive to make, and undeniably successful, yet it had no effect on the Conservative juggernaut which brought the UK single handedly to its knees with a thousand businesses going to the wall per week.
The programme didn’t only concentrate on the evils of Thatcherism, however, it threw punches in all directions, and succeeded in giving the impression that no-one had any solutions and that every politician was an idiot.
Newspaper cartoon satire could be incredibly effective and could indeed unseat a clown puppet like Bush, but it cannot succeed without editors who will publish it. There’s the problem.
Satire itself is a sharp blade, but if it cannot be unsheathed, you might as well wield a stick of celery.

#2 Bob Cantwell
October/8/2008
@ 7:25 am

While Gary Trudeau is emphasizing John McCain’s Wall Street connections he is totally ignoring Barak Obama’s connections to the most notorious corrupt government orgranization. The Daley machine! I understand questioning political connections, and I understand that cartoonists don’t have to be balanced and fair, but this Daley connection is ripe with comic opportunities.
It is a shame to leave it alone.

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