My friend John Patton has never understood why my Artist’s Statements are always so rancorous and vituperative when in real life I am well known as the Politest Man in Baltimore. John learned the secret of my polemics this morning when he shared a typical Monday morning with me, cripplingly hung over after a special Mother’s Day edition of the semiweekly Hootenanny in south Baltimore. The Hootenanny can start anytime between three and six but tends to go until they throw us out. Last night we apparently decided that drinking whiskey would be a very good idea, whereas in fact it was a bad one. I woke up on the living room sofa at Dave’s house with my shoes on, and immediately had to drive John to work. It is invariably in this state of mind that I must write the Artist’s Statement to accompany my cartoon when I e-mail it in to webmaster Dave. Hence the sometimes shrill tone that can creep into my otherwise sane and reasoned arguments.
Readers may be surprised to see me regressing to the style of my pre-political work this week—especially during one of the weirdest and most depressing news weeks in my memory. This one was inspired by a dream I had last week, and I felt I had to cash in on the fresh emotional energy of the dream, plus I had to get the cartoon in a day early so I could spend Friday at the track with my friends Jim and Alfie. In my dream, which was of the capital-punishment genre, we doomed aristocrats were all being conveyed to the guillotine not in the traditional tumbrel cart but in a school bus. Before stepping out to be decapitated I kissed a young black woman who was on the bus with me. “I’ve never kissed a black girl before,” I confessed to her. “See?” she said, with a sweet smile. “There’s still time for something new.” It was really kind of an uplifting dream, except for the guillotining.
But the other reason I drew this one is that the implications of the prisoner abuse scandal really didn’t sink in for me until the weekend. I took a pass, in other words, to try to sort it out. I feel I am not alone in being sort of slow to process this story. George Bush, for example, does not yet seem to realize that Donald Rumsfeld will have to resign, nor does Rumsfeld. It only occurred to me on Saturday that the war in Iraq and the Bush administration were now effectively over, both catastrophic failures, although both might continue to drag wretchedly on for months or years yet. But I feel like something even larger and more irrevocable has happened. Let’s not stoop to the cliché that America has lost its innocence or anything, because after Vietnam and the Philippines and slavery plus let’s not forget the extermination of the native Americans I think we can dispense with any bullshit about “innocence.” But we’ve lost something. Do you feel this? I certainly never thought I had any illusions about any “moral high ground” in Iraq, but even so I felt somehow betrayed by those images. As my friend Megan put it, “We don’t get to be the good guys anymore.” Not that she or I or anyone who knows history or reads the newspapers ever rationally thought that we were—but it’s a belief so childish and deeply ingrained, the Myth of American Virtue, that I wasn’t even conscious of clinging to it until it was taken from me. And I was born into the brutal cynicism of the Johnson administration, when mobs were rhetorically asking L.B.J. how many kids he’d killed that day. I can only imagine how much more shocking and painful these revelations must be for people of an older generation, who grew up with the faith that America was, if sometimes misguided, basically good. Whatever your views on Iraq, you look at those photos and you have to ask yourself: Would George Washington approve of this? Would Elvis? Would Batman? The fuck no.
Sigh. I should have known that the destruction of the Bush administration, when it came, would assume a form so ghastly and humiliating that I would be unable to take the meager pleasure of any vindictive satisfaction from it. To my genuine surprise, I have no wish to tell anyone that I told them so. Instead I have to be ashamed to be an American, afraid to set foot outside the boundaries of my own country for fear of being guillotined. The atmosphere feels a little like it was just after September 11th, with people’s emotions so intense and so volatile that I find myself on the verge of misunderstandings and arguments with people I like and respect. My friend and fellow political artist Lucia forwarded me a video of further war crimes and I’m afraid disappointed her by cravenly declining to view it. I find I have to be cautious about what I allow into my head. My friend Megan’s mother is embarrassed to speak to Finnish friends of hers. And Megan cried, thinking about all the people in uniform who have ever tried to behave honorably and are now disgraced by association. Revoking our birthright as American citizens and attacking Iraq were bad enough, but now George Fucking Bush--or “F,” as I have nicknamed him--has made Megan cry. This will not stand, man.
Late-breaking news: on the night before webmaster Dave was to post this cartoon on the website, an American was beheaded in Iraq by masked admirers of Allah. What were the odds that the same week I ran a cartoon of a guy getting guillotined there would be a fucking decapitation in the headlines? What a gruesome coincidence. This is just like when I happened to have run a big Nazi flag drawing the same week as 9/11 (long story; please do not ask). Now there’ll be outraged letters to the editor about how tasteless and insensitive I am and I’ll have to issue some formal disclaimer about how no I do not think decapitation is funny, except in certain circumstances.
Sweet baby Jesus drowning kittens down in Hell.
Or, as Megan also said, “Things are fuckin’ fucked-up, man.”
I’m going to go lie down, listen to some soothing minimalist music and
read old Ray Bradbury stories.
The official book release party for The Pain--When Will It End? will be held from 9 until midnight on Saturday, May 29th at Little Havana, 1325 Key Highway, in south Baltimore. Copies of the book will be available at a discount and Tim Kreider will be there to sign them. Many of Tim's friends on whom his characters are based will be there, drinking heavily and behaving in ways that will be uncannily familiar to regular readers of the comic. George and Mister Cheney have been invited but are not guaranteed to attend.
Click here for book tour information