Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 11/17/04

Artist's Statement

No, that is not Jim Fisher's artowrk; it is my own. Here's the story behind this cartoon: my friends Dave and Chris and I, who, together with Boyd, constitute the League of Indecency, got together for dinner Wednesday night. The next day was Veteran's Day, and Dave and Chris, both Federal employees, had the day off. The only things that had to happen on that day were 1.) Dave had a NASA teleconference about a satellite communications system at one and 2.) I had to come up with and draw a cartoon. (Chris had nothing to do, but he is a veteran so that was okay.) It was an heroic cognitive breakthrough when Dave, who was dsreading his teleconference more and more, realized he could conduct it by cellphone. As Chris said, "The Gordian knot is cut!" So we all went down to Cross Street Market to have some raw oysters, sushi, and 32-oz beers. One by one we successfully finessed our respective tasks: Dave, who was all ready for his teleconference with his cellphone, headset, and 32-oz. beer, discovered that the conference room where his colleagues were to have gathered was locked, so the call was postponed; I, who had found that 32-oz. beers are not so great for hand-eye coordination, hit upon the idea of using stick figures to illustrate the Great Compromise I'd come up with at dinner the night before. The stick-figure revelation was mostly Dave and Chris's idea, and also owes something to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who rather smartassedly illustrated a plan for simplifying the city judicial system with stick figures as a kind of rebuke to obstructionists who'd complained the plan was too complicated to understand. Also, the simple illustrations make my proposal easy even for folks in the Red States to understand! Just kidding, there, Red Staters. You guys run the whole country now, you can take a little ribbing, right? Yeah, sure you can, you illiterate shitkickers. Just kidding again! A little more kidding there. Ha, ha!

On this subject, I received a unprecedented and touching outpouring of messages last week, mostly expressing gratitude for my work and concern for my emotional well-being, but I also got one angry criticism that gave me pause:

Your latest update of The Pain was so offensive I actually wanted to punch my computer monitor, which cost me a hefty $75. Does this cartoon come from the same Tim Kreider who once applauded the implicit criticism of classism in EYES WIDE SHUT [the reference is to an essay I wrote for Film Quarterly in 1999]? Do you now feel that it is okay to pick on the poor, as long as they are white and come from the Midwest? Although I currently live in Boston, I've spent most of my life living in the Midwest. I did not vote for Bush. Nor did I vote for him in 2000, when I was living in Chicago. You say that the "enclaves of civilization on the coasts are held hostage by those cowardly, bigoted hicks in flyover country." Disregarding the obviously uniformed, as well as snobbish, nature of that comment--have you forgotten that Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota were all states that Kerry won? Or that in your own coastal state of Maryland, Kerry won by a very narrow margin: 56% to 43%? Do you care? Probably not. Just remember that you with your us-or-them, blue vs. red, rhetoric, are every bit as jingoistic as the war-mongers in the White House you despise.

Well, except that I'm not actually killing thousands of people. That quibble aside, I felt this criticism was intelligent and fair enough to deserve a well-considered answer, which I'll excerpt here:

First of all, It's flattering that you remember my Eyes Wide Shut essay. But cartooning is not at all the same thing as writing. Humor is always, necessarily, about broad, unfair generalizations. This is one thing that makes it so fun. The red/blue divide is to some degree a class divide (with the perverse twist that people on both sides tend to be voting against their economic self-interests), but I would describe it more accurately as a cultural divide, between people who grew up and left their small towns for the big cities and people who stayed put. Which I think has less to do with wealth or intelligence than with ambition, creativity, and imagination (or homosexuality). The various semiotic markers I incorporated into the new Statue of Liberty--NASCAR, tacky patriotic T-shirts, camouflage pants, etc.--are undeniably class-associated, but as far as I'm concerned this is incidental; they're more explicitly about culture.

I try not to be snobby about education or intelligence--I've known plenty of people who got expensive educations and remained complete assholes, or were brillinat but emotionally deformed. But I have no tolerance for intellectual laziness; you don't have to be an analytical genius, or even read much, to know when you're being lied or condescended to, or to question propoganda--to see, for example, that the war in Iraq was trumped up for no clear reason. You just have to look at things clearly, think things over for yourself, and put two and two together instead of parroting whatever the Bible or George Bush or Bill O'Reilly or Rush says. I am unapologetic about holding up for derision and contempt people who vote based on what they were told in TV ads--who believe the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or think that John Kerry's going to take their guns away.

I have to point out that the vicious polemical language has been all one-way for a long time--the President of the United States sneering epithets like "Massachusets," "East Coast," and "liberal" as though they constituted self-evident slurs--and it was inevitable that we would eventually stop politely ignoring this, Refusing to Stoop to Their Level, and take the fucking gloves off. The Right haven't been playing by the rules for a long time. They don't give a shit about enlightenment values like empiricism or rational discourse (and of course the Christian Right has never believed in them), and I think this election sadly impressed upon the Left the obsolescence of that strategy. The Right is not pluralistic; they want to impose their stunted and intolerant morality on us. They don't want to persuade; they want to win. I no longer care what Fundamentalist Christians and cultural conservatives think about anything at all; I just want them stopped, contained, defeated. They're the ones who declared a "culture war." Now they've actually got one.

This is a crucial time; in the wake of an undeniably disastrous failure, people are so shellshocked they're actually willing to listen to each other. About forty people have forwarded me the hilarious screed "Fuck the South," (which by the way thanks everyone but please for the sweet love of Jesus stop forwarding me "Fuck the South"), which gives vent to the exasperation and contempt that so many of us in the Blue States feel for those in the Red. My webmaster also forwarded me a thoughtful response to that sentiment by Rabbi Michael Lerner which was one of the most insightful things I've read since the election. His sharpest point was that "we" (antiwar liberals) didn't actually want Kerry for President, we just figured maybe "they" (the gung-ho knuckle-draggers in the Red States) would go for him, and they sensed the arrogance and condescension behind this. I've always wished the Democrats would quit their cringing scuttle to the center and unapologetically stand up for something, just for idealistic reasons, but now I think they need to do it for pragmatic ones. Even idiots can tell when someone is equivocating (even if they can't tell when he's outright lying), and I think people would have more respect for a candidate who said, flat-out, "the war in Iraq is a mortal sin, and America will burn in Hell for it unless we repent."

The problem for me, personally and professionaly, is that unfair generalizations like "Fuck the South" are funny, and compassionate efforts at understanding and persuasion, like Lerner's, are not. Another problem is that I really do despise pretty much everybody. This cartoon represents my first effort toward reconciliation.


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