CSotD: Petitions, and repetitions

Ward Sutton admits he drew this some time ago and it languished in the files at the NYTimes Review of Books until this week, but even if the concept is evergreen, I’d call the application of it now timely.

Not that I look to the NYTimes for intelligent analysis of graphic commentary. I don’t boycott the paper, but I don’t subscribe, either.

After all, with so many people taking up backyard poultry these days, nobody should pay for chicken shit.

But I’m glad Sutton got a little money out of them, and I think it’s less a matter of hypocrisy than of coordination: The book review lets him comment on people who don’t understand books, while the rest of the paper is edited by cloth-eared pedants who don’t understand satire and irony.

(As a young writer, I subscribed to the Review separately.)

Bear in mind, these were the humorless clods who famously, or infamously, edited Molly Ivins out of a job, as she recalled in “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?”

Well, Molly Ivins couldn’t say that at the NYTimes, anyway.

Which would be a digression at the expense of the Gray Lady, if that utter failure to engage with the material were not precisely what Sutton’s piece is mocking.

As far as cartooning goes, I was just remembering the other day the conversations I’d have with one of my editors, trying to explain political cartoons to him. He was a cheerful, even funny, guy, but he simply couldn’t translate graphic commentary.

Show him a cartoon of Bill and Hillary in a canoe going down a raging river labeled “Whitewater” and he understood that it was a funny picture about Whitewater, but the intent of the cartoonist — whether pro- or anti-Clinton — was lost on him.

But, while that was generally frustrating, what was specifically frustrating was when an editor would write a headline for one of my stories that was, at best, irrelevant and which, at worst, contradicted what I’d written.

The moral of the story being not that editors are idiots but that there is no level of clarity which will not fly past a lot of people, even those who are not simply literate but even well-educated.

The task of the writer or the cartoonist being to maintain some level of artistry while avoiding predictable misunderstandings.


It’s not easy, as Graeme MacKay reports.

Having published this cartoon that seems perfectly clear, his paper received the following feedback from an aggrieved reader.

Granted, there’s something confirming about drawing a cartoon about whiners and having someone whine about it, but the task remains to try to make your points clear while accepting that they will whooosh over some heads anyway.


So, on the one hand, I look at Joel Pett (Tribune)’s cartoon and say, yes, we’ve seen that before.

But maybe we need to see it again. And again. And again, until it sinks in, and he does well to lay out his case in those top panels, rather than simply drawing the bottom panel and expecting it to speak for itself.

Keep it simple, and if you can work in the notion that people who object to “Defund the Police” should also object to “Assault, Maim and Kill Police Officers,” so much the better.


Jeff Boyer takes a more subtle approach, playing on the “They were peaceful tourists” excuse.

It sounds silly to call that “subtle,” given how much publicity the “tourist” thing has gained, but, again, you have to figure out where the line is drawn between preaching to the choir and gaining new converts.

It’s a great cartoon for maintaining troop morale, but Pett’s is a better recruiting tool.

Which was your goal? (Honest question.)


As Pat Bagley points out, the rightwingers are pleased to repeat a lie until it becomes the truth, and they’ve seized on “Critical Race Theory” as the latest monster-under-the-bed with which to frighten their followers.

And, no, they don’t care if the theory is taught in classrooms or just bandied about amongst detached academics or, for that matter, if it exists at all, any more than they cared where Barack Obama was really born or whether the Affordable Care Act included death panels.


Or who won the 2020 President Election, or, as David Fitzsimmons puts it, how embarrassing it is to live amongst the loonies.

They may be loonies, but they wield a lot of power, and, if you want to distance yourself, fine, but, if you seek an actual cure, it will come from fighting back effectively.

That doesn’t mean telling lies to counter their lies.  You can still maintain your honor and use truth as a weapon, as long as you keep it simple.

But not so user-friendly that it has no impact. Here’s what I mean:


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Mike Peters – KFS)


(Marc Murphy)

The coat hanger has become the universal symbol of resistance to anti-choice legislation, but I wonder how many people respond to it with the visceral horror it deserves?

I like this pair, but the metaphor may simply be too far in the past.

In 2005, David Boles wrote of his students having no sense of how things were, back in the days of the coat hanger. Those 20-to-23 year old students are now 36-to-39, roughly the median age of the US population.

So half the population may not even get it, which is a stunning, depressing thought for those women who were mutilated and brutalized in self-inflicted desperation, and, as well, for those of us who heard their stories and felt their pain and realized the horror that never went away.


Juxtaposition of the Day #2

(Clay Bennett – Oct 28, 2012)


(Ann Telnaes – Feb 7, 2019)

To make a crude but unavoidable pun, depicting a coat hanger intact is a case of missing the point.

Unravel that tool of cruelty and despair. Draw the sword or flee the battle.

Tell it like it was, and like it will be again, and if they don’t understand, tell it again and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it until they do understand.


And explain what this 1972 ad in Ms Magazine meant, and why it took courage to sign your name.

Then step up again.

And again.

And again.

Tell the stories until there are no more stories to tell.


8 thoughts on “CSotD: Petitions, and repetitions

  1. The last time I commented here it was on grammar and spelling and stuff, so naturally I made a hideous grammatical error that I can’t believe I made. Let’s see what I do this time.

    Regarding outlawing abortion, nobody has really come up with a solution to the following scenario. And if you find my stereotypes offensive, um, that’s kind of the point.

    I live in the DC area, so I’m using local references. We start out in Northwest DC with fifteen-year-old Mary Alice Sloane. Her mother is a lawyer, and let’s make her father a high-powered lobbyist. One day on the way home from the country club she drops by a party that her friends are having. The maid has the day off, so there’s no adult supervision. A couple of drunken seniors lure here into a bedroom, and * * * * * she gets pregnant. Having a baby at fifteen will absolutely wreck Mary Alice’s academic career–she’s already signed up at Radcliffe–so her parents take her to a two-week vacation at a spa in Switzerland. Problem solved.

    Now let’s go across town to Southeast DC and ten-year-old Tawanda Washington. Her mother works cleaning office buildings, so Tawanda is alone at home a lot–no after-school activities for her neighborhood! The creepy old guy next door takes a shine to her, and * * * * * she gets pregnant. What’s going to happen to her? Betty MacDonald in The Egg and I was approached by the local abortionist who used a button hook–much compact than a coat hook.

    How can you enforce a law outlawing abortion? Abbie Hoffman and his pregnant girlfriend went to Puerto Rico for a weekend, but even that option, if it still exists, is probably too much for Tawanda’s mother. Does the US pass another law mandating that every female of breeding age must submit to a pregnancy test before leaving the country? I doubt that Mary Alice’s parents would agree to that–they’re important people, after all.

    So once again we have a law aimed at people without the financial resources to get around it.

  2. Not so bad this time, Fred: “lure here into a bedroom” is all.

    More seriously, as I understand it enforcement would devolve unto the states, so blue states should be okay. A woman in trouble could travel inside the US to take care of things — I don’t know how far you’d have to travel from DC.

  3. Let’s add this:

    Her mother needs to agree. And have a car. And be able to afford to stay in a motel somewhere for a few days, since you don’t just do these things in an hour. It takes appointments, counseling and another appointment.

    And if she lives in the middle of Texas or Alabama, who knows how far she needs to travel. With her mom, with her boyfriend, or maybe all alone.

  4. @brad: can I claim Basement Brain for “here”?

    And I was thinking along the lines of a national law–perhaps a constitutional amendment. Clearly I’ve been reading about prohibition too much.

  5. Fred : typos aside, you got it. That IS their point. (I can imagine Justice Kavanaugh bein VERY offended at the idea of any woman wanting to abort HIS offspring, “The sacred sperm/must be carried to term.”)

  6. Women of this generation not understanding the coat hanger reference is frightening to me. We tend to relive what we fail to remember, I’m old, and was a nurse pre-Roe v.Wade. I was also born before there was a polio vaccine. I have the institutional memory of the “bad old days.” I had all the “childhood illnesses” because there weren’t any vaccines. And I am frightened of this court. And all the stupid anti-vaxxers who will prolong this pandemic for years. And will all the anti-abortionists step up to make sure all children born are fed and educated, and loved? Not likely.

  7. So now Texas has a law that grants any perfect stranger standing to sue not just abortion providers, but anyone else who can be construed as facilitating an abortion: counselors, the best friend who drove a woman to a blue state, the airline that flew her to the spa in Switzerland, everyone in the Facebook Pro-Choice Chat Group, whatever.

    But you can’t sue the guy that sold guns No Questions Asked to the mass murderer du jour. That’s pro-life for you.

  8. Eileen—I’m young enough to have no direct memory of “coat hanger” abortions, but they used to be commonplace in pop culture —it’s a plot point in “Up the Down Staircase”, and most gals my age have seen “Dirty Dancing” (although at that time, I had to have someone older than me explain exactly what happened.) That all was back in the 80’s, though.

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