Comic Strip of the Day: Laughter amid the ashes

I will confess to going through a burn-out phase at the moment, in which I find today’s Reality Check refreshing.

All commentators, including cartoonists, go through these phases where I have of late,—but wherefore I know not,—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.

I shit you not.

When I enter into one of these temporary funks, I can’t tell whether cartoonists are simply trading on accepted gags without any innovative touches, or, perhaps, I’m simply not laughing at things that would have cracked me up another time.

I do know, having done this for nigh-on a decade, that it’s temporary, but it’s still nice when someone like Dave Whamond puts a spin on a tired topic, and a variation of this one has been at the forefront of my discontent.

The overall topic of people staring at their phones is overdone. Not that it isn’t relevant: I find it sad and disquieting that people can’t simply walk down the street looking around and thinking.

But there isn’t a lot of freshness that can be brought to the point. Lewis Baumer drew this for Punch in 1906 and it’s not even the one I was thinking of; it’s just the one I could find.

The variation of this tired theme that has been making me crazy recently has been the little kids who should be out playing but instead are zoned out on their phones.

First of all, to play upon Whamond’s point, the parents complaining about this were, as kids, zoned out on TV when they should have been outside, so shaddapayouface.

Second, to have parents saying it of their own kids is much sadder than it is funny. Take the goddam phone away. Limit their screen time. Act like a parent, ferchrissake.

There’s nothing new about using technology as a binkie. Before smartphones, it was taking a family trip in which, instead of talking to each other, the kids plugged their Walkmen into their ears.

And somewhere in the middle came the vans with DVD players so that the kids could zone out on crappy movies instead of being part of a family.


And then there’s this factor, captured in a Grand Avenue from last month: We want them to go out, but not to actually do anything, because, besides having been sold smartphones and cars with DVD players, we’ve also been sold the notion that the world is a scary, scary place and you need to fingerprint your kids and then keep them locked up.

Hey, I told you I was feeling a bit burned out.


At least I got a laugh out of The Barn today, thanks to a cheerful note of dark cynicism that matches my mood.

Okay, not a laugh, but a chuckle. A rueful chuckle.

I saw an interview by David Axelrod of former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who, among other things, spoke of how, during Katrina, people really came together to help each other, regardless of race or economic status or whatever. A shining light amid the catastrophe.

Then again, if the sea level rose 200 feet, it wouldn’t do it all at once like Katrina, and I’m sure that, as the inevitable slowly became obvious, we’d simply quarrel over the cost of sea walls and whether it was time yet and whether this was a natural cycle that we should ignore.

I don’t know if that’s “burned out” or “cynical” or just “analytical,” but if you haven’t seen that photo of the two jamokes from a Trump rally in their “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat” T-shirts, well, don’t judge me.

Also, don’t sit around waiting for the Republicans to rein in their fair-haired boy, because, if they were ever going to, they’d have done it by now.

They just plan to move him further inland and keep the fights going.


But there is hope, and Tom Toles offers at least an uncertain path, and if he were the only person making the point, I’d remain cynical, burned out, whatever.

However, The Parkland Kids and their increasing army of young pissed-off new voters give me hope, even moreso in advance of an off-year election.

This feels a lot like when young people rose up against LBJ under McCarthy’s banner, and McCarthy was every bit as unlikely a candidate as Bernie, but not nearly as vigorous a campaigner, which was why Bobby could step in and grab the spotlight from him.


The real problem, then — aside from Sirhan Sirhan — was that it all had to come together in Chicago, and, between the Democratic machine refusing to seat dissident delegates and Daley turning a demonstration into a police riot, it fell apart and the fall elections featured SameOld v SameOld.


It’s harder to stifle off-year election uprisings because they’re decentralized. If people in one place aren’t reached by the logic in this Phil Hands cartoon — that we’ll spend the money anyway, the difference being whether it benefits you or some Fat Cats — it may resonate with voters in other places.

Meanwhile, the Kids remind me not of the Clean-for-Gene crowd so much as the army of young people who went South in the early/mid Sixties for the voter registration drives.

Those young people, and their brothers and sisters the Freedom Riders, faced uglier opposition than we’re seeing now — far more violent and more frequently led by police and sheriffs — but they persisted, they challenged illegal barriers (just as the Parkland Kids are challenging the current Texas neglect of high school registration), they talked to people, they put in the shoe leather, and the results were dramatic, a massive shift in Southern politics.

Their spiritual grandchildren are a pretty good cure for burn out.