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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Posted by acilius on April 15, 2016
I understand the appeal of hats and am puzzled by the appeal of popes. The pope has distinctive headgear for which he is known. So I sometimes wonder if I can use what I know about hat-fancying to gain some insight into the minds of pope-fanciers. I haven’t had any success with this effort so far. Apparently web comic writers also find the pope’s hats to be interesting, as the examples below illustrate:
Zach Weiner, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, #2526, 27 March 2012
Matt Bors, “Arrogance,” 11 April 2011
Posted by acilius on April 13, 2012
They haven’t posted the cover for this month’s Funny Times online yet, so I’ve put up this Keith Knight cartoon with a link to the magazine’s homepage.
Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” quotes Emile Capouya on the high school teacher’s mission: “A high school teacher, after all, is a person deputized by the rest of us to explain to the young what sort of world they are living in, and to defend, if possible, the part their elders are playing in it.” That’s one of many reasons I rejoice in not being a high school teacher.
Matt Bors wonders what people really mean when they say “teach the controversy.”
Zippy the Pinhead wishes he could to travel back in time to the year 1885. He changes his mind when a disembodied head with a neatly waxed mustache announces that in that year, “schoolchildren were routinely flogged, pigs ran loose in th’ streets, and heroin was sold over the counter as ‘cough medicine.'” In related news, I now wish I could travel back in time to 1885.
Click on the image to the left to see a genuinely funny installment of This Modern World from April.
Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown calls on the state of Virginia to “Let Confederate History Month be the festival of self-loathing it should be.” I hold no brief for the Confederate States of America or for Virginia’s official commemoration of it, but I’m decidedly against all festivals of self-loathing. For one thing, self-loathing usually seems to be a form of narcissism. That same cartoon shows how that is. Dangle depicts a bunch of yahoos waving Confederate flags and exclaiming “We used to own human slaves.” Well, they didn’t, did they. Perhaps their great-great-great-grandparents owned human slaves, but a great-great-great-grandparent is after all a very distant relative. Beating yourself up over the misdeeds of someone so remote is merely a way of keeping attention focused on oneself rather than others. If your ancestors created a system that continues to privilege you and to do injustice to groups of which you are not a member, staging a festival of self-loathing may be the very worst thing you can do. Your privilege puts you in the spotlight, your self-loathing just keeps you there.
Posted by acilius on May 25, 2010
It’s always been my habit to go to ground during the summers, so it isn’t much of a surprise that I’ve fallen behind in my “Periodicals Notes.” Not that anyone has complained, but I’ll be catching up a bit over the next few days. First up is May’s Funny Times.
There’s an installment of Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown that I thought was hilarious when it first appeared back in February. It’s about the political movement known as the “teabaggers,” Americans of a rightward bent who have been vocal about their opposition to the Obama administration. Dangle is mystified that the teabaggers have been the object of so much publicity. My favorite line from the comic is “600 people showed up for their convention. That’s almost as many as the Sheboygan High School science fair!”
Matt Bors has a good comic about privacy, I was reminded of it by this recent xkcd.
Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” compiles quotes about money, including this from Brigid Brophy: “Whenever people say, ‘We mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add, ‘We must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.” Not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but she does have a point. So did Mary Gordon, when she wrote: “The use of money is the purest act of faith; no anchorite who has followed a vision into the desert has acted on an idea as far-fetched as our belief that if we put a dollar in a machine we will be drinking a Diet Coke in a minute.” Andrea Dworkin is a name you don’t expect to encounter in a humor column, but she’s here: “Money talks, but it speaks with a male voice.” Given Dworkin’s personal history as a woman who was once forced into sex work to escape an abusive partner, I can’t imagine laughing at that line, but I can certainly take it seriously.
Some would say that laughter is the ultimate form of seriousness. If so, Dave Maleckar’s “Hundred Word Rant” may have hit on a way to take sex work seriously. Arguing that people who like to cook should not open restaurants, he concludes thus: “You probably like sex, too. You may be very good at it. That doesn’t mean you should start doing it for money.”
Posted by acilius on May 22, 2010
Some things in life are very predictable, other things are not at all predictable. When something that we had expected to be unpredictable turns out to be very predictable, sometimes we laugh. Lenore Skenazy’s column “Obama, Haiti, and Lard” in the March 2010 Funny Times points out that some stories in the news have endings that are a lot easier to guess than the people who decide what goes on the front page want you to think. For example, what effect will the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti have on attitudes toward that country in the USA? Well, we know the answer to that already. At first we’ll all be very concerned and agree that we should stay focused on Haiti. “Except that the next time the media actually DO focus on Haiti, it’ll be in late December, when they put out their ‘Biggest Stories of 2010’ lists, at which point we’ll think ‘The earthquake! Wow! Was it really THIS year?” That cycle of shock, compassion, fatigue, and nostalgia is as predictable as what American school systems will ultimately do with the information they are gathering from the standardized tests they’re always giving students. They will decide to “NOT use standardized tests. They’ll use student pantomimes or clay figurines or something, but not standardized tests, which will be shown to be not only inaccurate but harmful.”
The same issue contains a couple of columns and lots of cartoons about Scott Brown, recently elected by Massachusetts as America’s newest and nakedest Republican US Senator. In addition to the front cover, reproduced above, there’s the back cover, on which Jen Sorenson illustrates the way in which Brown’s victory was utterly predictable. In one of his cartoons, Matt Bors suggests that Edward Kennedy should have been able to predict that a Republican might succeed him if he died in office.
Dave Maleckar’s 100 Word Rant opens: “Let’s skip right past the hybrid and electric cars and start believing in magical ones. The only way to make a green automobile is with a coat of paint.” The point seems to be the only reason we think the auto industry might surprise us with an environmentally sound product is that we are dominated by wishful thinking. Look at the facts, and you can predict that their future products will be as unsustainable as their past ones.
Curmudgeon has some funny lines about the rottenness of the human race in general. Mark Twain defined “Man” as “A creature made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.” Oscar Wilde was a bit less charitable to the Almighty, sharing his suspicion “that God in creating man somewhat overestimated His ability.” The same thought has been phrased in secular terms; Nietzsche said that “The Earth has a skin and that skin has diseases; one of its diseases is called Man.” I think Edward O. Wilson’s quote qualifies as secular, though he does sound like a Calvinist preacher declaiming on the Utter Depravity of Man: “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” Holbrook Jackson wondered why Nature gave rise to us. “Was it to show that She is big enough to make mistakes, or was it pure ignorance?” Samuel Johnson declared “I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.”
Posted by acilius on February 27, 2010