CSotD: Rant Mode On (and on and on)

Following 9/11, I used this Peter Schrank cartoon in my school presentations. It’s brilliant not simply because the world was, indeed, traumatized by the event, but because he melded both that horror-stricken face and Munch’s original drawing of the bridge with the image of people fleeing down the street from the collapsing buildings.

And it didn’t hurt that the Scream is so well-known that I didn’t have to throw it up on the screen for the high school students in my audience because they already knew it.

Which I suppose is why it seems every political cartoonist has taken a crack at it since, none of them coming close to Schrank either for the timeliness of the homage or for the thoroughness with which he adapted the original graphics to fit the immediate message.

In retail leasing, there is a term for a store which is so dominant in a particular area that, once it has been added to a mall, there is no point in anyone opening a shop that offers competing inventory: “Category Killer.”

Schrank’s use of the Scream should be a Category Killer. You not only won’t do better, but you won’t even be able to match it.

And yet it seems that, about every month or so, somebody gives it a shot. And fails.

The issue of “homages” was a topic at the AAEC Convention recently, not at one of the formal sessions but after hours, around burgers and beer, which is where the gloves come off and people say what they really mean.

Our end of a long table being dominated by some top notch artists, the consensus was absolute: We don’t need any more homages to classic cartoons like the Plumb Pudding in Danger or Rendezvous, and anyone attempting an homage to a classic had better bring their A-game, because they’re starting from deep within a creative deficit.

To which I would add that, if you’re going to do it, pick something less obviously iconic and then, as Schrank did, make sure it’s not just an imitation but something so fittingly adapted that it qualifies as a genuine restatement.

Case in point being Morten Morland‘s recent use, cited here, of Low’s cartoon showing the free world behind Churchill in the war, which he contrasted with the world now trying to restrain Netanyahu, a complete reversal of Low and, thus, a thought-provoking commentary even by itself, and which, it should be added, required a significant effort to swap out Low’s caricatures of world leaders then with Morland’s contemporary roster.

But, come on, man. Are you really gonna do an homage to something that’s on coffee mugs?

Enough. Schrank killed the category two decades ago.

Juxtaposition of Give Me a Break

Kirk Walters — KFS

Chip Bok — Creators

Dana Summers — Tribune

I’ve been pondering the continuing flood of cartoons about kids saying dumb things and wondering if maybe I’m the only guy in the room who’d been to college.

Walters is simply wrong. While SI Hayakawa flapped his jaws at disruptive San Francisco State students, actual takeovers of buildings were rare and brief and most college presidents did, indeed, try to strike up dialogue with protesters. Even at Columbia, where police eventually came in to remove student occupiers of campus buildings, the faculty was deeply divided on how to deal with the protests, and the situation there was far more dire than a group of students signing a letter.

The Harvard letter is hardly as Bok or others have portrayed it — it’s also a lot easier to find condemnation than it is to find the letter itself — while Summers echoes a wider proclamation that criticism of Israeli governmental policy is antisemitic.

Let’s start here: The letter is indeed a case of victim-blaming. Even conceding that Israel’s policy towards Palestinians can be criticized, and that the letter was targeted towards internal university practices, this was hardly the time.

But college kids say and do stupid things all the time and, given that several students have said groups they belonged to signed the letter without their knowledge or consent, knowing how many were tacitly involved tells us nothing about how Harvard students, as a whole, feel about it.

It reminds me of a moment in the Student Strike of 1970, after the invasion of Cambodia, when students from Notre Dame and IUSB marched together to a park in South Bend, and I was surprised to see the number of “straight” students in the crowd, people I’d known but had never heard speak of politics.

Then some goofball got up on the stage with a toy pistol and started ranting about “our brothers in Cuba” and “our brothers in North Vietnam” and saying his gun “is pointed at you, Mr. President” and I could see these students in the crowd wondering who in the hell they’d gotten themselves involved with.

Thing being that 90% of those who had always opposed the war had long since learned to let this overwrought bullshit pass over us while we waited for the more intelligent speeches that would follow.

The following fall, having picked my way through a “Die In” on campus, I sat having a cup of coffee with a classmate who’d been on the cover of Sports Illustrated several times, who asked me, “What would your friends do if they ever did stop the war?” and I laughed because he intended it as a silly, if exasperated, question.

Point being that, though we came at things from two very different political directions, we — like everyone else on a college campus in those days — realized that the people lying around on the grass were more intent on demonstrating than on taking less dramatic but likely more constructive actions.

And then there’s this:

Bill Day

Chris Britt — Creators

I’ve seen plenty of commentary about Sidney Powell taking a plea deal, but the development apparently surprised a lot of people, who must have had a far higher opinion of her than I did. I’m even less surprised in light of Georgia’s law which allows cooperative first-time felons to have their convictions expunged.

Anyway, I don’t think of her as a “rat” because, while she’s hardly my idea of a hero, I’m not going to adopt the Big Rat’s terminology about those who testify against him.

8 thoughts on “CSotD: Rant Mode On (and on and on)

  1. You bring back memories of my college days, my time in the anti-War movement and working for McGovern (boy, was that election night a slap of reality), and the remembrance that the loudest, most off-the-wall speaker will always get the most air time in the reporting that follows.

  2. In my college days, my pre-law roommate discovered that a trespassing conviction from a sit-in would probably keep him from ever becoming a lawyer.

  3. One note about the Low cartoon: the figures behind Churchill weren’t the leaders of the free world, but, rather, a cross-section of a good portion of the British political establishment of late Spring of 1940, which formed, in essence, a unity government after Neville Chamberlain stepped down and was replaced by Churchill. You can see behind Churchill, inter alia, Chamberlain, Labour leader Clem Attlee, Viscount Halifax, Labour stalwart and trade union leader Ernest Bevin and Anthony Eden. Indeed, you should contrast this with Low’s cartoon “Very well, alone!” which came out not long after this cartoon, which emphasized that at that point in time (which was before the US came through with Lend-Lease), Britain was facing the Axis threat largely alone. As such, the 2023 cartoon isn’t quite a direct reversal of the 1940 cartoon; you’d have to have a roster of Israeli politicians to do that.

  4. One of the things about the “homage” cartoons: to whom are you addressing the cartoon? I would suspect that even in England, there may not be a large percentage of the population that would remember the original, 1940 Low cartoon. In one sense, by doing that kind of homage, you’re really playing either to just yourself, or to a small group of cartoon cognoscenti or history buffs. “The Scream” would be rather different, in that that is an artwork that’s generally familiar to a wide section of the population, and thus requires little explanation.

    Sometimes you have to call out to a famous or well-known bit of culture. Just yesterday, I was look at my copy of “Dick Locher Draws Fire,” and there was a wonderful cartoon showing Dorothy, of The Wizard of Oz, accompanied by the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, berating then-President Jimmy Carter for being a bad man in breaking his promises; the Carter caricature responds, a la the original, by saying he was not a bad man, just a bad wizard (an analysis, by the way, which holds up, all these years later). Is this an homage? Not quite in the sense you were describing with Low, but certainly in the same sense with Munch.

    I think you have to examine the cartoon on a case-by-case basis. Simply cutting and pasting new people into “The Plumb Pudding in Danger” is perhaps a bit lazy; the example I cite with Locher, I think, is an example of an homage being used wittily.

  5. I am also getting sick of all this “criticizing Israel/Netanyahu is antisemitic” nonsense, especially since they’ve been oppressing the Palestinians for decades and now have the gall to act all surprised when Hamas attacked.

  6. Mike, thank you for all the well thought out comments on many subjects.
    My organization takes the stand that Israelis and Jews and Muslims and Palestinians must ALL be allowed to live in peace. This murderous conflict has been going on for centuries and is now a requirement in the minds of those in power on the Israeli and Hamas sides. I agree with AJ.
    When our org. leader was in college in the late 1960s, his friends were being sent to VietNam to be needlessly murdered. He didn’t join crowds protesting. He worked with the American Friends Service Committee, talking to his peers and handing out leaflets. That didn’t keep him from having the crap beat out of him by a bunch of loud ‘patriotic’ ROTC thugs. We should all be compelled to find effective ways to subdue violence without becoming violent.

  7. “We don’t need any more homages to classic cartoons like the Plumb Pudding in Danger or Rendezvous, and anyone attempting an homage to a classic had better bring their A-game, because they’re starting from deep within a creative deficit.”

    I concur with Eric somewhat. I recognized Morland’s homage to Low, and I hoped that perhaps it was more recognizable in old Blighty, but I know that no Yank even of my Dad’s generation would catch the reference. (And I still like Morland’s hiding the Scream in the crowd.)

    The problem is that there are so few common cultural images any more with the multiplying and fracturing of information and entertainment these days. What remains are those images that get memed to death of Gene Wilder, Kermit the Frog, Pepe the Frog, the It’s Fine dog, and the wives of whatever city arguing with a cat.

    BTW, Locher revisited that Wizard of Oz reference with later presidents. But then, how many countless cartoons have the rest of us drawn riffing on that The Great And Powerful Oz! image?

    1. (The only reasons I got the Low reference are that I happen to be a collector of editorial cartoon books, and I’m a keen World War II buff — a combination you don’t see often here in the US.)

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