Tag Archives: SNL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No, Everything Is Really Not Going To Be Alright

Image result for turkmenbashi statue            After president-elect Donald Trump’s 10-15 minute scheduled get-to-know-you with lame-duck president Barack Obama ran an hour and a half, too many of my friends who ought to know better contacted me with some variant of “maybe everything really is going to be OK after all.”

No. It really isn’t.

SNL’s Dave Chappelle says he’s “going to give Trump a chance.”

We should not.

Trump’s wide-eyed expression as he sucked in his new DC digs, pathetically reminiscent of the stupefied expressions of Bolshevik revolutionists wandering the Winter Palace, brought it home: the barbarians are at the gate.

Do not be fooled by what the media is attempting to present as a smooth transition of power, a quirky one to be sure, but generally falling within American political tradition. Do not believe Trump’s condescending tweet damning liberal protesters with faint praise. “President Trump” cannot end well.

Remember how, the morning of the election, the New York Times gave Trump a 15% chance of winning? Given that I’ve been saying The Donald had an excellent chance of winning for many months, maybe you should be scared when I tell you what I think there’s really a 15% chance of: another presidential election in four years.

Here’s how I think the early years of the Trump Administration will play out, and why.

Before we get started, forget impeachment. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the chances of Republicans impeaching a Republican president are pretty much zero.

Second, forget constitutional checks and balances. Weimar Germany had a lovely constitution, in many ways better than ours, but constitutions are mere paper unless they’re enforced by people. Current examples: Guantánamo, immigration prisons, drone assassinations and secret black site CIA prisons are all brazenly unconstitutional. If Trump and his henchmen want to trash legal and political precedent, nothing institutional will stop them.

Finally, Democrats who place their hope in recapturing Congress in two years need to get real. There aren’t enough available red seats for that to happen in 2018. If anything, they’ll probably lose even more ground. Trumpism is here to stay, for at least four years.

I use the method used by some authors to write character-based novels

in order to game out presidential administrations. Rather than outline the plot in advance, these novelists develop characters, throw them into a situation, and watch what they do.

As with those novels, it isn’t hard to predict how a president and his closest advisers will respond when faced with a given political development. All you have to do is consider their personalities, resumes and policy preferences.

Looking at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cabinet, which included a dentist as secretary of energy and an anti-environmentalist as secretary of the interior, it was obvious that the US government wouldn’t lift a finger to slow down the raping of the planet. While invasion of Iraq wasn’t exactly predestined, it came as little surprise that a Bush Administration full of neoconservatives who had called for the invasion of Iraq saw the 9/11 attacks as a reason/excuse for what they wanted to do all along.

It’s already clear that Donald Trump’s cabinet and closest advisers will come from the fringes of the paranoid far right. Among the highlights:

Joe Arpaio, the racist 84-year-old torture sheriff fired by Arizona voters, has been shortlisted as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Ben Carson, being considered to head the education department, doesn’t believe in evolution.

Chris Christie, currently facing criminal charges over Bridgegate, is up for attorney general; so is Rudy Giuliani, a fascist who wants to force Muslims to wear electronic monitoring tags or bracelets so the government can track their whereabouts. (What, no crescent moon patch?)

Then there’s possible Secretary of State Newt Gingrich, who wants to deport Muslims who believe in Sharia law, and Interior Secretary Sarah Palin, who thinks shooting wolves from a helicopter is sporting fun.

I’ve examined all the lists of cabinet prospects. Not a liberal or a leftist among them. No centrists either. At best, we’ll wind up with a few relatively sane right-wingers mixed into a majority of complete lunatics.

These, headed by the delightfully clearheaded and thoughtful Donald Trump, are the characters of our story.

Now add the situation. Imagine 6 or 12 or 18 months from now, when these characters face the inevitable political crisis: terrorist attack. Natural disaster. Economic meltdown. Race riot. Nuclear crisis.

These aren’t personalities predisposed to respond to these challenges with introspection or compromise. Beginning with Trump himself, these are people with a cop mentality who, like a hammer, see everything as a nail to be pounded into submission.

Bear in mind, they’ll be 6 to 12 to 18 months inside the Washington Beltway bubble. Trump’s canny campaign instincts, his intuitive understanding of populist anger that got him elected, will have been dulled by lack of interaction with the public. Moreover, Team Trump will be 6 to 12 to 18 months into an unprecedented period of constant left-wing criticism and street protest. Think Richard Nixon: they’ll be deep inside a bunker mentality.

Everyone in the cabinet room will favor moves to curtail civil liberties: tracking and cracking down on leftists, preventative detentions, new police forces to protect the state and ferret out illegal immigrants and those who hide them, the use of drones to kill Americans on American soil (something Obama said was OK), even more abusive NSA surveillance.

In my book “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” I described the president-elect as “an accidental authoritarian.” He thinks of himself as a patriot, a good man. He hasn’t been planning to lead a plot against America.

Trump’s fascism will come about naturally, caused by the perfect storm of his ego, his CEO mentality, the politics and personalities of the men and women with whom he is surrounding himself, and a set of developments that are all but inevitable.

Canceling the next election? For these characters, it will be an easy call.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Support independent political cartooning and writing — support Ted on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Yorker is Bad for Cartooning

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When you tell people you’re a cartoonist, one of the first things they ask you is whether you’ve ever had a cartoon published in The New Yorker. I don’t blame them. Everyone “knows” that running in the same pages that showcase(d) Addams and Chast proves you’re one of the best.

The marketing hype behind New Yorker cartoonist and cartoon editor Bob Mankoff’s new memoir — featuring something I really am jealous about, a “60 Minutes” interview — further cements the magazine’s reputation as cartooning’s Olympus.

“For nearly 90 years, the place to go for sophisticated, often cutting-edge humor has been The New Yorker magazine,” says Morley Safer.

As is often the case, what everyone knows is not true.

Here’s a challenge I frequently give to New Yorker cartoon proponents. Choose any issue. Read through the cartoons. How many are really good? You’ll be surprised at how few you find. But don’t feel bad. Like the idea that the U.S. is a force for good in the world, and the assumption that SNL was ever funny, the “New Yorker­ ­cartoons are sophisticated and smart” meme has been around so long that no one questions it.

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From the psychiatrist’s couch to the sexless couple’s living room to the junior executive’s summons of his secretary via intercom, New Yorker cartoons are consistently bland, militantly middlebrow, and mind-numbingly repetitive decade after decade.

Which is fine.

What is not fine is not seeing fluff for the crap that it is.

The New Yorker is terrible for cartooning because it prints a lot of awful cartoons, and uses its reputation in order to elevate terrible work as the profession’s platinum standard.

They pay pretty well. Which prompts too many talented artists, who under a better economic and media model would produce interesting, intelligent, great cartoons (and did so, in the alternative weekly newspapers of the 1990s, for example), to pull their satiric punches and stifle their creativity. Of course, not every cartoonist follows the siren call to Mankoff’s office in the Condé Nast building. It is possible to make a living selling cartoons to other venues. I do. Still, the New Yorker casts a long shadow, silently asking a question one fears is heard by art directors everywhere: If you’re so smart and so funny and so talented, why aren’t you in The New Yorker?

Mankoff and his predecessors have created a bizarro meritocracy in reverse: bad is not merely good-enough, but the crème-de-la-crème. It’s like singling out the slowest runners in a race and awarding them prizes and endorsements. Some runners, devoted to excellence and the love of competition, will keep running as fast as they can. But fans will wonder why they don’t wise up.

What makes a cartoon good/funny? Originality, relevance, insight, audacity and random weirdness. (There are other factors, which I’ll remember after a minute after it’s too late.)

Originality in both substance and form, and in both writing and drawing, is the most important component of a great cartoon. It is rare to find. Cartooning is a highly incestuous art form; most practitioners slavishly copy or synthesize the work of their forebears. Editors and award committees (composed of editors) have short memories and no historical knowledge, which feeds lazy cartoonists’ temptation to present initially brilliant, but now hackneyed and recycled, ideas as their own. Other cartoonists’ punch lines, structural constructions, even their drawing styles, are routinely stolen wholesale; alas, media gatekeepers never have a clue. All too often, the plagiarists collect plaudits while the victims of their grand larceny of intellectual property die sad and alone.

Well, maybe not sad or alone. But annoyed over beer.

            Give The New Yorker its due: since it reacts to trends and news in politics and culture, the magazine’s funniest cartoons can be relevant. Sadly, their single-panel gags say less than Jerry Seinfeld’s jokes about nothing. At best, name-checking Lady Gaga or hat-tipping Instagram elicits a knowing ha ha, they read the same stuff I do (i.e. The New York Times).

Mankoff’s book takes its title from the line of perhaps his greatest hit: “How about never — is never good for you?” This is an “nth degree” concept. What happens if the back-and-forth busy people often experience when they’re trying to set a rendezvous achieves its ultimate, most extreme conclusion? It also showcases anxiety and insecurity among the aspirational bourgeoisie, the not-so-secret sauce of New Yorker humor, for nearly a century. But what does Mankoff’s cartoon say? What does it mean?

A cartoon doesn’t have to be political to matter. “The Far Side” wasn’t political, but most of Larsen’s work reveals something about human nature to which we hadn’t previously given much thought. To be funny, a cartoon must rise above it’s-funny-cuz-it’s-true tautology. Mankoff’s “never” toon does not. Nor does the magazine’s famous “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” piece, drawn by Peter Steiner in 1993 (though Matt Petronzio’s post-Snowden update does).

If you can credibly reply “so what?” to a cartoon, odds are it’s not worth your time.

A great cartoon is funny because it’s dangerous.

A 19th century relic of the degrading “shape ups” depicted in the film “The Bicycle Thief,” The New Yorker‘s submission policy is a system — intentional or not, no one knows — that filters out originality and rewards a schlocky “throw a lot of shit at the wall and see if anything sticks” approach to cartooning. Every Wednesday morning, Mankoff holds court, looking over submissions of cartoonists who must present themselves in person rather than, say, email or fax their work. Because submissions must be fully drawn and the odds of acceptance increase with the number of cartoons presented, New Yorker artists deploy dashed-off, sketchy drawing styles that haven’t changed much since the 1930s.

Editors at other publications work with professional cartoonists they trust to consistently deliver high-quality cartoons, and help them hone one or two rough sketches to a bright sheen. The results are almost always better than anything that runs in The New Yorker — yet “60 Minutes” doesn’t notice.

“How much do the cartoonists make? Editor [David] Remnick will only say: nobody’s becoming a millionaire,” Safer says in the “60 Minutes” piece.

Well, Mankoff did. But that’s another story for another time.

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