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CSotD: What’s your point?

Instead of pontificating for 1,000 words and ending with a video, I’m going to start with the video and then add the commentary.

Matt Wuerker has been creating a series of videos on the topic of editorial cartooning, and this one is good, but struck several nerves.

Check it out:

Perhaps I should have said, “this one is good, AND struck several nerves,” since provoking thought is the point of an editorial cartoon.

Except when it isn’t, which is the issue that has been bubbling up in my mind and which Matt brought to a boil.

As he went through the various Biden/Reade commentaries, it solidified into this question:

What’s your point?

I don’t mean “What’s the meaning of this cartoon?” though, God knows, I’ve seen enough cartoons that raise that question.

Rather, “What’s your point-What’s your purpose-What’s your trip?”

Why do you do this, instead of drawing caricatures down at Faneuil Hall or at the county fair?

I really liked Jay Leno as a standup, and even went to one of his shows shortly before he took over as host of the Tonight Show.

Once he began doing a nightly monologue, however, it didn’t take long to realize that his only point was to get laughs.

“Airline food sure sucks” was funny, unless, I suppose, you happened to work for a company that made airline food.

But “Bob Dole sure is old” was kind of pointless.

Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl might have worked it into something larger and more penetrating, but Leno just got up every night and told “Bob Dole sure is old” jokes that had no greater meaning and didn’t begin to discuss what a Robert Dole Administration might look like.

BTW, they’ve stopped serving airline food and Bob Dole is still alive.

And while Leno and Letterman specialized in topical-but-pointless gags, the current crop of late night hosts seems divided between wiseasses and comedians with a point of view.

It’s not as obvious in cartooning, but Wuerker’s examples suggest that the Biden/Reade issue is one of those things cartoonists seize on when they’re going through the news looking for something to comment on.

Some of them end up making serious political points and others are, if not being wiseasses, simply filling in with some laughs while they wait for a more substantive issue to come along.

It’s nothing new: As noted here the other day, the Whitewater scandal brought out the same sort of response a generation ago. A lot of cartoonists had no idea how commercial real estate worked, but it was fun to draw Bill and Hillary in a canoe going over the falls.

And even cartoonists who we can easily assume do not want four more years of Donald Trump are having fun with Biden’s predicament.

 

I think I prefer those, like Tom Stiglich, who attack because they really do want four more years of Trump, even if he uses the hard spin of demanding Biden prove a negative, his proof of the lie being Biden’s admitted hugginess.

“Spin” is permitted, even when it seems so transparent.

 

Wuerker himself puts a reasonable amount of spin into a cartoon with a clear point of view. There are several elements here that I admire.

The first is the Young Feminist and Old Feminist, the younger seeking purity while the older is more pragmatic. I’m sure there are young and old feminists who swap positions on that, but it’s a reasonable generalization and represents a clear point of view, particularly with one feminist looking angry and the other looking fearful.

And while I believe the fewer words in a political cartoon the better, his use of newspaper headlines works very well — He includes Biden’s denial on the left while adding both Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s status and the threat to Roe v Wade on the right.

And then, bless his heart, he poses the question and dumps it in our laps.

Without in any way surrendering his point of view.

 

Kick me, please!

In asking the National Park Service for permission to break tradition and stage a political broadcast at the Lincoln Memorial, Trump flipped a coin between gaining rapturous applause and setting himself up for a series of swift kicks in the pants.

Comparing himself to Lincoln assured which way that was gonna go, and Andy Marlette is not the only one to portray him as a whining baby, nor the only one showing Lincoln aghast, though his inclusion of the “Faux” News camera wins him the mention here.

That’s a lot of kicks in the pants delivered at once.

 

Ed Hall notes that Lincoln has an insurmountable lead in the badly-treated competition, though it should be noted that Trump meant treatment by the press, not by people who wave Confederate flags and wish we could go back to the way things were.

Still, even before we question Trump about what he really knows about Lincoln’s relations with the press, that whole “bullet in the head” thingie tends to take whining about your own treatment off the table.

 

And David Rowe agrees.

In fact, I’d be willing to offer David Rowe as an example of how you can have a strong point of view and purpose without sacrificing the opportunity for a cheap laugh.

Given the choice of one, I know which I’d want. Then again, I’d much prefer both, please.

 

No laughs in this one. Clay Jones notes that Trump’s rapturous love affair with Kim Jung Un contrasts tastelessly with the torture and death of Otto Warmbier.

Though it’s really only one more ghastly example of his utter inability to feel empathy, sympathy or pity for anyone but himself, as well as of his bizarre fascination with tyrants.

He truly lives in a world of his own invention.

 

Think you can do better?

If you are a cartoonist between 18 and 25 who comments on social topics, why not pick up a grand and some national recognition? Go for it.

 

As for the rest of you …

Community Comments

#1 Richard John Marcej
May/5/2020
@ 7:34 am

I have a quibble with Ed Hall’s comic. No, not because of what you’re discussing today, not necessarily with his point of the comic.

I’m a bit of a history nerd. Besides Art, History was always my favorite subject in school. One of the vivid images from the night of Lincoln’s assassination was that he was too tall for the bed, in Petersen Boarding House, that he died on. So much so that the doctors laid Lincoln diagonally across it.

IMO Ed’s comic would be more effective had he drawn it that way,

But I’m probably being to anal here…

#2 sean martin
May/5/2020
@ 8:14 am

Your comments about Leno (which are spot on, BTW) are how I increasingly feel about a lot of editorial cartoonists: cut through it all and there’s no there there, as GS would say. They’re very well done, to be sure, and I am definitely envious of their talent, but it’s all low-hanging fruit with no real sense of observation or commentary, just a nice little visual spin on things we already know.

#3 matt wuerker
May/5/2020
@ 8:35 am

Mike– Back at you, what exactly is your point??? Sorry you missed my point in the video. My little commentary had little to do cheap laugh cartoons, Jay Leno, or Bob Dole (you gotta update your cultural references a bit). I was posing a question to cartoonists– and to voters– how tactical and political are you in reacting to events in the news and when making your political choices? It’s easy to do knee jerk response cartoons and point out facile hypocrisies but who benefits? What’s the effect in the bigger political game that’s being played. That’s why I brought up the Karl Rove aspect. The Tara Read accusation is the perfect tool Trump’s political warfare machine can use to go at Biden’s strengths and also undermine his standing with the crucial women’s vote. That’s why they’ve been creating the “Creepy Handsy Grandpa” meme for the last year. And now the Reade accusations let them completely weaponize it. I’m not saying she’s a creation of the Trump machine, I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve to be heard, I’m just saying she’s a gift to the Trump slime machine… and it would be wise to consider, any and all who choose to carelessly feed the meme, the very high stakes here.

#4 Mary McNeil
May/5/2020
@ 8:55 am

Since Trump doesn’t apparently realize that Lincoln was assassinated, the true positioning of his death bed seems (in the words of Rhett Butler) “a minor point at such a moment.”

#5 Brad Walker
May/5/2020
@ 10:27 am

Not to cheapen the moment, I just wanted to note the juxtaposition of the Day of “Working Daze” with “Take It From The Tinkersons.”

#6 Mike Peterson
May/5/2020
@ 2:55 pm

Matt — my point was that you made me think, as you often do.

Your very complete, thoughtful rundown of various takes on the issue brought my own thoughts into focus. I thought it was an excellent analysis, which is why I led off with it instead of adding it at the end as an accent piece.

As I wrote, I’d been thinking about how some cartoonists are, as you say, weaponizing the accusations but how some others seem to simply be playing a current event for a quick laugh. I didn’t say you said that second part; I said it myself. But, as you say, you certainly touched on it.

As for my outdated historical perspective, Leno hosted the Tonight Show until 2009, about a decade after Whitewater, which I also cited.

It’s not exactly like citing Jack Paar or Teapot Dome, and Leno’s wiseassery and irrelevant ageism happened to be the exact point I wanted to make, though he also jumped on the “Al Gore Lies” bandwagon four years later.

And, yes, I think there are some cartoonists who do much the same and deserve to be called on it. As noted here recently, editorial cartoonists need to maintain journalistic standards, whatever spin they choose to add.

(I also discussed Abraham Lincoln, who left office even before Bob Dole was born. As you see in the comments, at least some of my readers had heard of him.)

#7 Michael Buet
May/5/2020
@ 9:34 pm

Draw a cartoon showing why trump LOVES Putin & KJU:. IMO, HE IS ASKING THEM TO HACK OUR ELECTIONS TO GET HIM “RE-ELECTED”

#8 keith brown
May/6/2020
@ 5:39 am

I see the graphic for the cartoon contest. Does anyone know why there is an age limit? That sucks…..

#9 Mike Peterson
May/6/2020
@ 6:59 am

When a young person dies young, his parents often want to encourage other young people.

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