"Coalitions to be Feared" (12 October 2011)


Artist's Statement

I drew this cartoon for the Occupy Wall Street Journal, the newspaper printed (with surprisingly high production values) by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Reporter Matt Taibbi and I went to the protest to volunteer our services on Monday. Somehow he and I missed each other in the general confusion down there and only Matt made it to the OWSJ’s editorial office. He tells me that they are extremely unlikely to accept this cartoon, since they are literally Communists, a group among whom self-deprecating humor has not, historically, been high. Nonetheless he urges me to submit it, mostly because he just wants to hear about their reaction. My contact there has given me only a “nom de guerre,” which is Grim.

Thanks to Emily Flake, my old friend and colleague and frequent behind-the-scenes collaborator, for helping me come up with a way to make a rather didactic idea funny. When I sat down to try to come up with humorous examples of coalitions-to-be-feared, at first my mind went blank and I wondered whether, in the couple of years since I had to do this every week, I had forgotten how to think up funny things. Then I remembered: you just have to soften your brain up a little and it just happens natrually. I stood outside my turret smoking a cigar and suddenly thought, al Qæda and Trekkies, and then without even trying the corbomite idea came to me, obvious and inevitable.Those who enjoyed last week’s cartoon will not need to be told what “cormobite” is. Suffice it to say (and FBI and Homeland Security please take note) that Times Square is in no real danger.

My favorite factoid in life is that al Qaeda might possibly have taken its name, which in Arabic means “the base” or “the foundation,” from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, in which an obscure encyclopedic institute becomes a bulwark against a decadent empire’s collapse and the basis of a more enduring civilization. As far as I can tell the jury’s still out on the veracity of this story and will probably remain so unless a dog-eared and heavily annotated paperback copy of Foundation and Empire turns up in Bin Laden’s foot locker, but it is simply too awesome an example of cross-cultural pollination not to repeat.

Alas, too late webmaster Dave suggested a raccoons/giant squid alliance, both of whom seem way smarter than either owls or eels. Still, I am fond of my owls/eels panel. It’s awfully fun to draw owls.

But now to my serious intent: the FAQ sheet put out by Occupy Wall Street has a whole section taking pains to separate themselves from the regressive policies of the Tea Party. “Many Tea Party politicians have consciously circumvented the best and most finely hued of safeguards enshrined in our democratic process.” [Finely hued? Do they mean finely honed? Your guess as good as mine. ] Now okay, I can sympathize with this, since the Tea Party in all honesty seem like a bunch of obnoxious morons who are proud of having been mercilessly screwed over and want to continue and expand the screwing-over-of-them policy in perpetuity. If they’d read any books not written by TV personalities I think they’d be camped out in Zuccotti Park alongside the OWS protesters. Instead they’re posting photos of themselves holding up signs and notes telling their own hard-luck/pulled-themelves-up-by-their-own-bootstraps stories on a tumblr called “53%”, insisting that they don't need no handouts from Wall Street or the Guv'ment. By way of response I submitted the following image, which, like my cartoon for the OWSJ, is unlikely to be published:


Photograph © Noah Sheppard

But the truth is that if Occupy Wall Street is to become the kernel of a truly popular mass movement, the kind that filled Tarhir Square, instead of just dispersing as soon as the serious winter cold hits New York in a few weeks, it’s going to have to expand beyond the usual dreadlocked suspects to include the sorts of people who support the Tea Party. I’ll just reproduce here a letter I sent to a cartoonist friend of mine who’s active in the New York City chapter of the Tea Party:

I know you and I are located at roughly orange and indigo on the political spectrum but I can't help but feel the Tea Party really ought to be down there demonstrating alongside all the insufferable nosering-wearing anarchists [of Occupy Wall Street]. The Tea Party formed when enough conservatives felt the Republican Party had betrayed or abandoned them; this demonstration seems like proof that a critical mass of progressives now feels the same way about the Obama administration. The one consensus in this country is that things are fucked up. We both agree that absolutely no one in the government cares what we think about anything. It seems to me that the main difference between Left and Right anymore is that you guys blame The Government for everything while we blame Corporate America. It's past time we all noticed that there's no difference between these two anymore; they're all exactly the same people. They're all former classmates and golf partners. In other words the great ideological divide between us increasingly looks like a false dichotomy, and about the only thing keeping us from forming that formidable coalitionthat political philosopher Charles Daniels called "the cowboys and the hippies, the rebels and the yanks," is our mutual distaste. But look: I despise those feckless hippies and their goddamn drum circles, and I'm still going down there every day, because I feel like I can’t not be there. Even if you're not going, let me know what you think about all this. We may be the only two people on our respective sides who are in any contact with each other and as such we are like diplomats from two great powers at war. We should keep the lines of communication open.


(With apologies and admiration to N.C. Wyeth)

Pain News

  • I have finished my book of essays for Free Press at Simon & Schuster, We Learn Nothing. It is scheduled for publication in June 2012, should the publishing industry last so long.
  • My latest collection of cartoons, Twilight of the Assholes, remains available for order at Fantagraphics Books. It includes all my best political cartoons and essays from Term II of the Bush administration. It is a mere $28.99, money you know pefectly well you'll otherwise just spend on booze.

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