We Will Think For You, by Mike Gold
Here’s what I don’t like about politicians.
Well, actually, even Bill Gates doesn’t have the bandwidth to list all the things I don’t like about politicians – although I’m sure listing it all would generate some great comments. But here’s what’s at the top of my list.
Politicians who are partisan by definition feel completely comfortable speaking on behalf of the entire American public. Not just those of their political persuasion – which would be presumptuous – but everybody. Which is anti-democratic and pro-demagoguery.
Case in point: The Obama campaign felt compelled to issue a statement regarding cartoonist Barry Blitt’s cover to last week’s New Yorker magazine. The artwork speaks for itself, and is represented herewith. Entitled “The Politics of Fear,” the piece is supposed to be a satire of, well, the politics of fear as applied against the Obama campaign.
But the Obama campaign believes we’re too stupid to get it and feels compelled to pass moral judgment on behalf of us dolts. Their spokesman Bill Burton said “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama’s right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.”
Never on to miss an opportunity to stick their right-wing noses in the air, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds rose to the challenge with “We completely agree with the Obama campaign. It’s tasteless and offensive.”
Is the cartoon in bad taste? Who the hell cares! Mr. Blitt, in particular, and The New Yorker in general are acting out of a grand tradition of editorial cartooning, a tradition that has encouraged incredible efforts from masters of the form such as Thomas Nast, Winsor McCay, Herb Block, and Bill Mauldin. Believe me, all of these masters, in their own way, in their own time, offended professional stuffed shirts like Burton and Bounds.
You don’t want to see that stuff on the newsstands next to your lottery tickets and your cigarettes? Tough shit. You’re out of luck. Freedom of speech is meaningless without the right to be heard. There’s plenty of stuff out there that I find offensive – the New York Post, for example – but you don’t hear me bitching for its removal from the planet.
Perhaps the problem is that the tradition of the editorial cartoon is dying along with the newspapers that published them. There aren’t as many editorial cartoonists as there used to be; like the newspaper comic strips, their work is easier to find online through such services as King Features’ Daily Ink and Universal Press Syndicate’s GoComics.
At a time when political satire is so prevalent on television and online, it’s amazing that the publishing business has been going to such lengths to abandon one of its greatest contributions to our culture. They just don’t want to offend. That’s nice, but any time you’re going to inform somebody, you are taking on that risk. All the more so when you try to put it in the context of humor.
The New Yorker has kept this tradition alive since 1925. I wonder if they’ll last another 83 years?
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.