Monday, November 26, 2001

TOM TOMORROW / TED RALL REVISITED:


For my recent critical outburst, Bill Sherman takes me to task thusly:

Gotta admit, Jay, Iím puzzled over the high dudgeon you expressed with Ted Rallís cartoon: it seems like a less deft version of something Tom Tomorrow did a few weeks back. The root themes of both cartoons Ė the basic idea that this conflict will not resolve things as simply as our politicos wish us to believe Ė seems pretty obvious and hard to argue.

Perhaps decades of writing for an underground newspaper have made me jaded, but Rallís cartoons, in general, seem to fit quite easily within the parameters of material printed by the left-wing press. This stuff still seems pretty mild compared to the graphics that were being plastered on undergrounds during the height of the Viet Nam war (thereís a Greg Irons cartoon that visualized the hero of Dalton Trumboís Johnny Got His Gun as Time magazineís Man of the Year that still makes me cringe). But maybe that level of profound outrage was something cartoonists had to work up to over several years of unresolved conflict.

Rallís cartoon was ham-fisted, but it reflects ideas that commentators have been warning the Bush Administration about since the conflict started Ė the danger of leaving a country worse off than it was before we got there is a real one (you could argue that whatís Bush Senior did with his desert adventure). And while the administration seems to be making efforts to avoid this trap, Iím not necessarily gonna expect an ideologically framed political cartoonist to acknowledge that fact.

Writing the above got me pondering the matter of political cartoons, in general: basically wondering whether the humanistic liberally-slanted cartoons I remember from my youth (artists like Mauldin, say, or Walt Kelly) were a blip in an art form that more typically looks at its subjects with a harder, more jaundiced eye. Donít know enough about the history of the form to say for sure: those few samples of his pics that Iíve seen reprinted indicate that an early op/ed giant like Thomas Nast could get pretty nasty, though.

Mind Over What Matters replies: Ted Rall's general "nastiness" can be a sublime pleasure. Even when his work makes me cringe, I'm well aware that's the effect he's going for -- and he usually does so in the service of an important, unpopular point. Where I take issue with both Rall and Garry Trudeau more recently is not with (what some would call) their blistering anti-American cynicism, but rather, with their wholesale abandonment of trademark sarcastic wit and style, in favor of hitting me over the head with the large polo mallet. Lord knows, the Left needs articulate spokesmen and women -- now more than ever! -- but both of these men are coasting.

(Extra-Credit Essay Question for MOWM Readers: What event marked the exact moment when Doonesbury jumped the shark?)

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