DENNIS O’NEIL: Doonesbury Envy?
Doggone that Martha Thomases, anyway! I was all set to use this week’s column to dissertate on Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip, but Martha stole my idea before I even had it and wrote a piece on the same subject. Probably did a more thorough job, too, but now we’ll never know, will we?
For those of you who have spent the whole of the last week in your local theater watching and rewatching John Carter and so have missed the news cycles, what that scamp Trudeau did this time was to use the platform his strip affords him as a venue for bleak humor about the indignities forced by Texas poobahs – those are male poobahs – on women seeking abortion. Trudeau wasn’t attacking the right-to-lifers per se, but only an unnecessary and humiliating “medical” procedure done down where the stars at night are big and bright.
Trudeau isn’t new at this kind of activity. He’s been doing it for the past 42 years, ever since his work began gracing the nation’s funnysides. He was once called an “investigative cartoonist” and he is that, often calling attention to stories local newsfolk might have neglected. (There’s additional detail in Martha’s piece so go on, read it! I certainly don’t care!)
Trudeau is more than a cartoonist, though – he’s something very valuable; he’s one of our national jesters. I’d nominate him, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Stephen Colbert for jesterhood and I bow to them all and aver that this quartet is worth a long ton of conventional pundits. They use humor to help us swallow some pretty bitter pills. We laugh, but we also swallow.
One example: From Stewart’s Daily Show, I learned that GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum claimed, publicly, that in the Netherlands, the elderly were being euthanized against their will – a lie so egregious that it should have immediately disqualified Santorum from elected office. I didn’t see it anywhere else (though surely Stewart wasn’t the only source of the item. But it wasn’t splashed big in my local paper – the one that’s banished Doonesbury to a website – and it should have been).
These entertainers have a long and honorable provenance. Remember King Lear’s jester, all you English majors? He was a teller of truth in clown’s clothing. And Shakespeare didn’t pull the character from thin air: In Renaissance times, jesters were given license to both jest and criticize their masters. It’s said that Queen Elizabeth the First once chastised a jester for not being critical enough.
You think Rollickin’ Rick got on the horn with Stewart and said something like, “Hey, Jonny, what’s the haps? You should’ve reamed my ass”)?
No, I don’t either.
RECOMMENDED READING: As I’ve mentioned in an earlier column, I try not to recommend books I haven’t read. I don’t know if there’s a Doonesbury collection somewhere in this house, but since I’ve been reading the strip on and off for about 40 years, and a lot more on than off for the past decade, I feel confident in urging you to hurry to your local bookstore and get anything with Garry Trudeau’s name on it. If you really scamper, you might get there before Martha Thomases…
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases (go figure!)