My new collection of political cartoons and essays, Twilight of the Assholes, will be released by Fantagraphics in February. It is now available for pre-order on the Fantagraphics site, and several previews of the book have been posted on Flickr, Facebook, and Youtube. It's a good-looking book, if I may say so, the first of my books to be designed by an actual designer (Fantagraphics' Alexa Koennigs), and substantial, too--nearly 300 pages of hilarious cartoons and incisive essays undimmed by the passage of time. It also has an introduction by my favorite living political writer, Matt Taibbi, to whom I've referred my readers many times.
The official New York release for the book will be on February 17th, with a slideshow/reading at The Strand bookstore at 7:00 P.M., to be followed by beers at Burp Castle. It would make me look good if some people showed up.
Also I now have a Facebook page, for those of you who think that's a valuable way to spend your time.
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"Atmosphere of Hysteria" (ca. l997)
I'm sorry to say this is not a new cartoon drawn on the occasion of the shootings in Arizona; it dates back to the late '90s, and was drawn in response to I don't even remember which mass school/workplace/mall shooting. Sadly, it remains perenially relevant. It seems safe to predict that the same thing will happen this time around that happens every single time there's one of these semiautomatic slaughters; liberals will wonder aloud whether we shouldn't institute some sort of gun control and the NRA will say Nah and nothing will happen at all. Any lobby that can command and organize the fear of millions of dumb people is unbeatable. For a nation of cowards, guns are indispensable. Guns are a blankie for grownups who lie awake nights imagining the feared Negro/terrorist/black-ops government stormtrooper creeping in the window or kicking in the door. Hence the hysterical reaction when you gently suggest any modification to existing gun laws--try taking a child's blankie away sometime and watch what happens. (I certainly do not mean to imply here that all gun owners are cowards; many responsible, law-abiding Americans use them only to defend themselves against that most lethal of predators, the deer.)
It's not like I don't understand the fear behind this hysteria. My apartment in New York has been broken into twice in the last year, which is, of course, both enraging and scary. In the aftermath of these break-ins I have sometimes imagined buying a gun, but I recognize this for what it is; a pathetic wish-fulfillment fantasy. Yeah, next time I'll get 'em! I'll blow their fucking brains out as they crawl in the window! Then it occurs to me that I am imagining murdering someone over the theft of property I can pretty easily replace, and realize that I have temporarily lost my mind. (Plus I remind myself that the burglar went to the bother of replacing the screen that keeps my cat from getting out the window, and my heart softens toward him.) Unfortunately this state of mind is not temporary in some people; it's chronic, maintained and reinforced by everything they watch and hear and read. And it is on such pathetic impotent wish-fulfilment fantasies that the gun industry is built. Foreign audiences regard our violent thrillers and action films as fun escapist fantasies; they might be appalled to realize that Americans actually regard blowing people's heads open (in our folksy idiom, "kicking ass") as a practical solution to real-life problems. Hence not only our history of mass shootings and assassinations, but even more embarrassing examples of poor impulse control such as Iraq.
Not sure I can get on the bandwagon blaming this atrocity on the right-wing media. A perusal of the assailant's online "writings," such as they are, make it pretty obvious that he's suffering from something like paranoid schizophrenia: delusions of mind control, disordered thinking, etc. His fixation on the government's control of currency and grammar seem about as ideological as Col. Ripper's obsession with the purity of our bodily fluids. Latest word on the assailant, from one of his friends, is that he considered himself "a nihilist." To quote Walter Sobchak: "Nihilists! Fuck me. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."
And yet it has to be said that we've all been expecting something like this to happen for some time now, haven't we? And I can't help but notice it was, unsurprisingly, a Democratic politician who was shot. Some mainstream columnists are trying to sound "even-handed" by pretending there's some parity in violence and reckless rhetoric amopng left and right, but they're having to reach back forty years to find any good examples on the left. The obvious truth is that for the last few decades all the violent lunatics, and, more importantly, the demagogues advocating armed insurrection/assassination (in codes of varying coyness) have been on the right.
An especially unattractive sight is that of every media figure on the right, from local talk-show remoras to Twittering bitch queen Sarah Palin, all but ripping the ventilator tube out of Giffords' mouth and stuffing it into their own in order to make themselves look like the true victims of this shooting. So far the only journalist I've seen who's actually owned up to any indirect culpability at all is Matt Taibbi --a kind of conscientious self-examination entirely absent on the Right. (In fact one of the defining characteristics of the right is the lack of whatever area of the brain controls doubt, uncertainty, contradiction, ambivalence and second-guessing. For those guys, "nuance" basically = obliteration of whole identity and a slippery slope to sodomitic depravity, Atheism and treason.) I, too, was given pause, and can't help but wonder wherther in my own years of ranting didn't play some small marginal part in contributing a few minims of vitriol to the great roiling sea of caustic bile that constitutes The Discourse in America these days. I'm trying to rectify this in some of the more thoughtful essays I'm working on for my next book, including one about a Tea Party rally I went to (as an observer) on Tax Day last year. (For more on my ambivalent relationship to my own career as a polemicist, listen to the interview with me on this episode of Ben Walker's radio show "Too Much Information.")
Allow me to recommend to my readers a policy that has worked well for me in insulating me from the kind of shock, revulsion, shame and rage that used to prey upon me daily back when I was paying close attention to the news. Assume that stupidity and viciousness will inevitably prevail, that reason and decency will always be shouted down and stamped out. Of course no one will tone down their rhetoric; no new gun laws will be passed. Believe it or not, this will be a comfort. This way, no news item, no matter how ghastly or depressing, will ever some as a disappointment; it will only be further confirmation what you already know: the United States is an empire in decine, the Chinese are fascist asswipes, etc. Nietzsche said that the cruelest evil to fly out of Pandora's box was Hope.