Friday, December 5, 2008

The Tragedy Behind the Tragedy

Every week, more accounts of terminated editorial cartoonists in The Daily Cartoonist. Newspapers are under pressure, and are cutting wherever they can.

What I can't understand is why the cartoonists haven't organized to protect the institution. (If they have, I've missed it.)

I'd have a web site up or blog site, and I'd be in touch with all the other pink slipped artists. Every day, a new cartoon would remind the world what we provide, and my media connections would come in handy for organizing stories about the site.

Personally, I don't even like "political cartoons" particularly much, or politics. There is something a little unseemly about making your living drawing grotesque caricatures of people behaving in contrived and over-simplified ways, though the most skillful of the genre rise to higher achievements.

Still, this is an art and media form that included the young Dr. Seuss, that broke corrupt politicians and invented words like "gerrymander."

These artists can dish it out, but when it comes to their own affairs, they whimper and start a new career. There is no organized roar of rebellion to inspire public protests against the annexation of editorial cartoon space, so people adjust. They are more loyal to the mediocre "funnies" that are also being cut back.

I once thought I'd become a political cartoonist when I grew up, but I went in different directions. I'm glad of that now, because the trade's spinelessness in the face of adversity does little to justify their continued support. On a personal level, I empathize and feel the anguish. On a broad level, I am dismayed by the quiet submission of the inheritors of a national tradition, who show every sign of being neutered, cubicle-culture cripples, enslaved to the 401K world many of us have never known.

Many are cleverly muzzled by buy-out packages, showing that publishers are aware of the risk of unrestrained cartoonists documenting their plight.

The problem is, how good can they be if they're barely missed? How savage if they act docile? How politically astute if they cannot document the destruction of an American cultural institution?