So Gary Trudeau is at it again. His comic strip has been pulled by twelve newspapers for having a caricature of George Bush referring Karl Rove as a “turd blossom.” I confess as to being uncertain which word it is that caused offence: turd because of it’s bathroom connotations, or blossom, because of feminine associations. Probably the latter because Rove sounds like the type who would welcome being called a shit, but would be offended by anything to do with femininity.
Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to see that after years of quiet acceptance from all parties that Trudeau is getting to somebody again. Oh, I’m sure people will dismiss it as “toilet humour” and in bad taste. It will have nothing to do with the fact that the administration is extremely sensitive about the behaviour of Karl Rove right now.
But in the past, whenever Doonesbury has been either censured by vote in State houses or Senates, or pulled by newspapers, it’s because what he has been saying has been a little too close to the bone for most people. On three previous occasions that I can think of he has never been prosecuted for libel, just had his strip either criticized or pulled. In our litigious society if they don’t sue there’s usually a good reason.
The main problem is that Mr. Trudeau has a nasty habit of telling the truth, even if it is unpleasant to some people’s ears. His first major conflict with newspaper editors was in the early 1970’s during the Watergate era. It was when the accusations against various Nixon administration officials were flying fast and furious.
Former Attorney General John Mitchell (the man who ordered the National Guard onto the grounds of Kent State University resulting in the death of four university students) who had overseen Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign was being investigated for all sorts of irregularities. In one strip Trudeau had a character rant repeatedly that Mitchell was guilty.
It was amazing how many people took a comic strip so seriously. Newspapers dropped it like a hot potato. Comments like, “It’s not the place of a comic strip to find a man guilty or innocent…” appeared in editorials through out the country in explanation of Doonsebury’ssudden disappearance from the daily funnies. The irony of course is that by censoring the cartoon they increased it’s impact and audience.
When Mitchell was cut loose a short time later by the administration in an attempt to protect Nixon and other higher ups and then found guilty, Trudeau and his comic strip were elevated to a status unprecedented for a cartoon strip. Only Pogo had ever managed to integrate political commentary into a daily comic strip with such effectiveness. But the little opossum and his buddies never reached the same level of popularity asDoonesbury
Nixon and Ford came and went and Jimmy Carter proved that Trudeau didn’t just target Republicans. Billy Carter was an irresistible target for every comedian and satirist in America at the time and Carter was no exception. But he didn’t find himself running afoul of the authorities until the next administration.
When Ronald Reagan was elected president he brought with him his associations with Hollywood personalities. One that stood out above others was Frank Sinatra. Regan went so far as to award him a Congressional Medal of Honour for his work.
Now, there have always been rumours about Mr. Sinatra’s ties to certain criminal elements. From the novelGodfather, with it’s character loosely based upon Sinatra, his associations with convicted mobsters, and his connections to the hierarchy in Las Vegas people have always commented and speculated.
When that was combined with reports of Sinatra’s boorish behaviour at the time (trying to get a dealer at a casino fired because he was losing), Trudeau couldn’t resist. He ran a series of strips dealing with Frank’s supposed dealings with the mob.
While Sinatra’s own comments rivalled Hunter S. Thompson’s “I’ll rip his lungs out” (about the character Duke who’s name is derived from an alter ego used by Thompson occasionally and loosely based on Thompson), it was the response of legislators that was most over the top. How often are motions of censure proposed for a cartoonist?
Shortly after, when another series ran critical of Elizabeth Taylor and her then husband Senator John Warner of Virginia, motions were proposed in the Senate calling for Trudeau’s censure again. What’s interesting is that no one ever issued outright denials concerning the content of either the Sinatra or Taylor strips.
Well, those halcyon days are past. How the mighty have fallen. Gary Trudeau must be wondering what has happened to the world. Has it grown that jaded that the worst that can happen to him now is that only twelve papers out of 1400 are editing or pulling a strip where he calls a senior official in the administration of the President of the United States a “turd blossom?”
Maybe it’s because people have learned two things. Censoring a comic strip usually backfires, and ends up drawing more attention to the issue than did the original offending item. Second, that in the past Trudeau’s assessments have turned out to be correct, and you just end up looking foolish.
Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury is a liberal cartoon that appeals to a specific audience. It’s not going to change anyone’s mind about any issue. Just as Rush Limbaugh appeals to conservatives, and liberals don’t watch or listen to his show, anyone is free not to read Doonesbury.
People need to lighten up and not take it too seriously. I know I don’t take Rush seriously so why can’t they do the same with Trudeau? Could it be that he’s right? No, it couldn’t be that.