CSotD: Squeezing the triggers

From a strictly artistic point of view, the father-and-daughter image has been done enough.

From a political point of view, it can’t be, and Tom Toles offers an effective, if somewhat didactic, variation.

But he’s right: They were killed by heartless, feckless bureaucracy.

They had gone to a port of entry to apply for amnesty as the law requires, yet were turned away, just as Otto Frank was turned away when he tried to obtain visas for his family to come to America.

Otto Frank took his chances in Holland. Oscar Ramirez took his chances in the Rio Grande.


Yesterday, I featured David Rowe‘s cartoon on Trump playing golf and ignoring the bodies in the water hazard.

Rowe lives in Australia so he had first crack. By noon, I’d seen three or four iterations of the same idea.

It’s an obvious idea. Golfing presidents have often been used as a symbol of not caring, but having a president who genuinely seems to spend more time on the golf course than in the Oval Office makes it that much more irresistible.

But that doesn’t mean the golfer gag can’t work, and, time zones aside, Rowe had an advantage because he works in a grotesque style and it is a grotesque image.

By contrast, what works in Toles’ simple style would be self-consciously pretentious, even ludicrous, as a verbal description: “The waves of indifference, incompetence and incoherence beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly …”

As a graphic image, it works.


The impact of Toles’ style can be seen in this 2006 criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rejection of a Pentagon study that concluded we were moving too fast in the early days of the two-front war, with too few people and too little preparation.

Rumsfeld described US troops as “battle-hardened” and Toles’ simplified style adds to the horror of his commentary because it implies rather than depicts. A grotesque depiction would have increased the horror, but blunted the political point.

And this was effective enough to prompt a furious letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The term “snowflake” was not yet in common parlance in 2006, nor did the Joint Chiefs complain that he had “triggered” them, but they were and he had.

What inspired today’s rant is that Facebook has added a blot-out filter for the photograph of father and daughter, because readers may find it upsetting.

On my feed, someone’s filter apparently failed, because she protested vehemently against anyone posting this “triggering” image.

My sympathy has its limits. I don’t know “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see,” but I know that it’s not supposed to be a goddam contest.

You’re supposed to be triggered.

The world is full of people who give a damn, and if you go out in public, either physically or virtually, you’re apt to be triggered.

It’s part of being part of humanity.

In a democracy, there is a moral imperative to expose voters to the real world, because, as Wilfred Owen said,

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Maybe you had to be there. Simply seeing the photograph doesn’t always force the change.
We all wept over little Aylan Kurdi, for instance.
Zapiro used that heart-breaking image to extend the conversation, to ask why the EU was not moving to address the refugee crisis effectively.
And Mark Knight made the commentary that summed up the real reaction of the public.

It was terribly, terribly upsetting, and it triggered people for entire moments.

Now, you cannot say the photo, and the cartoons that followed, had no effect. The refugee crisis in Europe is not over, and, in fact, has sparked a resurgence of racism and toxic nationalism.

And yet the Greens made greater strides in the last elections than did the haters. There is progress.

Still, if you expect one photograph, one cartoon, to change everything, you are expecting what has never been and what will never be.

Yet there is the starfish effect: You can’t save them all, but you can save this one.

The best demonstration I saw in my college years involved a local Christian commune known for their activism: They were allied with the Berrigans and had some involvement with national anti-draft activities.

Which meant that, when they announced that they had obtained some napalm, people knew they had connections that made it possible.

So when they announced that they were going to demonstrate its ghastly effects by napalming a lamb on the steps of the Administration Building, people were outraged.

On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, a huge crowd gathered, including several people armed with baseball bats and intent on rescuing the poor little lamb.

The demonstrators came up on the steps and unrolled this poster, declaring “These are the lambs, and they are already dead.”

I don’t know what specific impact it had.
Some of the estimated 700 onlookers were angry at having been fooled, some laughed it off as a joke.

But three months later, when campuses shut down over Nixon’s incursion into Cambodia, the student march downtown to join with Indiana University students in protest included football players, cheerleaders and a number of previously quiet, non-activist students who had never stood up in public to declare their opposition to the war.

They had been there, and now they were here.

Little drops of water, drip by drip, will wear away the greatest stone.


So keep it up, Darrin Bell.
Keep it up, Ruben Bolling.
Keep it up, Tim Eagan.

4 thoughts on “CSotD: Squeezing the triggers

  1. Unbelievably — or perhaps not so — one of the commenters during the CBC’s evening news broadcast said that photo was clearly staged.

    After a bit of prodding, he admitted he felt the same about Sandy Hook.

    Some people are just beyond redemption.

  2. Some people are simply not wired to feel empathy for someone not in their group. I wonder how all these Republicans can be so defective as human beings and still walk around on their hind legs.

  3. With so many cartoonists being let go, or pushed out the door, or dropped by pusillanimous editors, it’s refreshing to go back and reread the WaPo editor’s support of Tom Toles.

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