Good news, everyone! I--
Oh, wait. I was holding my announcement upside-down: Bad news, everyone! The world is a brutal and uncaring place, cast randomly amidst a universe utterly ignorant to our meager existence! Everything's on fire, except the parts that are flooded. Politics seems to have dropped the facade that it was ever designed to help the electorate, everyone has a gun, and I think I heard that the new iPhone runs on a battery made of blood diamonds. I guess that new pope seems pretty cool, though. Hey, pope! Pope harder!
Facing oblivion, it's difficult not to feel powerless to inspire positive change (ProTip: that feeling comes from the fact that we are powerless to inspire positive change). What options are left for we, the apple-cheeked "Li'l Guy" whose limp grasp on our ideas of decency and fairness compel us to never stop vomiting in fear and anguish?
Satire. We get satire. Don't let the smooth taste fool you-- it's a potent means of improvised warfare against an occupying force (more potent: bombs). Bringing a pen to a sword fight is a crafty, empowering means of forcing attackers to become defenders. Some self-serious figure pulls shenanigans? Laugh in his face, and he then has to back up his position, instantly rendering him weaker by diverting his momentum.
Satire only goes in one direction, too: up. Author Finley Peter Dunne's definition of satire is my favorite: "My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." How should one determine the worthiness of a satirical target? Well, A) are they comfortable? and B) have they been afflicted? Great. Unleash hell.
Put another way, George Carlin's idea of comedy as a quest for justice is, I think, the most elegant, economical encapsulation of the medium, and serves as a perfect means of determining if something technically ranks as "comedy," instead of, say, "bullying". The idea being that the Big Guy is unbeatable in the long run, but if the Little Guy throws enough marbles in his path, the Big Guy at least won't walk away with an uncontested victory.
(Oh, hey: clicking on these images makes 'em bigger, if that's a thing you think you'd enjoy)
Political cartoons have a leg up on other methods of satirical dissent-- visual metaphor. Jonathan Swift's essay A Modest Proposal can establish and maintain a focused, cogent satirical argument with depth and dimension, but cartoons have the ability to render the object of their derision grotesque or foolish at a glance, to comedically extrapolate imagined motivations and consequences, and have that image come to serve as shorthand for how their audience will view a person, issue or event for future tussles.
For instance? For instance:
Napoleon did some serious conquering for a little while, and thanks to our modern declining educational standards and a popular political cartoon of his day, he will forever exist in our minds as a tiny, silly, angry man. He wasn't even all that short: home-garçon was 5'7", which was taller than the average height of the day. Sure, the overextension of his army, combined with a beatdown by most of the rest of Europe took care of his grander ambitions, but thanks to satire, he, and to a large degree, his legacy, are punchlines.
Pat Oliphant has a few advantages over most satirists:
1) He can draw better than anyone, ever.
2) He possesses a near-instant grasp of how a given topic is worthy of mockery, identifying it as a variation on a similar historical folly, motivated by outside interests, a complicated method of obfuscating a nasty outcome that will benefit few, ego masquerading as idealism, etc etc. He's been calling BS on these sorts of things for long enough that not much gets past him.
3) Harnessing the first two advantages, he is both willing and able to go beyond the usual eye-rolling, exasperated tone of "there they go again" clucks offered by many of his contemporaries and proceed to smash the Big Guys in the teeth with a pool ball, if only to wipe the smile off their faces.
There are plenty of evergreen Oliphant editorials, but there are far more amazingly illustrated works of his that reference people or events that have long since fallen out of our collective memory. From what I can tell by looking at his work throughout the 80s, Reagan pulled a lot of nonsense while I was busy learning to tie my shoes and which end of a dog to feed. I'll spotlight a bunch of these "lost" pieces in a future post (free of historical context, because we'll be focusing on how awesome Oliphant's art is). For now, more greatest hits.
We're in this together, y'all. Stay frosty.
Didja know? Pat Oliphant afflicts the comfortable to this very day, and you can take some cold comfort in his efforts here! Meanwhile, previous blog-based Oliphant lovefests can be found here and here.