This cartoon has a complicated history. As those of you who read these statements know, every few weeks I complain that I’m getting burned out on political cartoons. And yet I don’t feel I can return to the kinds of cartoons I used to draw, either, because that’d be boring and I feel like I’ve already done the best of those cartoons I can draw. Lately I’ve been thinking about “Feedin’ Time” (June 13, 2001). I recently got a fan letter about it that reminded me that this has always been one of my favorite cartoons. It’s closer to the border between cartoons and art than my usual work, balanced between funny and disquieting, charged with some meaning that’s hard to articulate. As the letter put it, “I have no idea why it’s so funny, but it is.” (Sort of the converse of a New Yorker cartoon, which you always get but is never funny.) This is the kind of cartoon I wish I could draw every week. I was trying to draw something like it when I drew this picture in a very bad mood following the holidays. I wasn’t quite satisfied with it when it was finished, thinking it was neither funny nor clear enough—I worried readers would just squint at it and go, “Huh? I don’t get it.” So I put it aside and drove out of state for the weekend to visit some old friends, hoping that sometime before Sunday we’d come up with a hilarious cartoon idea I could draw and send in when I got back.
My friends are conveniently located five hours from everywhere. Just as, when we look at distant galaxies and quasars we are actually looking millions or billions of years backward in time, as one drives farther away from the urban centers of the East Coast one travels ever farther back in musical time, through Phil Collins and Led Zeppelin until at last one arrives in a very dark place where the only sounds on the radio are spittle-flecked Christian ranting or the dæmonic shrieks of heavy metal. Somewhere around Scranton I listened, open-mouthed with horror, to about twelve seconds of a sermon on “righteous hate.” (The speaker was pro-.) Also notable around Scranton were the numerous billboards for massage parlors. Hysterical, militant virtue seems to be in direct proportion to the preponderance of temptation and the weakness of the local will. Driving through that bleak flyover country in January, I could almost understand how, in that howling intellectual vacuum, imaginative young people, yearning for anything beyond the dreary crapscape that extends to every horizon, would succumb to the phantasmagoric fantasies of evangelical Christianity--Armageddon and the Rapture, the sweet cleansing blood of Jesus and the eternal fire of damnation, armies of angels and demons clashing invisibly over your shoulders, your soul in mortal peril, as you guiltily jerk off to low-resolution photoshopped pictures of Britney Spears. In fact it occurs to me that maybe that’s the real reason Fundamentalists want to ban Dungeons & Dragons and boycott Harry Potter: they just want to muscle out all competing fantasy franchises.
One of the things that came up in conversation with my friends was the latest brouhaha over Intelligent Design. As it happens one of my friends, a journalist, is writing a piece about a scientist who supports I.D.--an actual scientist who’s made some groundbreaking innovations in genetics and yet currently devotes his time to figuring out how carnivorous animals could have survived on a vegetarian diet in the Garden of Eden, since before The Fall there was supposedly no killing. Cats, it turns out, ate avocados. Try feeding an avocado to your cat sometime. See how it likes it. You think I am making this up? I am not. See http://www.rae.org for a whole slew of “scientific” papers on this and other similarly delusional topics. A great deal of earnest calculation has gone into figuring out how all animal species on Earth, including dinosaurs--whom God placed in stasis so they would not disrupt the voyage by fighting--could all have been fit onto the ark and fed and watered by the members of Noah’s immediate family. My friend likened these efforts to those of the kind of deranged trekkie who devotes hundreds of hours to figuring out how dilithium crystals actually work to power warp drive. My friend, who is one of my actual Christian friends, finally admitted, “I’ve had it with Jesus.” Meaning not Jesus the guy himself but the Shitheads for Christ who are trying to drag this country back to some defectively imagined antediluvian Golden Age in which every school will be Sunday School, every sperm is sacred, and no one will even think about that disgusting, degrading, filthy business sex ever again.
So anyway I came home and added this caption
to the picture. I still can’t decide whether the title saves the cartoon
or ruins it. Did I clarify it or just chicken out? Because this is the most
overtly political interpretation of the drawing—it’s the one my
friend Isabelle immediately assumed on seeing it for the first time—but
it’s not the only one. My friend and colleague Emily just felt sorry
for the caveman, knowing that the guys on that rocketship are just more advanced
versions of himself who’ll be back soon to pave over his entire planet.
As for my own interpretation, all I’ll say is that I did not draw this
with any political or social meaning in mind. This cartoon, for me, was purely
personal. About which I will say no more, and confine myself to dignified
grunting and hurling.
We found zero textual support for the notion that there was no killing before the Fall when we looked through Genesis late Saturday night, by the way. Then we got bored with the whole question and watched the big space battle in Revenge of the Sith instead. However, one question that did come to mind while re-reading Genesis—and as far as I know this has never been explicitly addressed before—is how come there were apparently talking animals in the Garden of Eden? Notice Eve only doubts whether the serpent is being honest—she never remarks on the fact that a snake is addressing her. Did God decree that, in addition to having to crawl on their bellies as penalty for conning the human race into Original Sin, snakes would henceforth lose the power of speech?