Thursday, February 03, 2005

Love Your Own Freaks

One trouble with the Great Divide metaphor is the implication there's only one divide to cross, that differences are bilateral, and we are reaching out in one direction. But living, breathing humans are more of a jumble, and it's this jumble of perspectives, interests and beliefs that gives us hope we can find some things in common with people we're told should be our adversaries.

As a comment to an earlier post pointed out, there are many continental divides across the country. We may relate to the most spectacular one along the Rockies, but there are other divides closer, in our back yard.

Likewise, we're inclined to waste too much time staring at the doctrinaire eruptions far on the fringe of the other side. They're beyond reach and, probably, redemption. Yet we allow their extremism to color our view of anyone in the same timezone as rigid, self-righteous and homophobic. Of course, our anti-capitalist, death-to-Amerikka brethren help paint liberals as loony and dangerous instead of simply being overly accepting.

But these fringes also impart energy and passion. Right now, the Republicans are in a close embrace with their freaks, for better or for worse, and it has made them stronger and more vigorous. We owe it to ourselves listen to our own fanatics, and especially, our artists, who get to the roots of issues with out making us march through position papers or sit in action committees until our brains are numb.

My mother was a very engaged and committed Democrat, keenly interested in politics where it mattered most — working through issues that affected people's daily lives in positive ways. She worked on things like vocational education, community foundations and municipal sewage treatment plant bond issues. The non-glamor stuff. She was keenly interested in the Gore-Bush presidential campaign but was suffering from a brain tumor that would end her life just days before that strange election, so I never got to hear her perspective on its aftermath. But she did vote absentee ballot, and my sister helped her fill it in, so I know that my mother — friend and colleague of Democratic governors, US Senators and small town mayors — cast her final vote for Ralph Nader.

I don't think it was out of dementia, but I can only imagine what she was wanting to say with her ballot. Perhaps it was this. Our candidate talks about fighting for the people, but we have forgotten what's really worth fighting for, and now both sides have a pair of millionaires representing their supposed interests. Men who have to roll up the sleeves of their dress shirts and throw footballs to show they are tough, regular guys. Maybe she was saying the ascetic guy with the sunken eyes, only two suits and too many uncomfortable ideas was really closer to us in spirit. Even if he was manifestly unelectable.

I bring this up now because I just turned from the State of the Union Speech with its labored cadences and ritualistic applause — was it not like riding a subway with the canned announcements of the approaching stations and the passengers arising on cue? — to read an old comic World War Three Illustrated (#17, 1992) that was all rough edges and hyperbole and outrage and truth.

It opens with a black and white woodcut-styled stencil comic by Peter Kuper featuring a burly figure masked in the Mexican luchadore mode, boxing with the earth. He beats the earth into shards of money as the rabid crowd cheers, and then begins to shriek as they realize they have lost their real source of sustenance. An image of the transformed fighter, very similar to the cover of Kuper's collection, Speechless, concludes the tale.

Another story, also from 1992, describes a day in the Land of Opportunity, and anticipates the tropes of the Ownership Society. When a worker complains he has no choice, despite his voice in the government, a corpulent capitalist explains what's good for him: "Look at my stature, look at my size. One can only be this grand in the land of Free Enterprize! I'm a living example of choice and I'm not posing. For if there was no choice, there'd be no chosen." (Kevin Pyle, "The Odious Omnivore and his Racketeer Ring in 'Choice Cut.'")

Now, 13 years later, WW3 is on issue #35. Find it or something like it. We can't be reasonable all the time.

If you get tired of soundbites and pundits gnawing over the same old points, take a look at some of these more political comix artists. Visit Quimby's in Chicago or online, or Big Brain Comics in Minneapolis and ask for recommendations. You may not agree with them all the time. Their simplifications may make you uncomfortable, but unlike the James Dobsons and Jerry Falwells of the right, they may also stir something good in you.

Yeah, I remember when I felt that way. I remember when I cared that much. I remember when I saw those things, and though I may think differently now, they are still worth seeing.


Blogger bob said...

Let your freak flag fly, brother!

5:06 PM  
Blogger bob said...

5:57 PM  

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