Feb 4, 2013

The Gala Second Anniversary

Today marks two years of Editorial Explanations, which is a damn long time to do something that started randomly on an entirely separate blog. EE isn't ever quite what I want it to be -- it's too partisan too much of the time; in my head, you readers would never know how I feel about any issue -- and I've been debating in my head about ending it for more than six months now. (The feeling was particularly bad just before the election -- I almost quit then, but decided to stick it out to the end of the year -- and, since the partisan rancor quickly dropped in late November, reading several dozen cartoons was no longer as painful as it had become before.)

Once again I'll restate the purpose of this blog, in as close to an honest way as I can: many political cartoons are weaselly, sneaky things, that encode poisonous ideas, because of prejudice or malice or anger or fear. Sometimes that's deliberate on the part of the cartoonist, and sometimes it isn't -- though I don't claim I can tell the difference consistently. But I can point out those nasty cartoons, the ones with unexamined premises and massive leaps of logic and overweening special pleading.

EE should not be me pointing out that a cartoonist is "wrong;" as I wrote on the comment page, way back in the beginning -- and still want to hold to -- "all cartoonists are completely correct, in their own worlds." I fail at that -- some weeks, several times a day -- but it's still the standard, even on days I miss it.

EE occasionally is there to make a joke that a particular cartoon missed, or (even more rarely) to point out a good cartoon. But, most of the time, the point is to shine light on people doing their jobs badly, because they're lazy or corrupt or axe-grinding or stupid or tired or whatever other reason it is today.

The days I'm happiest with EE are the ones when I get to pick on people on both sides; recently I was thrilled to get back-to-back (and diametrically opposed) cartoons by Gary Varvel and Bruce Plante that I thought were both dumb and poorly thought-out.

I admit that I do end up picking on right-wingers much more than lefties, though I have to point out that I'm still a registered Republican, as I've been for my entire adult life. (And I'm equally sure those cartoonists would call me a "RINO" at best.) That's partly because I mostly agree with Mann and Ornstein -- there's one party that shifted massively to one side over the past decade, not for the good -- and also for a few cartoon-specific reasons.

First, conservative cartoonists are uniformly unafraid to take strong stances, unlike some of their liberal counterparts. (Ted Rall is the great outlier there; he can be as radical as Chuck Asay or the McCoys or A.F. Branco are reactionary, and I'd pick on him more if he found anything else that infuriated him as much as drone strikes.) The right-wingers also cartoon in the old single-image tradition the vast majority of the time, making a single, stark claim and standing strongly behind it. The lefty cartoonists are more likely to do a wordy four- or six-panel novella, running around and around an issue as if to cover every possible objection ahead of time. Those are harder to make fun of, since they're already pre-digested.

Even more important is that well-known Republican political discipline -- and, as far as I can see, the conservative cartoonists do see themselves as Republicans (or as some subset, like "true Republicans" or "Tea Partiers") and follow the standard messaging on the news of the day. So there's often a set of right-wing cartoons each day, all trying to make the exact same point -- and, even if that's a good point, there's usually someone doing it sloppily. And that discipline itself causes trouble -- I can't believe their hearts are all in yet another bloody shirt run up the flagpole about Benghazi, five months later, and that lack of real fire is sometimes clear in the final product.

That's what led to the current glut of right-wingers on EE -- that's why the most commented cartoonists, right now, are Chuck Asay, Lisa Benson, Terry Wise, and Bob Gorrell. I have to admit that I've been following Asay for even longer than this blog has been around; he's a lovely draftsman whose thought processes I find deeply mysterious, and sometimes actively insane. Benson and Wise come across as just pure partisans, always ready to follow the Roger Ailles background memo of the day. And Gorrell is the most frustrating: he's got the drawing chops to be a great cartoonist -- he draws strong, iconic images day after day, either out of training or instinct, has a real knack for caricature, and keeps his captions simple and direct -- but his subjects and his angles are usually second-hand and flabby, and he's far too often reliant on the not-bothering-to-draw-something crutch.

But none of those things are inherent in cartooning, or in those particular cartoonists. Any of them could move to a different media outlet, with a different editorial slant, any day. Or the center of debate in Washington could shift yet again, making everyone shift with it. But I'm sure that, no matter what the topic, there will be a few really dumb cartoons in any given week. And, for now at least, Editorial Explanations will be around to find them, to point fingers at them, and to laugh one of those really annoying bully-on-Simpsons laughs at them.

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Please remember that the purpose of Editorial Explanations is to explain and to expand knowledge, rather than to engage in any partisan bickering. All cartoonists are completely correct, in their own worlds.