Monday, June 21, 2004

Saturday's cartoon

Saturday's Candorville strip featured Lemont sitting at a bar, watching TV. A few strips use this device - it goes back at least as far as Doonesbury, and it's also been a mainstay in such strips as Bloom County, Boondocks and Rudy Park. Some readers are annoyed by those strips, which usually feature the main character sitting in the same position for three panels. The only thing that changes is the text, and maybe the character's facial expression.

I'm not above using the TV device, for this one reason: There's just no getting around it. The television, for most Americans, is our constant companion. It's more loyal than the family dog. It tells us secrets about Paris Hilton and Michael Jackson. It keeps us informed (or misinformed) 24 hours a day on CNN, Fox and MSNBC. It tells us how we're supposed to dress, what we're supposed to eat, and what toys to buy our kids. It comforts us with sitcom families that are funnier than ours, and with the Sopranos and the Simpsons, who are more dysfunctional than most of us will ever be. With shows like Farscape and Babylon 5, it even dreams for us.

Ignoring that relationship just isn't an option. So I do my best to make those strips visually interesting.


This Saturday's cartoon drew some protest from only one reader. In the cartoon, the TV was tuned to Fox News, and the anchor was talking about the Abu Grhaib torture scandal, in which photos emerged showing US troops torturing Iraqi prisoners. The Fox News anchor said "A recent poll shows a whopping 20% of Americans are fed up with all the outrage over the tortured Iraqi prisoners. After all, what they went through was nothing compared to the way Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups treat their prisoners." It goes on to say "America. Hey, at least we're not as bad as the terrorists."

Here's the note:

Dear Mr. Bell,

 In general I really enjoy your 'strip Candorville. However, I absolutely resent today's comparsion of America with Al Qaeda. This is absolutely uncalled for and without merit or justification. As I read your bio on your website I realized, however, that you are just another victim of a UC Berkely liberal brainwashing. Perhaps you should actually compare the awful events at Agu Ghaib with what the Hussein regeme engaged in on a quotidan[sic] basis, or what Al Qaeda is trying to accomplish with chemical and biological weapons.

And my response:

Dear XXXX,

I'm glad you (usually) enjoy Candorville. You should know, though, that in Berkeley, I'm often considered a conservative. I've drawn many cartoons - before and after 9-11 - condemning the likes of Al Qaeda, and one cartoon I drew after 9-11, showing the terrorists burning in hell, created a nationwide protest. I've been called, alternately, a Liberal, a communist, a fascist, a jack-booted thug, a reactionary, and a "victim of UC Berkeley liberal brainwashing."

On many issues, I'm conservative. On others, I take the liberal position. If you've enjoyed Candorville until today, I hope you'll ask yourself why you've enjoyed it. Have you enjoyed it because it's the product of liberal brainwashing, or the product of someone who takes each issue as it comes and examines it independently? Surely you couldn't have liked something that's the product of liberal brainwashing.

In this particular instance, I'm at a loss as to why you resent the comparison. I do point out that what we did pales in comparison to what Al Qaeda does. The point of this cartoon isn't that we're like Al Qaeda (you seriously misread it if you think that's the point). The point is, it's unhelpful when people such as Fox News excuse what we do by saying "Well, Al Qaeda is worse." OF COURSE they're worse. Nobody disputes that. The POINT of today's cartoon is that we SHOULD NOT compare ourselves to Al Qaeda. We should judge ours actions by our own principles, not by comparing them to the barbarity of terrorists.

Let's use kids as an analogy. What if your son stole a candy bar from the corner store. That's not a horrendous offense. But what if he tried to excuse it by saying "it's not as bad as Ken Lay. He stole billions from seniors' retirement accounts." Does that excuse what your son did, or are you still going to make him go back to the store and apologize? Aren't you still going to hold him accountable for his own actions, because he should have known better?

Look at this objectively, not through the prism of some barbaric group like Al Qaeda. According to our own principles - according to what the United States stands for in this world - is it okay to strip prisoners naked and force them to simulate sex acts with each other? Is it okay to beat them into unconsciousness, and in at least two cases, death? Is it okay to strap wires to their genitals and force them to stand on a box for several hours, telling them they'll be electrocuted if they fall?

My point is, we should behave in a way that makes ourselves proud, and not use the barbarity of Al Qaeda or Hussein to excuse our own bad behavior. Surely you can agree to that.

Thanks for taking the time to write, and I hope I've cleared up the misunderstanding.



Anonymous said...

The guy sort of proved your point.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you can get "we're like Al Qaeda" from the cartoon you drew. I got the opposite message.

Thanks for one of the most engaging comics I've read in a long time!

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