Exploiting the Pain of … Cartoon Characters

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Bill O'Reilly wants you to know that he can tolerate a certain amount of dissent about the war.

But there is a line that all commentators should not cross.

That line is using someone's personal tragedy to advance a political agenda, and [Garry] Trudeau is now doing that in his exposition of a fictional U.S. soldier who loses his leg in fighting in Iraq.

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  1. I think it was last week, there was a feature on NPR that struck me as equally silly. Some fan of the strip was going on and on in tortured tones that now he knew somebody who was injured in Iraq – the character in the strip.

    We got to hear about how this person had grown up with the characters, and that the violence now oh so close to home made the war real.

    I wanted to slap him. He droned on for five minutes as though A) he had no opinion about the war before Trudeau did this B) the strip was not reflective of Trudeau’s political comments, and C) this whole thing was somehow enlightening about the true nature of war.

    What a tool.

  2. I can think of at least 3,000 or so personal tragedies that were used to advance a politcal agenda.

  3. Jason Ligon,

    (Hey, got your name right!) Don’t you have any other stations to listen to where you live? All those droney whiney commentators NPR employs get me pushing the buttons on my car radio pronto! I actually listened to this guy a little longer than most. It’s certainly a bit of a radical move for Trudeau to do blow off BD’s leg and strip off the ever-present helmet after all these years, but the somber tones that commentator used was too much for me and I waited him out with some toonz!!

  4. Are O’Reilly and Quayle related?!?!?!

  5. How can anybody say anything about Iraq without being accused of either a left-wing or right-wing bias?

    The Daily Show did a report last night about how Sinclair Broadcasting Group refused to air last Friday’s news show where either Dan Rather or Ted Koppel read off the names of the US soldiers killed in Iraq. Rob Corddry, the humorously sleazy political commentator, applauded Sinclair for refusing to air this “biased” report. Straightman Jon Stewart asked what could be biased about simply reporting the facts, and Corddry responded by saying that ALL the facts in Iraq had a biased, anti-Bush agenda.

  6. Iraq is a country in the Middle East. Two rivers run through it. The ancient city of Babylon as well as the purported location of the Garden of Eden were in Iraq. Baghdad was the seat of power of the Islamic Emprie, after which the nation fell into the hands of the Ottomans. After WWI, the nation was administered by the British, then a series of strongmen rules, the last of which was Saddam Hussein.

    That’s about as much I can say about Iraq that doesn’t have any partisan slant. 🙂

  7. Mo-
    Even your spelling is partisan. During the first Gulf War, I read about a woman who suggested (in all seriousness) that Iraq be forced to change the spelling to “Irack” or “Irak,” because the current spelling confused her daughter, who had been taught that “Q” should always be followed by a “u.”

    Of course, this was a woman from the South; I learned of her existence in a Lewis Grizzard column.

  8. Mo: No slant on the first two points, but come on, after that it’s bias city:
    The ancient city of Babylon as well as the purported location of the Garden of Eden were in Iraq. (Blatant rumors! what’s your source, the bible or the NYT?)
    Baghdad was the seat of power of the Islamic Emprie, after which the nation fell into the hands of the Ottomans. (Seat of power is offensive imagery, and Iraq didn’t “fall into the hands of” it was invaded. or something)
    After WWI, the nation was administered by the British, then a series of strongmen rules, the last of which was Saddam Hussein. (That’s a very western-centric world-view calling it WW1, and who says it was administered? The Brits, that’s who. Plus your obvious bias against SH is clear when you use words like strongman.)

  9. Mo:

    “the nation was administered by the British”

    You mean occupied by the British 🙂

  10. Remember that Churchill wanted to use chemical weapons against the Irakis.

  11. I guess the question is, what is O’Reilly going to do about it? Go beat up Trudeau?

  12. Why is it that the most partisan commentators are also the first ones to scream “partisanship!” when confronted with anything they personally dislike? Didn’t they read about “projection” in Psych 101? I swear, I’m actually embarrassed for these people.

    O’Reilly doth protest too much, methinks.

  13. Jennifer: Geez, that woman must have a conniption fit over Qatar (which does need a better spelling).

    xray: Obviously, I didn’t read enough Highlights as a kid, they I would’ve said the GoE was in Norway. At least I didn’t say the “mythical” Garden of Eden. 🙂 As far as “strongman” goes, have you ever arm-wrestled SH? He’s one tough cookie. Plus, who else can pull off wearing a suit, a bowler hat and firing a rifle one-handed in this day an age. Very hip.

    I did figure the British and Ottoman parts would get some bias cries (even though they were all sarcastic), admittedly that was the point. 🙂

    In all seriousness, what is the non-partisan term for a nation under foreign administration/occupation/colonization? Is there a non-loaded term for that?

  14. Iraq is spelled with a “k” in Spanish.

  15. I think O’Reilly should get stuffed. He is a pompous arrogant populist. He always advocates that he is against guv’ment getting into our personal lives, yet he rages about how the guv’ment isn’t doing enough to stop illegal immigration and terrorism.

    The man talks out of his ass. Like a school yard bully, tv bullies will go away if you ignore them. Watch O’Reilly and you support him. Turn the channel and you send the strongest message anyone on television can understand…”we don’t like your program.”

    By the way, I haven’t read Trudeau’s Doonesbury since it became redundant and unfunny. I get more chuckles out of Family Circus, and Mary Worth is more cutting edge…seriously, when was the last time Doonesbury was funny?

  16. richard: Anytime Mr. Butts makes an appearance. I love that little guy. Especially the one where he’s hanging out with the joint that never killed anyone.

  17. Mo: Okay, you’re right on the strongman bit. The guy did have a certain sense of style.

  18. fyodor:

    I waited to the end, because I was expecting irony at some point. Alas …

  19. Mr. Butts is the exception

  20. Iraq is spelled with a “q” in an attempt to transliterate the Arabic letter “qaaf” which represents a sound which does not exist in English or any European language I can think of. In classical arabic it’s a very “dark” guttural sound that you pronounce in the back of your throat. In many Arab dialects you can just use a glottal stop which is easier. Arab also has a letter “Kaaf” which is equivalent to English “K” and thus transcribed with that letter.

  21. Why is it that the most partisan commentators are also the first ones to scream “partisanship!” when confronted with anything they personally dislike?

    Because they’re the ones most outraged by the “other side”.

    If, however, you’re trying to imply that Trudeau is being wrongly accused of partisanship here, you really need to step back and take an objective look at the situation. Trudeau’s just as much of a partisan hack as O’Reilly is.

    It could be worse, though. At least Trudeau doesn’t have characters striking up lighthearted friendships with nice members of al Qaeda or cheerful Ba’athist rape squad thugs, which makes for a substantial improvement from Trudeau’s depiction of BD’s Vietnam adventures.

  22. Dan-
    I’ll admit Trudeau has an agenda, but the BD leg-loss incident is NOT the best example of it. From a tactical standpoint, I would say that it makes the hawks look bad, for one of their own to protest the depiction of a soldier losing his leg, because that might remind folks of the way Bush and Co. have been accused of trying to soft-pedal bad news coming out from Iraq.

    I kind of liked what Trudeau did with the character of “Phred.” I don’t think making the Viet Cong look sympathetic is in the same league as doing the same for Al-Qaeda. Besides, Trudeau was an idealistic youth back then, not a middle-aged millionaire.

  23. Did anyone see the Bill O’Reilly takeoff on South Park last week? It was hysterical… I wonder if he’s seen that cartoon? He’d probably try to sue.

  24. Jason Ligon,

    I feel your pain!

    Dan,

    I concur with Jennifer. Sure Trudeau is partisan, but I don’t think that’s the issue here; rather it’s whether there was anything inappropriate or exploitative (in the sense of being unethical) about depicting a character getting his leg blown off to advance that partisanship. So far everyone here seems to agree that the answer is of course not, which is my answer as well. Any disagreement?

  25. Donesbury.

  26. fyodor,

    Inappropriate? Exploitative? My God, man, there are cartoon characters running around undermining our national security! They must be stopped. After all, this is a time of war which will last until (wait, wasn’t there a mission accomplished, or was that the other war, I’m confused)… well, who knows when, and it could be decades! So we’d better do something about it now. I vote we put Bill O’Reilly in charge of the national cartoon standards and practices to insure that any cartoon characters who happen to be in a dangerous war don’t actually, uh, have anything bad happen to them…

  27. Imagine how furious the right-wingers would be if Trudeau made BD the father of Murphy Brown’s bastard baby!

  28. Pete, I’d prefer to see the good folks at Sinclair Media given the job.

    Support the Troops – Ignore Their Suffering and Death!

  29. Mo: Actually, even your first sentence is biased. By referring to the region where Iraq is located as “the Middle East,” you’re tacitly condoning Mercator Projection map of the world, in which Europe is placed in the center of the map and the Northern hemisphere is pictured as larger than the southern. This is blatantly discriminatory against many developing nations, as it makes their countries seem much smaller than they actually are. I would suggest using the Fuller Projection or the Goode Homolosine Interrupted Projection to avoid such cartographic bias.

  30. Mo: Actually, even your first sentence is biased. By referring to the region where Iraq is located as “the Middle East,” you’re tacitly condoning the Mercator Projection map of the world, in which Europe is placed in the center of the map and the Northern hemisphere is pictured as larger than the southern. This is blatantly discriminatory against many developing nations, as it makes their countries seem much smaller than they actually are. I would suggest using the Fuller Projection or the Goode Homolosine Interrupted Projection to avoid such cartographic bias.

  31. I’m so sick of seeing “Al-Quaeda”, if only because my Scrabble habit necessarily familiarizes me with the U-less Q words like “qat” and “faqir”. Not all are Arabic per se, but they’re all Middle Eastern in origin (except “tranq” and “qwerty”).

  32. Mo-
    I guess everybody here has proven that you are a partisan, biased, self-hating Arab, but I just wanted to say that I like you anyway.

  33. I haven’t read the Doonesbury cartoons in question and don’t intend to. But I remember that Trudeau decided shortly after Ronald Reagan’s letter to kill a character with Alzheimer’s disease, making many bland and unimaginative jokes along the way. So I can guess that now he’s making a lot of bland and unimaginative amputee jokes.

  34. Jennifer: It’s good to finally get some independent confirmation of that. My damn lilly-livered friends won’t tell it like it is. I think after looking at all the criticism, I can write a summary of Iraq that partisans from both sides can accept (hehe, yeah right):

    Iraq (Irak) is a country in the region northeast or Africa, southeast of Europe and to the West of China and the Indian subcontinent (known in the West as the Middle East, known in the East as the MidWest, known in the region as the middle). Two rivers run through it. The ancient city of Babylon was within this nation’s borders and some religious scholars believe it is the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden. Baghdad was the capital city of the Islamic Empire. The region was later ruled by the Ottoman Empire as a non-democratic state. After WWI, the nation was independently ruled by the British. This rule was also undemocratic and there was significant social unrest. After the British were no longer in power a series of autocrats ruled, the last of which was Saddam Hussein.

  35. I kind of liked what Trudeau did with the character of “Phred.” I don’t think making the Viet Cong look sympathetic is in the same league as doing the same for Al-Qaeda.

    The main difference between the Viet Cong and Al-Qaeda is that the latter haven’t murdered nearly as many innocent civilians as the former did. The purpose of drawing fine distinctions between such groups escapes me, since they can all be fairly classified as “mass-murdering terrorists working to spread insane totalitarian ideologies”.

    Besides, Trudeau was an idealistic youth back then, not a middle-aged millionaire

    Trudeau has never been an idealist. The change he went through was one from “humorous cynic” to “shrill partisan”.

  36. Mo, you weren’t harsh enough on Saddam. The word “autocrat” is just a euphemism to gloss over the plastic shredders.

    Oh, and from a far-lefty perspective, you failed to mention that Bremer is merely the latest autocrat.

    Sorry, buddy, but there can be no non-partisan description of the events in Iraq. For instance, if you were to solemnly recite the names of US soldiers who died in Iraq, that would be partisan. On the other hand, if you were to NOT recite their names that would also be partisan.

    Face it, you can’t win here. 🙂

  37. Sure Trudeau is partisan, but I don’t think that’s the issue here; rather it’s whether there was anything inappropriate or exploitative (in the sense of being unethical) about depicting a character getting his leg blown off to advance that partisanship.

    Let’s say, for example, that I thought that today’s youth dressed and acted inappropriately. So I decided to use have one of the characters in my comic strip dress “inappropriately” and get raped as a result. I think that it would be fair to say that this would qualify as “exploiting rape victims”.

    The problem here is that the BD character didn’t lose his leg because of the war; he lost his leg because Trudeau thought it would be an effective form of anti-war propaganda for BD to lose his leg. The fact that Trudeau, or all people, is pretending to actually give a shit about the lives or health of American troops just makes it that much worse.

  38. Dan,

    It’s fiction. That means it’s not real. It’s part of someone’s imagination. You want to write fiction about someone getting raped, go ahead. Trudeau writes fiction about a soldier in the war. Fine. Nobody has to read yours or his.

    If we’re at the point in this country where we’re afraid that fiction is going to make us lose our resolve, then we didn’t have any to begin with.

    As a kid during the Vietnam war, I watched the Huntley Brinkley News report each night, and I watched, on TV, a South Vietnamese General pull out his gun and shoot a prisoner in the head. That affected me.

    But to argue about a hand-drawn stick figure? Find something important to worry about. Fearing a cartoon makes it look like you’re living in a house of cards.

  39. Dan,

    How, exactly, do you know that Gary Trudeau doesn’t give a shit about the lives or health about U.S. troops? I’m genuinely curious.

    Also, as far as your comparison of Al Quaeda and the Viet Cong, between Operation Phoenix and groups like the Tiger Brigade, the U.S. also killed a lot more innocent civilians than Al Quaeda did.

  40. The geopolitically correct term for the region is “Southwest Asia.”

  41. I’m sorry, I should have said:

    “the U.S. also MURDERED a lot more innocent civilians than Al Quaeda did.”

    Just striving to be clear.

  42. How about holding a party convention at the site of the 9-11 attacks, or using hundreds of thousands of troops as unpaid extras in one’s reelection ads? Is that OK?

  43. I do not understand the equation “pointing out that troops are getting hurt equals not giving a shit about them.”

  44. That’s because you’re a terrorist, Jennifer. 😉

  45. All little piggies that venture towards the trough of Iraq deserve what they get…!!!!!

  46. If the soldier is fictional, just who is it that O’Reilly thinks is being “used”? Does that mean that it’s never okay to use an example to prove a politically controversial point? After all, any example you come up with could potentially have happened to someone who disagrees with your conclusion.

  47. As opposed to using someone’s personal tragedy to advance a political agenda when you approve of that agenda — as in, say, Pat Tillman?

    Pfeh.
    Shirley Knott

  48. Hey Pete,
    Do you know the story behind that news film you saw from Saigon?

  49. Phred was not represented as “nice”. He frankly described himself as a terrorist. After the war he became a diplomat, and Trudeau made fun of him defending the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.

    Thanks to Vanya for explaining the “Q” business. I’ve wondered about that from time to time.

  50. Doonesbury ceased being funny and insightful around the time I turned 21, got a job, and quit doing bong hits at 1:00am.

  51. Doonesbury is still consistently the funniest strip in most papers, trailing only Get Fuzzy for reliable yuks.

    And Jennifer, don’t do the nasty with Osama on your couch until I get my webcam installed, please.

  52. Dan,

    Okay, to give you maximum benefit of the doubt (cause I’m that kinda guy!), you’re basically calling Trudeau disengenuous. In your example, the cartoonist who doesn’t like provocative dress in its own right is disengenuously exploiting the issue of rape (but not actual real life “rape victims”) IF he doesn’t really think provocative dress leads to rape but depicts that happening in his cartoon in order to scare provocative dressers. Maybe Trudeau has such an ulterior motive, maybe not. Seems you can read his mind better than I can. But even if this were the case, the disengenuousness would be more the issue than the tactic of depicting harm being done to someone in a cartoon, which of course can just as easily have noble intentions.

  53. Joe-
    Good point. If I REALLY gave a damn about our soldiers overseas, like our President does, I’d MINIMIZE the fact that they’re getting hurt, and also hide the fact that many of them are getting hurt because they were sent overseas without things like body armor and such. But, being the unpatriotic bitch that I am, I actually think that such matters deserve lots and lots of attention.

    Sheesh. Why don’t I just blow Osama while I’m at it? I mean, seeing as how he’s been hiding on my couch all this time.

  54. “Iraq (Irak) is a country in the region northeast or Africa, southeast of Europe and to the West of China and the Indian subcontinent (known in the West as the Middle East, known in the East as the MidWest, known in the region as the middle). Two rivers run through it.”

    That’s clearly biased! What’s so special about rivers? What about the poor countries that don’t have any rivers?

    “The ancient city of Babylon was within this nation’s borders and some religious scholars believe it is the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden.”

    Oh, I’m so sick of hearing people babble on about Babylon. Who cares? You pro-Babylonian propagandist!

    “Baghdad was the capital city of the Islamic Empire.”

    Only for the Sunni Muslims. You anti-Shi’a bigot!

    “The region was later ruled by the Ottoman Empire as a non-democratic state.”

    What’s so hot about democracy? Why not say that the United States is a non-monarchical state? But that would never occur to your biased mind!

    “After WWI, the nation was independently ruled by the British. This rule was also undemocratic and there was significant social unrest.”

    Again with the democracy! Maybe if there hadn’t been so much social unrest, the British would have felt more comfortable letting the damned Arabs vote for more officials.

    “After the British were no longer in power a series of autocrats ruled, the last of which was Saddam Hussein.”

    Your democracy fixation is just sad. How more biased can you get?

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