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Comic Strip of the Day: Planet of the Jerks

There’s a wise saying that “Character is what you do when nobody’s looking,” and, for that reason, Jeff Stahler‘s cartoon stands out among all the other Brett Kavanaugh material.

In the days since I opined that single-sex Catholic prep schools produce people who don’t understand the opposite sex, or sex at all, there have been any number of confirmations, and I’ve heard nothing from the candidate himself to refute the idea that he’s part of that ghastly stereotype.

What we have heard from him is ludicrous:

I was focused on trying to be number one in my class and being captain of the varsity basketball team and doing my service projects, going to church.

Relative to Stahler’s cartoon, it’s weird, because Catholics are raised on the concept that somebody — make that Somebody — is always watching.

In fact, part of Roman Catholic pious tradition, the sort of thing that isn’t official teaching but is deeply embedded in the culture, is the “Guardian Angel,” who is specifically assigned to follow and protect you.

In the days when Brett was a little guy, many RC children’s prayers included:

Whatever else Roman Catholics are raised to believe, the notion that God goes off the record is not in there, while, if you want your sins washed away, you have to openly, specifically acknowledge them to a priest, and then, every month or so, you’re expected to go back and update things.

For young Catholic men, then, puberty brings a particular challenge to the Sacrament of Confession, because your Guardian Angel watches by your bedside at night and you are expected to not only acknowledge that sin but provide a round estimate of how often.

And promise not to do it again, all the time knowing that you can’t bullshit God.

Finally, while monthly Confession is the standard, there is (or at least was) the Easter Duty, a sort of guilt roadblock that required you to confess at least once a year. And that link will tell you far more about Catholic Guilt than you wanted to know, but it will certainly explain why some of us walk away and some pretend to still believe and some actually follow the rules and some descend into major hypocrisy.

And perhaps why, though William Golding was himself an unaffiliated Christian, he made the choirboys the savage bullies of “Lord of the Flies.”

 

Though you don’t have to go to church to be raised to think that your shit don’t stink.

You don’t have to even be rich, as long as you’re sufficiently pleased with yourself.

Dave Granlund‘s cartoon brings back a memory that is instructive.

Back in the days of VHS, I sat down with my Significant Other to watch the 1982 Barry Levinson classic, “Diner,” about a group of young men in Baltimore becoming adults. At one point, she left the room and I hit pause, assuming she was in the bathroom or getting a drink.

She didn’t come back and I found her in the driveway, fuming over the cascade of misogynistic assholery in the movie. “It’s just depicting the way they were,” I said.

“But why would I want to watch that?” she asked, and I didn’t have an answer.

Now I can’t get through the damn thing either, though I still consider it masterful.

Which bring us to “Animal House,” (1978) in which not only are the bros totally unable to relate to women in a healthy manner, but are also racists and bullies, the huge-and-critical difference being that Barry Levinson was asking “What were we thinking?” while John Landis is asking “Weren’t we the coolest guys ever?”

And if you can watch the Deltas (not to be confused with Dekes) without seeing rich, arrogant, misogynistic preppies, maybe you need to consider going to Confession.

But don’t take my rant for it: Here’s a brilliant, must-read piece from Slate in which a woman takes on these jerks not only with insight but without suggesting that their behavior is intrinsic to all men.

She suggests, tellingly, that they are in some strange world in which their interactions with women have very little to do with women at all.

There is no penetrative sex, there are always male onlookers, and, most importantly, there’s laughter. In each case the other men—not the woman—seem to be Kavanaugh’s true intended audience. In each story, the cruel and bizarre act the woman describes—restraining Christine Blasey Ford and attempting to remove her clothes in her allegation, and in Deborah Ramirez’s, putting his penis in front of her face—seems to have been done in the clumsy and even manic pursuit of male approval.

I particularly appreciate that she confines it to a subset of jerks, and treats it as a malady rather than the conscious choice of a rational mind.

And I’m bothered, as I look at Granlund’s cartoon again, that perhaps our leadership is overbalanced with just the kind of privileged upperclass jerks she’s talking about, and that Barry Levinson portrayed, and that John Landis celebrated.

 

I’m also bothered that we’ve been having this conversation way too long. My first op-ed in a major paper was a 1979 piece in the Rocky Mountain News, which began thus:

Well, the Slate article illuminates the “Who but a jerk” part, and the #MeToo movement has helped make women better at identifying jerks than this poor youngster was, while Kavanaugh’s schoolmates are puncturing his ridiculous choirboy facade.

 

But, as Darrin Bell points out, all this partisan excuse-making and Good Ol’ Boy frathouse jerkery is sending a message that we ought not to be sending.

In the end, the Kavanaugh issue is both “Diner” and “Animal House,” and the question for you, Dear Reader, is whether you’re going to laugh or stand up and walk out.

 

“The awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category—a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.”

Community Comments

#1 Sean Martin
September/26/2018
@ 8:06 am

I’ve pretty well stopped doing obvious political commentary in my strip, only because right now, on both sides of the border, it’s just too depressing to think about. I see everything sliding more and more to the reactionary conservative, just as it did in years past — and knowing what ensued, I cant hep but think we’re well on our way to yet another worldwide war in which a lot of people will be killed… but the ones who started it will stay all nice and safe well behind the line and live on to make lives even more miserable afterwards.

I wish I could be hopeful, but I think I”m at the age where hope just exited stage left, pursued by bear.

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