Whenever someone mentions the comic strip Doonesbury to me - and that's not very often - it seems to come in the form of a complaint.
Some folks feel political satire has no place on the comics page, especially if it's satire they disagree with.
I frankly have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. The viewpoints of the comic strips we publish are pretty diverse, and I see no reason why the spectrum can't include political satire. Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau elicits a chuckle now and then, and that's the best I hope for from a comic strip. Plus, Doonesbury is something of a well-established tradition on comics pages around the country, as are the other strips you see in the Triplicate.
Last week, however, I felt the Doonesbury story line crossed into bad
taste. My decision to publish an alternative set of old strips led to -
you guessed it - complaints. And even though this whole issue kind of
snuck up on me (the comics pages generally being on auto-pilot), the one
complaint that resonated was that I didn't explain my action to readers
It dealt with a new Texas law that requires women requesting an
abortion to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound. While performing the
ultrasound, abortion providers must play the sounds of the fetal
heartbeat and show and describe the images.
Trudeau, predictably, finds the law inappropriately invasive. In the
strip, a young woman is ushered into a "shaming room" where "a
middle-aged male state legislator will be with you shortly." Ultimately a
doctor says he'll now perform the ultrasound with a "shaming wand" and
adds, "By the authority vested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."
Say what you will about the issues at play here, in my mind that goes
too far for a comic strip. Of the 1,400 newspapers that carry
Doonesbury, about 50 others agreed.
The Oregonian told its readers (in advance, to its credit) that it
wasn't printing last week's storyline because it "went over the line of
good taste and humor andhellip; using graphic language and images inappropriate
for a comics page."
Other newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, moved the strip to
the editorial page. Over the years, some newspapers have regularly
printed Doonesbury on the editorial page, sometimes pairing it with
Mallard Fillmore. The latter strip features a politically conservative
duck who works at a TV station in Washington, D.C.
If only Mallard Fillmore were an apt political alternative to
Doonesbury! Instead, it seldom plies the waters of satirical humor.
Instead, it tends to bluntly deliver policy statements. The fact that
they emanate from a cartoon character doesn't make them political
That's the problem with a lot of editorial cartoonists, whose work we
do display on the opinion page. It's not enough to be an artist with an
opinion. A good editorial cartoon provides an intelligent twist andndash; a
unique take on an issue that provides a chuckle at least, an epiphany at
Sometimes, I find that the best editorial cartoons are ones I don't
agree with. Done right, political satire on the comics page or the
opinion page can actually help bring us together, whatever our views.
That is its great value.