CSotD: Civilization and its Discontents

Here’s the problem: It’s becoming hard for political cartoonists to satirize our situation, because our situation is beginning to feel like satire itself.

So Ruben Bolling lays out a mocking synopsis of how foolish people reject science, common sense and civic decency, and it feels more like a documentary than biting commentary.

A very well-crafted documentary, mind you. But I’ve described this type of alternative-press commentary in the past as “Bland Restatement,” and the question before us is whether restating things, even gathering them into one place as Bolling has here, can have any impact when we see the foolishness unfold day after day anyway?

The goal is to knock fence-sitters out of their neutrality and into action, but how many fence-sitters are there, and will they even see these cartoons, if they haven’t already?

The police riots at the National Democratic Convention in 1968 did just that, galvanizing opposition to both the war itself and to the repressive tactics of its official defenders, but, as Bill Mauldin pointed out, it was the brutalization of well-known, respected reporters as much as the beatings of protesters that made TV viewers take notice.

It also helped that, in a world of three networks, the Convention was pretty much all that was on TV at the moment, so the opportunity to turn away was limited.

The whole world really was watching.


There were apologists for Mayor Daley, who famously blew it with a memorable bit of fumble-mouth, saying “the police are not there to create disorder; the police are there to preserve disorder.”

But people saw what they saw, and there were no major sources on the national scene explaining it away.

Today, Michael Ramirez (Creators) can tell the country that being struck with a leather strap only hurts if it is an actual whip, that this sort of treatment is what lawbreakers deserve, that enforcement officials are never wrong and that anyone reporting otherwise is a liar and a jackass.

But half a century ago, we had not yet been groomed to believe six impossible things before breakfast.


Juxtaposition of the Day

(Brewster Rockit – Tribune)


(Tom Tomorrow)

Both cartoons offer absurd exaggeration, but only one is funny, and even Brewster’s absurd scenario contains an element of bittersweet regret and resignation that it shares with the more overtly political Tom Tomorrow.

The difference being . . . well, there really isn’t much of a difference, except that I doubt anyone thinks Bigfoot faked the Moon landing, while I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to hear Tucker Carlson pass along either of the outrageous opinions in Tom Tomorrow as examples of good reasoning.

Or for him to be believed by people who will never see any dissenting opinions.


If the point is to goad the fence-sitters, Jen Sorensen makes a more dreary-but-realistic observation, that we are not simply captives of a centralized business-government system, but that we are so personally invested in what is normal and comfortable that, even if we recognize what is happening, we’re unlikely to burst out of it.

It’s not a simple matter of being like Guy Montag’s passive wife, Mildred, in Fahrenheit 451, who watches mindless interactive television all day. As Sorensen notes in the first panel, we know something is wrong.

But, like the carefully programmed denizens of Brave New World, we’re reluctant to break our comfortable bonds. In 1984, Winston Smith had to be bullied and tortured into compliance, but we’re no rebels, and a little soma and an evening at the feelies will keep us from making waves.

If that government/business cabal could be as efficient in real life as they are in dystopic novels, we’d never have to sense our own futility.


Juxtaposition of the Day #2

(Marc Murphy)


(John Darkow)

It all starts early.

Murphy expresses fury at the drive-by shooting in Louisville that killed a student and wounded others, not simply as a cartoonist but, in a scathing Facebook posting,  writing

When I was the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the city’s Chief law enforcement officer, I was derided for arguing that money for more jails should be spent instead for more more and better schools. Hell, even a grocery store or two. Even then I knew nothing compared to people we should be listening to Right Now.

Meanwhile, Darkow decries a TikTok fad for destroying bathrooms, which seems, compared to killing each other, like small potatoes and more related to stupid Tide Pod and milk crate challenges, albeit with a cost to taxpayers.

But, while each has its own causes and raises its own issues, both stem from a deep, brooding, toxic unhappiness and a lack of any sense of belonging in the wider society.

That is a crucial issue we fail to address.

A quarter century ago, when I was visiting schools on a regular basis, I wrote a column about “The Porcelain Principle,” in which I suggested visiting student restrooms to gauge the quality of a school.

We’ve got some angry kids out there, and the solution is not to punish and suppress them, though perhaps disarming them would be a good idea.

But, as I noted in that column, there are schools where the bathrooms are badly vandalized and there are schools where they look like restrooms in any high-traffic facility, and the explanation is in how the kids feel about their school, their teachers and their administration. And, like Murphy, I was writing not from philosophy but from experience.

Now, who do you think these angry, frustrated kids grow up to be?


Before that …

I love this David Fitzsimmons panel, because parents want their kids to have healthy, happy, productive lives, but we seem unwilling to address some very basic needs, including access to decent childcare and pre-K programs.

A small touch: The mother is wearing a name tag, because she can’t afford to stay home.

But she also can’t afford childcare, and that, not college, is what her child needs right now.

I’d like to see guarantees of K-16 education, but the kids need to get there first, and that starts not with SATs but with pre-natal care.

Could we not, perhaps, build one fewer destroyer or one fewer fighter plane?

Or at least talk about it?


6 thoughts on “CSotD: Civilization and its Discontents

  1. Ramirez’ thing reminds me of the right wing tactic of shutting down discussion of gun control the minute anyone calls the wrong gun an “assault rifle”.

    Personally, I would love it if no one made laws regarding my personal health unless they could correctly label the phases of embryonic development and maybe, find a cervix on a diagram but we all know how that would turn out.

  2. My first impression of the Ramirez cartoon was that it had to be a parody of right-wing talking points. I didn’t realize he was serious about the deceptive potential of the split infinitive.

  3. Those look like mighty long reins. If the horse got galloping and stepped on one, consequences could be awkward, to say the least. “Luckily” they seem to be doing close-range herding.

  4. Not sure how the split infinitive in specific could have been misleading in that statement, unless Ramirez is suggesting it’s possible to terrorize someone in a non-callous manner?

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