Monday, January 08, 2007

Candorville: more respect for the truth than for the dead?

"Be to my faults a little blind, Be to my virtues very kind."

I'm not sure who originally wrote that phrase. I've seen it attributed to various people from John Lennon to Ben Franklin, and I have yet to come across a definitive account of its origin. Maybe that's because I haven't spent too much time looking, but I'd like to think it's also because it's such a universal desire that it actually goes back to the dawn of time. Maybe when the first doomed nucleic acid was spit out by a primordial chemical system, it's last words were "remember me well."

The desire to be remembered as a positive force once we're gone is probably as instinctive as it is universal. Every saint and every dictator wanted to leave behind a legacy they thought positive. And because we all want the same thing, we routinely, wilfully, whitewash people's lives once they're gone -- hoping that someday, when our time comes, the world will return the favor. Some believe that pays tribute to the departed. Perhaps most believe that. I believe the opposite. I believe that by sanitizing someone's effect on the world and their history, you don't pay tribute to that person, you pay tribute to some phantom you've created in their stead. When it's a person of historical significance, you run the risk of erasing history. And we all know the other saying about what happens to people who forget their history.

Here's today's Candorville, followed by a representative response to it from a Candorville reader:

Today's strip

Reader feedback

Dear Darrin Bell,
My paper just picked up your comic strip on the first, and I was okay with it. It was mildly funny, and I could relate to some of it. However, today, you published the comic about James Brown "explaining" about what he didn't do, while you showed Gerald Ford running away. I now refuse to read your strip. If you want to attack a person, at least do it while they're alive.

My response
Thank you for writing. That's exactly what tomorrow's comic strip deals with -- the notion that we should only speak well of the departed. You really shouldn't judge a comic strip by one edition of it, or you might miss out on something you'd otherwise come to enjoy.

The reason the strip is called "Candorville" isn't because I think I know the Truth. It's my promise to always say exactly what's on my mind, regardless of what everyone else is saying. It's my suggestion that honesty is always the best policy, even when it involves sacred cows. When the war in Iraq was popular, Candorville pointed out its counterproductivity. When Barak Obama, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were being idolized as phenomena by the Media a couple years ago, I pointed out that they'd done nothing more than anyone else could do, and the only reason they were seen as exceptional was their race (What has Obama accomplished, really?). Everyone loves Oprah Winfrey, but I've commented on how she seems to regularly invite celebrity guests in order to fish for compliments from them, and I've pointed out that every single issue of her magazine features HER on the cover (which strikes me as a bit egotistical, even if it is good business sense). Not all these observations are equally important, but they're all candid assessments.

I "attack" people who are living 99.99999999% of the time, but I see no reason to sanitize someone's past just because they've died. And when the rest of the Media, from left-wingers on Air America to the mainstream media to right-wingers like Limbaugh, are ALL refusing to mention a person's drawbacks once they're dead, I believe in the case of a public official, that's dangerous. It's dangerous to ignore history, to sanitize it out of sentimentality. So I point out that the person isn't a saint, that his affect on history hasn't been as uniformly positive as the Media is telling us it has. I say "hold on a second, stop canonizing someone who has such a checkered record."

If you want to hear the sanitized line on issues, the rest of the Media provides that. If you want to hear candid opinions and truthful depictions of modern Americans and their actions & discussions, Candorville tries to provide that. If you're offended by that sort of candor, then perhaps Candorville isn't the strip for you, but I thank you for giving it a chance up 'til now. Thanks again for writing, and I hope you have a happy New Year.

Looks like I spoke too soon. The above feedback was representative of a handful of e-mails early in the morning, but the vast majority of the feedback since then (all of it, in fact) has been positive. Here's another note which is more representative of the feedback for this strip:

I have been a fan of Candorville since the git go. As a afro-cubano who was raised in Pasadena I can relate to Susana and the entire cast of characters. Since I was a teen in the mid-60s listening to KGFJ 1230am, I have been a fan of James Brown, I also lived the stain of Tricky Dick's scandal and the behind the scenes arrangement he made with Ford to get pardoned, all the while I was on the front lines of the struggle, freedom fighting and protesting the Nam conflict

Your Jan 8th strip with the Godfather at the pearly gates hit home and if not your best, fo sho it is in your top 5 im my book...


Anonymous said...

Personally, I agree with the guy above. Where do you find the nerve to critcize one of our country's most well known presidents a few days after he dies? Geez grow backbone okay!?

Tiffany said...

Kind of odd for someone who posts as "anonymous" to say someone else should grow a backbone.

Darrin Bell said...

"Personally, I agree with the guy above. Where do you find the nerve to critcize one of our country's most well known presidents a few days after he dies? Geez grow backbone okay!?"

I'm pretty sure I explained "where I find the nerve" in that long post you just responded to. If you want something that's not going to question conventional wisdom even when it's considered improper to do so, Candorville's probably not the strip for you. Thanks for stopping by, though.

Wilfred fan said...

"Anonymous," how can someone have "nerve" and ALSO need to "grow a backbone?" That makes no sense.

Pamela Nuñez said...

I, for one, want to thank you for once again pointing out what everyone else wants to ignore. That takes a lot of guts, now more than ever.

I agree that there's no reason to "sanitize" history when a President dies. And I'll bet you conservatives will rail against that notion with every fiber of their being up until the day Bill Clinton dies, upon which time they'll become sudden converts to your theory.

Hugo said...

What is funny is that during Ford's wake, barely any Senator or Congress person showed up in DC. Bush himself spent most of the time in his ranch and couldn't be bother to come to DC to honor Ford.

During the wake, tourists were the biggest contingency.

So claiming that Ford was so beloved is a big stretch, since barely any politician bother to come cut their vacation to honor the man.

Chris said...

I was about to post something similar to what Hugo just said. Who do these people think they're kidding? Ford wasn't beloved by the nation while he was alive. He was seen as the clumsy guy who lucked into office, pardoned Nixon and went home. Now that he's dead, all sorts of johnny-come-latelies are pretending he was more important to them than he ever really was.

It's like when an acquaintance passes away, and all of a sudden people try to say they were good friends. Why do people do that?

Chuck said...

While I didn't really like the comic from the day in question (Really, questioning James Brown for Ford's doings? and having Ford sneaking "sneaking" into heaven?)
I must admit to the relevance. The timing I thought was poor, but that's my own opinion.

Thing is, Ford was portrayed as a "healer" by members of both major parties. Mondale and Carter were among the DFLers who praised the man. I just wonder why so many DFLers didn't think well enough of Reagan.

When the curtain comes down on our two former DFL Presidents, I only hope that both parties join the praise, and set aside the differences.

I hope that isn't a dream.

the Pete said...

Well I did dig the comic from the day in question. Both died around the same time, so St. Peter got them mixed up. That alone is funny.

I also don't understand the complaints about the timing. If he'd waited until now to comment on it, nobody would've cared and it would've been stale, like people still commenting on Dick Cheney shooting an old man in the face.