Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Doonesbury: Losing it

Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury has jumped so many sharks he must be trying for a record, like jumping one specimen of every known species. Take for example the recent plot development in which B.D. loses his lower left leg in combat in Iraq. Trudeau stretched it out for several strips over several days, to maximize the dramatic tension and the eventual impact when you found out what had actually happened. When I read it I thought, boy, what a transparent and pathetic ploy to try to turn people against the war. By inflicting this injury on a character people have known for over thirty years, he was clearly trying to stir up emotions of sorrow and grief, anger and doubt, that people feel when real friends or family members get hurt or killed.

But B.D. is just a cartoon character. He's just lines and letters on a piece of paper. He feels no pain, knows no fear, will face no frustration at having his life's plans overturned. He's fictional. And to the extent that people do identify with him, consider that this was not a terrible misfortune in a theater of war, which is what a real injury to a real soldier is. Trudeau has absolute, godlike control over the fate of his characters. This didn't just "happen" to B.D., it was intentionally done to him by his creator, who deliberately mutilated one of his permanent characters to make a political point. A bit cynical, I think.

That was then. This is now. Yesterday's strip began by Mark Slackmeyer directly addressing any "undecided" readers out there, and offering to help out with "our Honest Voices Reading List®, a roundup of indispensible writings from conservative sources." His dialogue balloon in the next frame actually ends with a long and complex URL in very small type. If you follow the link, you find an article in The Union Leader by President Eisenhower's son John, titled "Why I Will Vote For John Kerry For President." Then an unfunny joke in the final frame, and out.

In today's strip, there's another URL in Mark's first dialogue balloon. Obviously this is to be this week's shtick. He's then challenged by an anon woman who says, "But I don't want to read something from a liberal defeatist perspective." "No worries, security mom," Mark says, and reassures her that this piece is "by a reporter from the archconservative Wall Street Journal." It turns out to be a letter from WSJ reporter Farnaz Fassihi, stationed in Baghdad, writing her friends about her fears, about how she feels like she's under house arrest, can't go out except in an armored car, doesn't dare speak English in public, about how pessimistic the Iraqis are, and so forth.

Now, I won't question the sincerity of her reporting, except to observe that the situation in Iraq is so chaotic that you can get a wide variety of "original" reporting giving very different pictures, including that of some well known blogs by native Iraqis who are far from pessimistic. And I won't comment on Trudeau's by now standard technique of posing as an impartial observer and then throwing things at you as anti-Republican as they come. We expect that by now.

No, what struck me this morning as I read the second strip was the utter bizarreness of what Trudeau's trying to do. He's trying to blog in the comics page!! That's what blogs do, give a comment or referral, then a link to the original so the reader can check it out. Except that blogs generally aren't as dishonest as these two strips. Any blogger who consistently did this, suggest that he's linking you to an article of a particular political bent only to send you to one exactly the opposite, would quickly get a reputation for not playing fair, and his readership would vanish.

Besides, did no one tell Trudeau how difficult it would be for readers to follow his leads? For that first article by John Eisenhower, the URL was this:


Now you, dear reader, can just click on that and get the article. I had to enter it into IE's address box character by character. I've been working with computers at home and at work for over twenty-three years, and when I tried entering it I accidentally transposed the last two numbers and got an entirely different article. How many people, do you think, will make that or even worse mistakes and just give up, totally pissed off at Trudeau? A lot, I think.

Let's see, Great White, Hammerhead, Blue, Mako. . . . .

Update, 10/14: This is unbelieveable. Today's strip, in which Mark will offer the views of a "distinguished Republican legislator," contains one of the worst nightmare URLs I've ever seen:


Now, I've deliberately disabled it as a link so that you can have the fun of trying to enter that accurately into the address box. I've even made it a little easier for you as the text size on your screen is much bigger than the font used in the newspaper. Go ahead! Try it! (Cutting and pasting not allowed. That's cheating.)

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