Saturday, August 13, 2016

Comics, Comic Con and Political Satire: A path to enlightened discourse?

Going to the San Diego Comic-Con is more about superheroes, intergalactic warfare and fantasy rather than snarkiness about day-to-day political partisanship. But the comic phenomenon is generally a concern about morality. About how we understand good and evil. Perhaps when good triumphs over evil.
Sometimes we are so embroiled in politically partisan issues that we lose sight of what is actually good and evil and simply end up saying ‘boo for your side, hooray for my side.’ Knee jerk emotionalism occasionally overtakes a more even-handed rational analysis.

Perhaps a comic book and satire can poke us enough to stop and consider where the arguments are more telling, incisive and revealing about each side’s position. 

When I was growing up, I began a collection of EC comics (and later its successor, Mad Magazine).  Bill Gaines took on the moral facade of the day - 1950s - and suffered the consequences of censorship.  Today, Gaines' approach would be de rigeur at the Con.

An excerpt from his Senate testimony goes to the heart of taste versus morality:

Senator Estes Kefauver:    Here is your May 22 issue .  .  .  .   This seems to be a man with a bloody axe holding a woman's head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that is in good taste?

Gaines:    Yes sir, I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it, and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

Kefauver: You have blood coming out of her mouth.

Gaines:    A little.

Kefauver: Here is blood on the axe. I think most adults are shocked by that.  


Yes, shocking can be a way to loosen up one’s preconceptions. Admittedly, sometimes the shocking is gratuitous and without merit.  But, the old-school comic book shock generally ended as a morality tale.  Bible stories and tales from Hans Christian Andersen are equally shocking - but with a point: To teach about good and evil.  This is no more shocking than listening to a hellfire and brimstone sermon.

The scariest movie I saw as a child was The Wizard of Oz.  Now I can ride the roller coaster of the imagination watching films like Prometheus, The Avengers and the Suicide Squad

Back in the 18th century, before movies, there were still comic-like features advocating such good things as beer and evil things as gin.  William Hogarth's well-crafted satirical images helped sway public policy against gin.  The woman in the center of Gin Lane (1751) The woman at the front of Gin Lane, is letting her baby fall to its death, reminding the readers of the day of Judith Dufour  who sold her baby's clothes to get money for gin. One can find roots of political satire in the plays of Aristophanes in Ancient Greece.

Today, we can find a number of newspapers that feature political satire. For example, one recent counterpoint at the San Diego Union Tribune (July 25, 2015) juxtaposed left-wing and Chicano perspective of Lalo Alcaraz (Cucaracha) with that of Bruce Tinsley  (MallardFillmore).

Alcaraz’s riff played on President Obama’s remarks at the funeral in Dallas for slain police officers on July 12, 2016. The Washington Post awarded the President 3 Pinocchios again (previously, he was awarded the same for his exaggeration about it being easier to buy guns than vegetables). Was Alcaraz satirizing the President as well? Perhaps.

Tinsley’s comic takes FBI Director Jim Comey’s and Donald Trump’s comments about Hillary Clinton and puts it into the cheering audience at the Democratic Convention. Clearly, satire.

Satire is, by definition, offensive. It is meant to make us feel uncomfortable. It is meant to make us scratch our heads, think, do a double-take, and then think again.
Maajid Nawaz

If you're going to get into social criticism with absurdity and satire, you can't be politically correct when you do that.
John Cusack

Sometimes, a weblog will be dedicated to political satire – like the telling of President Obama’s anticipated legacy (My Legacy in the White House). What was he really thinking?

The problem with political satire is that it requires the audience to be sufficiently educated with the actual beliefs/statements/actions of those being satirized. And, to the extent that the general public is anesthetized by left-wing or a right-wing media, they might simply fail to get the funny aspect.

One superb example worth mentioning is a point-counterpoint presented on the Bill Maher television show. He had Alexandra Pelosi present a wicked example of Republic voters in Mississippi commenting on Obamacare AND an equally wicked example of New York City welfare recipients, some apparently freeloaders, living up to the stereotype of those who abuse this entitlement. Embedded in both videos are those people who are mocked with less reason. Still, the conversation about left and right can profit by confrontation by this wider journalistic lens. 

Can you watch both episodes and laugh or are you hamstrung by your biases?
But what about the panel presentations at Comic Con?  Are there focused presentations about today's bad public policies or are those exactly what the attendee wishes to escape from?  If I were going to the Con in 2012, I'd check out Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves on Trial:  The Forensic Psychiatry of the Dead, Undead and the Unlucky.  But political satire?  I skimmed the schedule of activities and panels and found one that just might fit. Maybe: Serious Pictures:  Comics and Journalism in a New Era. 

For 2016, there was Snoopy for President: Politics in Peanuts (Explore the world of politics through Charles Schulz).

At Comic Con, sometimes there are hints of political satire, but it is often embedded in cartoonists resume (mostly on the left), e.g.  Jen Sorensen  or Berkeley Breathed.

So, while there are possibilities to lift political argument out of virulent attack commentary through satire, we are rarely treated to such trenchant discourse.

It seems like we are locked into the rewards of opposition research – bickering and character assassination.

A dim prospect for improving the world we live in.


  1. I think there is a lot more in between good and evil, don't you think? It all depends on the reasons behind doing something perceived as 'evil.' I like the comic interest, but disagree with a black or white idea of good and 'bad.'

    1. When it comes to children getting their hands on things such and drugs or guns, I think it's the parents fault. When raising a child as a parent, one needs to be responsible for their child's behavior and actions. As well as it believing that the parent needs to let their child know how bad and addictive things like this can become. Therefore, if a child gets accused of having hands on experience with such, it is not just his/her fault. The child doesn't know any better than to have fun and to look "cool" (we've all been there), the parents should have engraved bad vs. good ideals.

    2. I agree with your statement to a point, it's definitely the parents job to look after their children and educate them on whats "good" or "bad". The only problem is "good" and "bad" can be subjective, so what if you view the parent's idea of good as bad and vice-versa. What happens then?

  2. Being living in different countries (US and Ukraine) I was able to see differences in political views of those countries. I find that political humor of Western Europe and United States is more rigid in nature, satirical. Can be related to a longer process of democratization and developed/mature views of how democracy can work, as well as more progressive public opinion. Political Humor of Eastern Europe is more softer and has slightly ironic nature, this may be due to the relative youth of the individual countries as independent actors on the international political scene (post-Soviet countries). Additionally, decades long comunists restrictions on any political freedoms has developed constrained political consciousness and culture. Using political satire, irony and other forms of political humor provides an objective view of current political realities and assessment of the policies of the government in general.

    Kateryna Bardzak

    1. I absolutely agree that satire in different countries vary. Growing up across America and in Western Europe, I find western satire to be harsher and more rigid as well. John Cusack's quote specifically stood out to me in this blog "If you're going to get into social criticism with absurdity and satire, you can't be politically correct when you do that.” I think his words stand true (in Western culture as least) that within social criticism there is no room to be apologetic and politically correct.

      Personally I find French satire to be specifically interesting and honest, even when regarding American politics. One of my French Professors would always remind me that "satire is holy to the French, just like cheese." There is a long standing history of French satire dating back to before Napoleon and to the criticism of the monarchies. Combine that with the mass of political affiliations within the country, the flaunting of government officials scandal driven relationships, and the nonchalant rule breaking top officials, and you have yourself some entertaining social criticism that is not in the least apologetic. (Trust me, Chicago politicians have nothing on the French). There is so much diversity and so many political parties in France, that the French (very much like Americans) have an acceptable environment that allows for publishing of honest satire.

      However, I am not convinced that all cultures around the world currently have this atmosphere. Kateryna’s comments on Eastern Europe having a “softer” approach, remind me of what I found to be true in Israel. I spent months traveling within Israel, yet something I found during my entire time in the country is that there is a specific “acceptance” on commentary around current events in the region. If you hop online you will find hundreds of articles criticizing the Israel government - specially in regards to the Palestine conflict and it’s handling over Jerusalem, yet, I witnessed very little of this critique within the country itself. In reference to the old school comic book shock Professor Nalven remarked, “Yes, shocking can be a way to loosen up one’s preconceptions.” I think this stood true to in France, but I think Israel (and Eastern Europe) are still developing this aspect.

      -Emma Broughton

  3. I agree that parents are responsible to revise what their children are looking at, in this case these satire comics, but I also disagree from the perspective that is their fault 100% that their kids have access to this type
    of information. It's hard for a parent to try to remove
    certain bad influences from reaching their children's eyes if this influences are been advertised and practically forced in to the younger generations.
    Instead of blaming the parents we should try to remove this evil examples and evil influences from this famous and popular comics, and comic con events that are so close to our kids and may influence their idea of bad and good.

    -Marie Guerrero

  4. In my opinion this article has nothing to with good vs. evil, republican vs. democrat, bad parenting or gun control. The article in itself is satirical and proves the point that "if the audience isn't sufficiently educated" the efforts are wasted and the funny aspect is overlooked all together.

    Many of the comments made it abundantly clear that readers overlooked the satirical aspect of the article and picked one of the numerous "trigger words" that resonated with them to discuss.

    Such is the issue with modern main stream media. Nowadays readers who aren't "sufficiently educated" can not distinguish legitimate news stories from biased articles which have a different agenda and attempt to sway public opinion. Simply because a piece of information comes from a major three letter network it is now perceived as being 100 percent factual and true.

    Lindsay C

  5. I believe the article is recommending us seeing this political problems from another perspective not just the factual serious way the media presents us. Is saying that by seeing it from a more cheerful and satirical way we can be able to see more sides not just the good and the bad, instead we can see both sides and see their own good and bad that both have.

  6. I think this blog article is itself a form of political expression, what do I mean by that? The single fact that the blog talks and presents all this comics talking about political satire and mentioning official presidents and candidates names and candidates seems to me like a political expression, although it is not expressing a specific political party bias it has a different purpose. This article is trying to help us think outside the box, when it comes to politics and expression we ought to find the best way to reach certain population so it is only fair that those who root for comics and comic con express themselves the best way they can.. through their art. This article to me seems to be more about expression and opening our minds to realize the different ways there is to share our thoughts and biases.

    Marilu Martinez

  7. I think the reason why satire in general is on decline is because of the absurd and exaggerated rumors where people don't know what might be a real and a hoax. As mention on the blog: "satire requires the audience to be sufficiently educated with the actual beliefs/statements/actions of those being satirized", meaning that we need to know beforehand info about the person we are "satirizing". But with modern technology where info can be manipulated and access anywhere, most populace have information that are untrue or they are not interested in a particular topic, therefore choosing not to dig deeper.
    I think political satire, and satire in general, are great. I love Southpark, and that's a great example of satire, it's still funny even though most of the celebrities that are guests are people i don't know. That doesn't change the fact that the way of delivering the punchline and the clear exaggeration points toward it being a joke, so nobody is butthurt, unlike when using it in politics, where right or left wing party would get butthurt and miss the point of the joke.

  8. SouthPark is a great example of satire that works. Even when the program don't put background details on their particular topic, people still get the exaggeration and that it's just a joke. However when it comes to politics, people get too sensitive. Political satire fail to put their point, the joke, across because people in either right or left wing party would put up their bias and p[prejudice before getting to the point of the joke, making it unfunny for them and instead becomes an offensive expression.
    Appreciate the satire, put less thought into it and have a good laugh.

    Jerico Feranco

  9. The way people percieve good vs. evil is different for every single person. Some people might think that pitbulls are just born bad and are an evil dog to own while others like myself know that pitbulls are actually a beautiful and kind breed of dog. It is the owner that makes them violent. So everyone has their own opinion on what they think is evil or what they think is good.

    Dax Paviol

  10. There's a time and place for everything whether the topic is religion, politics, heroes, and villains. As an example, this blog is a perfect place for opinions and discussions. However, not everyone shares that notion. Hence, satire can be displayed with no regard through media outlets and/or can be subtle hints within the walls of Comic-Con. Nonetheless, satire is placed to grab attention either to reinforce a set opinion or to cause a second guess to an opinion. Is it good or bad? That depends on who it offends.


  11. in my opinion, I feel people can be to sensitive when it comes to things they don't agree on or just don't understand, which makes them label almost everything good or bad. A good majority of things in comic con are not bad, they might be weird but it's not evil. People only tend to see the bad things in the world and assume anything in contact with it evil and thats not always the case. That's just my opinion.

  12. Comics, and political satire are ways that knowledgeable artists can "poke fun" at current issues in society. I do believe that it is another form of expression, although it does take previous knowledge about the issue to understand. I think satire helps deliver on topics that may be hard to speak on, as they can push the envelope in a way that isn't as direct or obvious. And I think satire is convenient, short, and a quick way to get a point across, rather than listening to a broadcast. I did enjoy this blog and appreciate all of the quick links.

  13. I think fantasy in general is a good tool in exposing what is good and evil. It can show the extremes and the duality of both. It can show the consequences of being a good person and a bad. The only flaw I see in the method of using fantasy in relaying what good and bad is, is the writers idea on what good and bad is. Japanese people at the time of world war II might see the bombing on Hiroshima as a devastating event, however, the people who did it might think of it as good. Fantasy is very influential

    Joseph Patrick Garcia

  14. Where does the vigilante stand between the battle of good vs. evil ? It is not always so black and white. Understanding the characters and what they represent in each comic allows us on choose which side to root for and which to boo for.

    Knowing both political views and there reasoning allows us to understand the whole picture. It is crucial to understand the opponents views and logic along with your running party to comprehend political satire.

  15. I Believe that us humans are an argumentative Species therefore we are always searching for validation in our beliefs and ideaologies. Political satire has proven to be a very effective way of getting our point across while Simultaneously shooting down our counter argument. however I do agree that satire is a slippery slope. As it allows for those in position of persuasive power to tarnish an individual or group of people promoting a proposition that may not be fully incorrect. We as partakers of a conversation or debate must recognize when to respectfully contrast the opposition without completely disgracing the others on frivolous accounts. With that being said, I think that socio political conversations are great but hey have no part in being brought up at comic con, a place for wonder and unprovoking leisure. I also believe that we as a people must overcome the immaturity displayed by our political leaders who are quick to smear and dishonor their fellow opponents.


Please share your thoughts with a kind intent