I've been holding this Jen Sorensen piece since she posted it some days ago. Obviously, I wouldn't have snagged it if I didn't like it, but I was waiting for my reaction to it to gel into something coherent. And I feel like a character in a GEICO ad.
"Everybody knows that."
"Well, did you know ..."
Thing is, she's right, and her technique of projecting some innocently phony explanations for a couple of panels and then revealing the truth in Four is good, amusing and true.
My problem in trying to comment on it isn't just "Everybody knows that." A cartoon isn't required to break news, only to reflect upon it.
My problem, I think, is the sense that everybody knows that and the people who give a damn already do and the people who don't give a damn never will.
But that's my problem, not a problem with the cartoon.
Here's what I'm talking about:
The other day, I went poking around in back issues of the weekly student magazine from my college, looking for London Fog ads to make a point about campus fashions. In doing so, I came across this Mauldin cartoon from September, 1967.
This is one where you really had to be there, because it's unremarkable today, to say the least, but it sure went against the societal tide when it appeared, and I remember, as a clean-cut, straight, newly-arrived freshman how it impacted me.
The Summer of Love had just ended on the West Coast, but for the majority of Americans, marijuana was still associated with black jazz musicians and beatnik poets and, as Mauldin suggests, those other drugs.
It was part of "the Other," and even the freshmen arriving from California were nearly all straight.
Thus the cartoon challenged a lot of people's shaky beliefs, which is the point.
"Everybody suspected" but not "everybody knew."
But everyone really did suspect, and, by spring, an awful lot of students had at least tried marijuana and a goodly number were smoking regularly. And the next fall saw an influx of freshmen who had been smoking in high school.
And I would suggest that, in 1942, the days of the "literacy tests" and other phony strategms to keep black people from voting, when this Ted Geisel cartoon ran, "everybody suspected" that it was wrong, that it was dishonest, that it had to change.
"Everybody suspected," but they still needed to have those suspicions played upon. It would be almost a quarter of a century before the Voting Rights Act stripped away legalised "States Rights" racist chicanery.
By contrast, I suspect that, today, "everybody knows" that the various Voter ID laws and challenges to early voting and same-day registration are aimed squarely at suppressing, if not specifically the votes of minorities, certainly the votes of those who champion the rights of the poor, the working poor and of minorities.
They approve or they disapprove, but they know.
In terms of the classic roles of journalism, while it is critical to "comfort the afflicted," it's increasingly difficult to "afflict the comfortable."
Sorensen's piece very much fulfills the task of comforting the afflicted. And, if people are going to carry on the fight, they need to know that they are not alone, that others agree, that others want to see the struggle go forward.
But it's going to take some awfully sharp sticks to afflict the comfortable, because they know damn well what's going on and there is very little suspicion to be played upon.
But did you know?
Stuart Carlson takes a poke at afflicting anybody who is comfortable with the notion that rich people give to charity as much as ever, despite not needing the tax deduction as much as they once did.
They do give more dollars, but they give less of a percentage of their income, according to this report, which I'm sure the "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" crowd will begin to tear down if it begins to penetrate beyond niche audiences.
The Chronicle (of Philanthropy) study found that Americans give, on average, about 3 percent of their income to charity, a figure that has not budged significantly for decades. However, that figure belies big differences in giving patterns between the rich and the poor.
The wealthiest Americans—those who earned $200,000 or more—reduced the share of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5 percent more of their income during the same time period. Middle- and lower-income Americans increased the share of income they donated to charity, even as they earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.
So it's good that Carlson brings it up in an effort to disrupt the false narrative that cutting back on social welfare programs is okay because what Uncle Sam doesn't provide will be furnished by the generosity of our masters. (The 17% increase he cites is for those earning $25,000 or less.)
I have to believe there are suspicious minds out there, that there are many people who, on the one hand, want to believe what they are being told, yet have a problem reconciling it with what they can see.
On the other hand, let's not get too excited, because, much as I love political cartoons and much as they add spice and spark to the political discourse, they have never, and can never, carry the load alone, without news reporting, without supportive editorials.
There was a time when trusted gatekeepers helped frame that political discourse such that, once things like Jim Crow Laws and the McCarthy Hearings had reached a point of obvious outrage, they were no longer presented with the fig leaf of "on the one hand, but then again on the other" false-fairness.
They certainly weren't championed by anyone beyond regional rabblerousers and, on the national level, fringe extremist groups.
That is no longer the case.
Today, those defending tax breaks for the rich and barriers to keep the poor from the polls, those who criticize wasted tax money but insist on keeping junk food in school lunch programs, those who fight against affordable health care and decent wages, seem to divide their discussion of media evenly between bragging about the overwhelming ratings of their conservative networks and cable channels and moaning that the media is totally dominated by liberals.
Everybody knows that.
Let the choir preach to you: