Friday, February 2, 2007

There oughta be a law...

Montana Headlines is today going to level a charge against the Billings Gazette -- perhaps the most serious one yet -- serious enough to make one contemplate introducing legislation (at the risk of running afoul of the 1st Amendment) addressing it:

The political cartoons the Gazette chooses to run are often not funny. Today's example

Failed jokes are the sort of dreadful thing that one really doesn't like to talk about, but although one's sense of humor can be seen as a privacy issue (raising Constitutional issues again), when it impacts others, it becomes a matter of valid public concern.

Montana Headlines admits to being a pretty humorless site. One cannot try to be what one is not. But the editorial staff at Montana Headlines does roar at good political humor, regardless of who is being skewered.

Good political humorists are able to get people almost anywhere on the political spectrum to laugh, regardless of who is the butt of the joke. Granted, as any exposure to political cartoons of the 19th century will demonstrate, political cartoons have a venerable history of being more preachy and vicious than hilarious.

Things have evolved for the better since then, however, and skilled humorists of every genre (particularly on television) have proven that political humor can actually be humorous.

The other effect that a political cartoon has on an editorial page is that it is often visually linked with a written editorial. Such is the case in today's Gazette, where the above cartoon is given as an inset for William Rusher's opinion piece about Iraq. William Rusher admittedly was in favor of the Iraq war when it was believed that WMD's were present there, and when they were not found, he supported the idea that in the wake of the war, the best thing America could do was to use our position in Iraq to change the political course of the Middle East. But this is not the place to analyze Rusher's views on Iraq.

The point is that in this particular column, Rusher is not advocating for the President's "surge," and states clearly the obvious, that Bush's plan in Iraq has failed, and that if this last gasp effort fails, that "Bush's legacy in foreign affairs will be one of abject failure." He is most emphatically not singing "Give War a Chance," in the words of the cartoon.

For the record, Montana Headlines has generally disagreed with Rusher's positions on the war from the beginning. But if political cartoons are going to be visually linked with an editorial, there should be a closer correlation between the content of what is written and the content of the cartoon.

And please, for the sake of the children if no-one else, give humor a chance.


Ed Kemmick said...

You make a fundamental error in assuming that cartoons and op-ed pieces are meant to be "linked" in the sense of agreeing with each other. On the contrary, it is more often the case that a cartoon is chosen because it deals with the same subject as the op-ed piece but takes an opposing view, in much the same way that editorial pages often put opposing op-ed pieces side by side.

There is nothing remotely sinister about this. You can object to the humor, or lack of it, but I don't think it's fair to complain of the positioning of the cartoon.

On a related subject, have you ever laughed at a "Mallard Fillmore"?

Montana Headlines said...

Points well made. Coming at this as a reader, one tends to expect photos and other graphics in a publication to illuminate and expound on the writing it is visually linked with.

A newspaper op-ed section is probably the only place in journalistic writing where the reader is expected somehow to process contradictory or disagreeing visual information separately from the written piece with which it is sharing clearly delineated space. Not caring for that may just be a matter of personal preference -- you are right that it shouldn't be considered to be sinister.

The main point of the post was to object to lack of humor (a subjective matter, admittedly) in all too many political cartoons. The humor gap between them and, say, the average politically oriented SNL sketch is pretty wide.

Mallard Fillmore is sometimes humorous, but one would have to spend quite a bit of time rummaging in the archives to come up with examples to support that statement. It may only tickle a conservative's funny bone from time to time when we agree with the point being made.

If someone who generally disagrees with the political views of that strip honestly never finds it funny -- then it isn't funny.

That makes the Gazette op-ed page fair and balanced, though, since Doonesbury was once indispensable reading, even for conservatives, because of its understated satirical brilliance. That is now long ago, and it's getting harder to remember just when exactly that was or what was funny about it back then.

Yosemite1967 said...

I agree that newspaper staff placing cartoons next to opinion pieces which attempt to make light of or contradict the piece is a dirty trick, but you aren't really serious about legislation to this effect, are you?

If we short-sightedly give government the authority to punish dissent when our favourite party is in power, it'll be used against us when our most hated party is in power.

Montana Headlines said...

A lot of people perceive cartoons as often making light of the opinion pieces they are next to -- you are hardly alone. Ed Kemmick is probably right that this is not the intent of editors, though. He is in a good position to know.

The law, though, would be to ban political cartoons that aren't funny. That was the subject that really had our dander up.

It was obviously a tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek proposition.

A blog that enjoys the freedom to anonymously critique the press at will would be unwise to propose restrictions on freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

Yosemite1967 said...

Ah, I couldn't see your cheek from here to tell whether your tongue was in it. Sorry. :^D