"Maybe I Am an Asshole After All," March 7, 2012
This cartoon is based on the events of the week I spent in Gainesville, FL visiting my friends and colleagues Tom Hart and Leela Corman--only the bad ones, of course, since that's what makes for good cartoons. I really did get a snotty prima donna-ish email from the lovely Parisian actress who was subletting my apartment and cat-sitting my beloved cat, complaining about everything from the bathroom to the fridge. Of the fridge in particular she wrote [imagine haughty French accent]: " I don't even talk about the fridge, I just don't touch it..." The feeling of having a pretty girl living in your home and judging you based on your belongings and their condition is best described as gross. I trust that my readers are the sort who don't want jokes explained to them so I will leave the French thought balloon untranslated.
That's a real cartoon by Jim Fisher on the refrigerator door, by the way; it's actually the second panel of a 2-panel cartoon, the first panel of which is on the obverse side of the paper, showing a much grimmer scene of life "Without Pills," the skies stormy and our stick-protagonist much sadder, with Xs for eyes and his mouth a miserable squiggle.
Women being repulsed by me began to emerge as a kind of theme of the week. One of Tom's students really did flee the classroom during my slideshow presentation, and yes I believe it was during or immediately after the appearance of this particular panel from the cartoon "The Sex Party." It only occurred to Tom and me after the class that he had never asked me to guest-lecture anywhere other than in a New York City art school. Things are different out there in America. Despite my online persona, based on which I suppose you'd imagine me chortling with glee at having driven a conservative college girl from the room with my vicious liberal smut, this incident made me sad. Hard as this may be to beleive, I don't particularly enjoy insulting people; it's just very difficult to make anyone laugh without insulting someone else. Not sure whether her reaction was a function of the Internet Age, in which you get to avoid any information you don't like, or just plain old youth. Of course it isn't much fun to sit there and get insulted for half an hour. But I wish she had stuck around to call me on my bullshit, if that's what she thought it was, instead of deleting me.
That same slideshow also got me to reflecting on all the cartoons I've drawn about race over the years. The issue came up in conversation with Tom's students and also in a day-long workshop I taught to a Palestinian cartoonist who'd been accused of anti-Semitism in his own work. I don't think you're disqualified from trying to be funny about the issue of race just because you're a white guy, but it certainly becomes a great deal trickier. I beieve it's a saner response to talkand laugh about the most problematic things, like race, rather than repress them. But it unavoidably involves risk--specifically the risk of looking like, or accidentally being, an asshole. The best answer I could give to the student who asked me how you can indicate a character's race in a cartoon without crossing the line into stereotype was to try to make them individuals (whether sympathetic or not) instead of types, to treat that character as a person instead of as a race. Whether I've succeeded in this or not is really not for me to judge. Very longtime readers of The Pain may fondly recall The Excruciatingly Irregular Chuckle of Dr. Huang.
The last panel was inspired by an unhappy episode that befell political journalist Matt Taibbi this week after he published a polemic in memoriam of the late Andrew Breitbart, flaying his corpse wth invective in the same spirit that Bretbart did his own fallen enemies' (albiet in language rather more stylish than Bretbart's simple name-calling). It was in the fine old tradition of Mencken's classic eulogy for William Jennings Bryan, or Hunter Thompson's for Nixon. But alas, conservatives fail basic Reading Comprehension along with a good many other subjects, like Science, History, and Comp 101, and responded to Matt's perversely sincere tribute by hacking his wiki, publishing his home phone number, and calling him up in the middle of the night to make death threats against him and his wife.
In my forthcoming book I include a longish essay about a Tea Party rally I went to in 2010, an essay that is, in part, my attempt to reconcile myself with, and make some reparation for, the decade I spent as a political polemicist, a time when I occasionally forfeited fairness and intellectual integrity in the interests of a good fight or being funny. I've tried, in recent years, to be a less angry person, and to give conservatives a fairer hearing, or at least bear in mind that they're human beings who can be gotten along with outside the arena of politics. But then something like this happens and I feel like all my earnest efforts at empathy and compassion are misguided, because they go so utterly unreciprocated. In my essay I argue that conservatives and liberals are both susceptible to the instinct toward tribalism, guilty of blind allegiances and bigotry. But I can't help but notice it always seems to be conservatives who issue death threats, who write blog posts and message board comments so delirious with hatred you can't believe these people are out there somewhere walking around at liberty and unmedicated. Trying to extend basic decency and civility toward the Right reminds me of the clichéd scene when the hero of a film sees the villain struggling on the edge of a cliff and, because he's the hero, takes pity on him, extending a hand to help him up, only to have the villain treacherously sieze his wrist and try to drag him into the abyss along with him. It just gets tiresome trying to understand and engage with an opponent who makes no effort whatsoever to understand or engage with you. Eventually you're tempted to follow Captain Kirk's response to this ploy when the Klingon Christopher Lloyd tries it in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: he kicks him repeatedly in the face, yelling, "I [kick] have had [kick] enough [kick] of YOU! [final kick that sends Klingon Christopher Lloyd plummeting into the volcanic hellscape far below]." At such moments I think back pleasantly over the years I squandered as a polemicist and I think: Yes, fuck them; fuck them all.