A not-so-good cartoon

Many psychologists study the way the brain reacts when too much information comes up all at once. For example, this cartoon by Randy Bish, embedded in a tweet by Matt Bors, brought to my mind more objections than I could, all at once, put into words:

Why is this a dumb cartoon? Well, here are a few reasons:

  1. Many veterans of the US armed forces work in fast food restaurants. Like nonveterans in the same line of work, they deserve to be paid a living wage.
  2. Many workers at US fast food restaurants are shot at or actually shot in the course of robberies. Like their coworkers who avoid that unenviable fate, they deserve a living wage.
  3. Fast food workers and enlisted military personnel in the USA are, by and large, working class people. Is Randy Bish saying that working class people don’t deserve a living wage unless they subject themselves to violence? If that isn’t what he’s saying, then what he is he saying? I can’t find an interpretation of the cartoon that doesn’t involve that idea.
  4. The difference between substandard wages many fast food workers currently receive and the living wage proposed by strikers demanding at least $15 an hour would not come from veterans’ benefits, or pay to active duty military personnel; these are not the groups in conflict in these strikes.
  5. The military has not been deployed to break fast-food strikes, and is not likely to be so deployed. There is no reason to expect confrontations of any kind between strikers and either active-duty or retired military personnel. The confrontation seen here is one that exists only in the imagination of Mr Bish. Usually editorial cartoons dramatize conflicts that are actually going on in the world; that he presents us with this imaginary one suggests that he sees it as somehow real.
  6. When right-wing commentators grow lazy, they often invoke veterans as a symbol of whatever position they want to promote. This imaginary veteran with his passive-aggressive remarks thus represents, not the views of actual veterans, but cartoonist Randy Bish’s failure to engage with the topic. Mr Bish should be ashamed of himself for hiding behind veterans.
  7. Warriors on the front lines sometimes develop a mentality in which they lump everyone not in the line of fire into the single, undifferentiated category of “lucky bastard.” I don’t know whether Randy Bish has been going around getting himself shot at, whether in uniform or out of it, but as a widely syndicated editorial page cartoonist he has a job far enough from the front lines that he can hardly claim to have come by such a mentality honestly. I’ve spent enough time in VA hospitals and known enough veterans, including veterans who have emerged as leaders in the labor movement and the antiwar movement, to know that such an attitude rarely dominates the minds even of the most battle-hardened vets after they’ve left the combat zone.
  8. Many people in the USA seem to regard it as socially acceptable to disapprove of adults taking jobs in the fast food industry; these are not, for the most part, people who shun fast food itself, but people who regard it as a disgrace or punishment to work at a fast food restaurant once past adolescence. This attitude is often manifested most strongly in the same kind of people who tend to fetishize everything about the military (except actually serving in it, which they are glad to leave to others.)  The cartoon seems expressly designed to appeal to the emotions of people who show both disdain for fast-food workers and exaggerated respect for the idea of the military.

So those are eight things that came to my mind right away. Since they all came at once, it took me several minutes to put my thoughts in order. During that first rush of thoughts, there was a moment of disorientation that may have been similar to what Mr Bors felt when he commented “You know what? Shoot me. I want to die.” A world where such sheer, condensed stupidity can not only exist, but can find its way onto editorial pages that can’t seem to find space for good cartoons by, well, Matt Bors for example, that’s a dispiriting place. And when the reasons for that dispiritingness seem to be both so numerous that you can’t put them into words, and so obvious that you can’t believe you have to put them into words, the thought of giving up completely and succumbing to the homicidal stupidity at the heart of the cartoon may logically occur.

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