"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We need a cartoonist's incisiveness

I'm not quite sure how the craft of cartooning is going to make the shift from print to online. Lots of cartoons can be accessed over the Internet, because after all, what can't be accessed over the Internet? But I suspect that the vast majority of this material is conceived for print.
Cartoons were a wonderful vehicle for the ink-on-paper media. A cartoon can make a strong point or bring a laugh (or smile) without commanding more than a moment of the reader's attention.
I noticed this power a long time ago. I had the privilege of producing a cartoon for the St. Cloud State University Chronicle over the last half of my senior year. It was clearly inspired by Doonesbury, as much as the Monkees were inspired by the Beatles.
Doonesbury grew directly out of the youth counterculture of the late 1960s and early '70s. It exists today but I'm tempted to refer to it in the past tense. Well, I think even Paul Revere and the Raiders are still on tour.
Doonesbury carried the banner, ideologically, for what most young people were asserting at that time. I wouldn't need to re-hash the issues (but watch me, I will).
I wish I could say what Doonesbury stands for today. I remember a few years ago that the strip apparently got controversial about something, and someone asked why there wasn't more of a tempest about it. A letter writer to the print media explained why: "I don't read it anymore."
Zonker the hippie had his day. The issues of that day got addressed in large part. Richard Nixon left office and we learned that presidents were disposable. It just seemed as if Nixon had been around forever (eight years as Ike's VP, for one thing).
We all moved on and I'd argue that a lot of us lost that grasp of ideals, almost unknowingly. Today a lot of us fat and content boomers sit back and sort of passively accept what the U.S. is doing militarily around the world. We realize we maybe ought to have some reservations, but we don't want to work too hard thinking about it.
Rocking the boat today isn't as acceptable as it once was. Questioning the TARP legislation is something we would have readily, probably vociferously, done when young. We are way too quick to defer to the corporate world about everything. How would a young Garry Trudeau have guided us in our more idealistic thinking? How would he have reminded us of the primacy of human values?
You might need reminding that the Doonesbury cartoon was very raw when it began. All cartoonists have shown evolution with how they draw their characters, and Trudeau's work most definitely has made leaps in this regard. His raw, seminal work spoke for a new generation and a new, unbridled way of looking at the world. It jumped out at you.
There were all sorts of lines that previous generations wouldn't cross. Your personal appearance fell in that category too. I'm reminded of a Minnesota Twins yearbook at that time - is the "yearbook" still a big deal in this age of new media? - that had the usual page headlined "They cover the Twins." Ah, the press page! We saw mugs of a lot of the established press people looking so clean cut, with their ties fixed just right at the base of their necks.
And then we saw. . .Joe Soucheray! Yes, you might not suspect it now, because "Sooch" seems quite the mainstream guy today, but at least in terms of appearance he came off as a hippie. He jumped off the page at you. We were reminded that times were a-changin'.
The people who would say "that's disgusting" were eventually drowned out. Sports owners realized pretty quick, I think, that marketing their product would require some generational adjustments.
Ka-ching! Eventually that's what the owners respect. So we finally got rock and pop music played at the old Metropolitan Stadium when we still had the "old guard" ownership led by Calvin Griffith.
Oh, Calvin - RIP - what a throwback you were. You perhaps personified everything that those boomers found objectionable in our culture. But we loved you anyway. Those rebellious, restless boomers eventually went out and bought copies of Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation." The tome was an unhesitating salute to a generation that we once felt was overly preoccupied by money and too indifferent about the Viet Nam War and civil rights. Ah, but the war ended, the dragon of inflation was finally slayed (because in economics there are ways of doing this if you really want to), and ol' Tricky Dick got his butt kicked out of office. Jim Crow was sent on retreat in the South.
Not even the passage of time (typically a strong remedy) can help us feel better about Nixon. When the Star Tribune's Colin Covert reviewed the movie "Frost Nixon," a big reason why he scored the movie down was that he felt it made Nixon too likable. I would guess that Colin is about the same age as me. Good movies are supposed to show that curious mix of good and bad that is in all of us. With Nixon the scale was tipped too much in one direction.
The Republican Party talking points about Nixon today are that he was "a sick man" at the end of his presidency. But his sickness didn't keep him from writing several books after he left.
Did he just drink too much? It wouldn't have been surprising, given the generation he was a member of. Calvin Griffith was known to be fond of the cocktail hour. But Calvin just owned a sports team, he didn't command the military of the strongest nation on earth.
I learned from a memoir type of book by Bob Schieffer (CBS News) that Nixon actually wasn't the commander at the end. He was seen as so imbalanced, he couldn't carry that mantle anymore. If I remember correctly, Shieffer wrote that any attempted commands by Nixon to military leaders around the world would have to be relayed to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
I wonder how many readers really realized how significant this was. In effect we had a "coup" but of course it was a benevolent one. Coups are extremely dangerous anyway, because, what if it morphed into something not so benevolent? In case you need a refresher, coups happen because no one can stand up to the military's power. A system must be in place to ensure that the military acts with total respect for civilian authority.
The problem with the military today is that there isn't enough shared sacrifice on the part of Americans. We aren't adequately sensitive to the toll of conflict we're exacting in our military adventures abroad.
That toll, including a large number of American lives lost, needs more scrutiny in our political discourse. We were too indifferent about George W. Bush's insistence on a visceral response to what happened on 9/11.
Our current Afghanistan campaign is a continuation of that. All these years later, and our deficit crisis is growing to scary proportions largely because we're sitting on our hands just like we accused the older generation of doing when we were young and grooving on "Doonesbury."
The selective service was a huge factor in getting the boomers to foment almost total revolution in that bygone era. It got to the point where National Guardsmen were shooting and killing college students in the U.S. The U.S. incursion into Cambodia enraged the youth so much, colleges cancelled graduation ceremonies because of the potential for violence.
"Doonesbury" led the charge in promoting a clearer view of the issues at that time. The power of cartooning was never more evident. Today Mr. Trudeau continues his craft in what I would call vestigial form.
I imagine he's making fully valid points, but it's just not getting people's attention anymore.
And Paul Revere and the Raiders are probably still doing "Kicks."
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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