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Why Cartoonists Shouldn’t Write Essays

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Once in a while Ted Rall’s cartoons are funny, but as an essayist, he makes Noam Chomsky look like Bernard Lewis: he’s an incredibly callous, wrong-headed, self-loathing assplow. John Giuffo doesn’t much like him either and tells why in the new Comics Journal:

    Perhaps the best way to begin a critique of Rall’s work is to rewind the clock to that fateful fall day, and examine some of his strips and columns in chronological order. The cynicism began in earnest on Sept. 13 with a column titled “Tear it Down, and They Will Die: The Inevitable Takes the World Trade Center.” In it, he entirely ignores the pain and suffering of a city and a nation, doesn’t waste so much as a sentence on the people who died, and, after quoting from a long-ago lecture by an unnamed college instructor (Rall must have taken exceptionally accurate class notes to quote so extensively so many years later) gets right to placing the ultimate blame for the destruction of the Twin Towers on — you guessed it — us. It was our hubris that brought them down. Not theocratic Islamism. Not hateful, ignorant impotence. We should never have built them — it was dumb of us, he insisted. And we paid the price for our pride. “If it hadn’t been passenger jets commandeered by terrorists, it would have been something else,” he wrote while a city still held hope that it’s loved ones might yet come home.

    Aside from the infuriatingly misplaced blame, it is here that Rall shows the first signs of his almost inhuman level of coarseness — a willful disregard of the pain of others in an effort to prove that his take on the situation is more enlightened, informed and right than the rest of the world (in a Nov. 12 strip, he says, “Secretly, they [Americans] think the World Trade Center footage is cool”). He was just getting warmed up.

    On Sept. 20, in a column that reads like an almost-paean to the bravery of “Nineteen Guys Who Shook The World,” he discusses the ways in which “Osama and his jihad boys sized us up fairly well,” and unmasked the American paper tiger. He then goes on to explain how the national economy has “plunged into recession and beyond,” and how the attacks spelled the beginning of the end of the American empire (“with a bang and a whine”). Of course, the economy hasn’t plunged beyond recession and America is still around — his prognostication is as accurate as his geopolitical analysis. He also spends a good deal of time spinning conspiracy theories about what he viewed as the probability that United Flight 93, which crashed over Pennsylvania, had been shot down by fighter planes and subsequently covered up by the government. He bases this analysis on the fact that, nine days after the crash, the flight data recorder transcripts still hadn’t been released and he reasons — if we can call it that — that the government must be keeping them secret as part of a cover-up. We see this unsubstantiated paranoia pop up again and again in future strips and columns.

    In the ensuing months, his analysis of the war and its combatants has been thoroughly shot through with distortion, exaggeration and lies. He went in convinced that a bombing campaign in Afghanistan would accomplish nothing, and he has since clung to that assumption and rejected any and all evidence to the contrary. He believes American military power cannot be used toward humanitarian ends, period. And he goes to great lengths to maintain faith in that belief.

Rall is an embarrassment to the state of Ohio, and to all people who speak English or who breath air.

In addition to being utterly immune to the suffering of his countrymen – think Daniel Pearl’s widow, Rall is also a self-absorbed, whiny little shit:

    In a display of misplaced journalistic trust not seen since ABC News sent Leo DeCaprio to interview President Bill Clinton, KFI Radio in Los Angeles and the Village Voice sent Rall into the shit to get the low-down. And Rall delivered. Thanks to his brave reportage from the region — think Robert Fisk during his recent beat-down mixed with the insightful analysis of Geraldo — we now know that people who don’t know “jack” about this part of the world go to Pakistan to get into Afghanistan (he mentions this from his stopover in Tajikistan so we know who knows “jack”); that a “50ish lady from Seattle” all but offered him sex in a Dushanbe elevator; that war correspondents often employ gallows humor; that Afghan men and boys followed him in Taloqan as though he were Mick Jagger; that Northern Alliance fighters can be unruly and violent; that Americans are self-interested where Afghans help their countrymen whenever possible; that Afghanistan is culturally diverse — “a truly blended nation” — whereas “Americans live in strictly segregated, monochromatic cities and neighborhoods and can’t even stand to hear each other’s music”; that it’s hard to get food in Afghanistan during the daytime in Ramadan; that neither the Northern Alliance or U.S. troops were responsible for the safety of the thousands of journalists roaming and reporting around Afghanistan; that Afghan fighters often look older than their age; that he was forced to sleep on “stinky” mats and often woke up with rashes; that ducks keep the gutter water in Taloqan clean; that the benzene lamps Afghans use for heat burned his sensitive eyes and throat; and that he got cold at night. Really cold. Taken together, Rall’s reports don’t deal with the war nearly as much as they do with the inconveniences suffered by travelers and Western reporters. Frommer’s for the ideologically blind.

What – if anything – is ever his point? That America is the Great Satan? Move over Saddam, Ted’s on your side.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com/ Bill Sherman

    For me, the simultaneously most damning and encapsulating line in the piece is Giuffo’s statement that Rall “gives dissent a bad name.” There are plenty of good hey-wait-a-minute points to be made over the way our leaders have used and abused the events of 9-11. (Tom Tomorrow has made quite a few of ‘em.) Rall’s half-assed, slapdash approach has the unfortunate effect of drowning many of ‘em out. . .