Tweeting new frontiers in political cartooning

Post by Mike Klassen in


Social media + humour = profoundly powerful political message – see video

What's funny is pretty subjective at times, but an early appreciation of Mad Magazine in my youth groomed me for a lifelong attraction to cerebral & even low humour. National Lampoon when it was written by P. J. O'Rourke, Michael O'Donoghue, and John Hughes was just a little before my time, but I still sought out old issues. Saturday Night Live from '75 - '80 bred my early heroes like Bill Murray and John Belushi. I still consider Second City Television the great Canadian cultural contribution of our age.

We've dabbled here in a little political cartooning, especially in some of our more creative Photoshop work. There's no question we wouldn't continue writing if it wasn't at times a lot of fun. When it comes to local political commentary though, there are few who consistently get a good laugh out of me like a Monty Python sketch, or some of Larry David or Woody Allen's more sublime work.

Not all subjects deserve comic treatment, but when it comes to Vision Vancouver's more glaring expenses, the video above prepared by our underworked IT department has just the right amount of humour.

For a short time during the last term of the provincial government – May 2005-2009 – there came on the blogging scene for a short time an anonymous blog called BC Poly Blog. It disappeared as quickly as it arrived, running only from April to October 2006. For political hacks it was a breath of fresh air, as the blogosphere in B.C. was repressively left wing during those times, and I don't recall anything on the centre-right worth reading on the subject of B.C. politics.

There isn't much I remember from BC Poly Blog except that the BCTF tried to sue Google to find out the identity of this Blogspot writer (the BCTF apparently have no sense of humour), and I also remember a particular post that cracked me up. It was titled, "Jesus to Gregor: You Do Not Have a Hope in Hell of Being Re-elected!" It pictured the Son of God walking beside the budding NDPer who left Cortes Island to take up work as a Vancouver MLA.

Was it irreverent and take the Lord's name in vain? Yeah, probably. It would explain the comments at the end. I didn't pay much attention to the future Mayor of Vancouver back then. After he beat (the now sorely missed) Virginia Greene for the seat in Vancouver-Fairview, most just stood back to see if the new juice-making face of the NDP would amount to anything.

I don't need to repeat the writer's point from that post. Just go ahead and read it, and read the link to what commentator Keith Baldrey said about Robertson back in '06. Gregor built his reputation for ineffectiveness years ago, and unfortunately most of us only began to notice last summer.

I bring this all up to suggest that the new frontier of political cartooning is on the internet. Blogs, and now Twitter, have the capacity to amuse audiences in a way no one could have predicted. We regularly get our chuckles from commenter Glissando Remmy, affectionately known as Glissy. I don't know who Monsieur Remmy is, and I don't really need to.

But I know that eventually he'll post up some thoughts in a comment here or elsewhere that triggers a sigh of relief from me – aha! someone else gets that there's something amiss in Vancouver City Hall today.

Now on Twitter a new voice. The tweets are dipped in irony. You might think they're actually coming from Hizzoner himself, but @GregorsGreenBk is only a reasonable facsimile of our hapless mayor. We don't know who @GregorsGreenBk is, and given the fact that anonymity is used for cowardly personal attacks doesn't escape me.

We've said before that anonymous comments are too often used an excuse to run public figures down. Just ask Gordon Campbell what he thinks of comments on The Province, Vancouver Sun or Globe and Mail websites. The unbridled anger we often read there is not exactly the most enlightened commentary on the Interwebs. It makes us appreciate our commenters here even more.

Simply put @GregorsGreenBk gets a pass from me because the author is clever, and thankfully not mean-spirited. I recommend adding GGB to your Twitter follows.

Political satire is one of the great privileges of our society. If we were in many other countries the goons would have long since kicked our door down, and haul us off to the Gulag for our unfavourable views on City Hall.

A few years ago I read that "political correctness has crippled the left's sense of humour." I surmised that it was a sense of humour that really set apart political foes. That quote came from columnist John Birmingham of the Sydney Morning Herald in a story he wrote about the state of humour, citing the work of P.J. O'Rourke, the former National Lampoon scribe.

He writes:

It's a dangerous business, writing humour. Literally, in some places, the ruling brutocrats will have you swinging by your thumbs for the mildest of knock-knock jokes at their expense. Figuratively, in others, where hecklers, critics and hungry defamation lawyers are waiting to pounce. I guess it's not surprising that so many stand-ups are bipolar.

Birmingham echoes my "Gulag" comment above. He tells us that political humour's edge is indispensible, making reference to the best work of O'Rourke, who was a one-time college campus lefty who became a Ronald Reagan Republican: his day O'Rourke was satire's Marco Polo, or maybe Erik the Red, getting in a little Viking-style rhetorical rape and pillage as he explored the outer reaches of what was then known to be funny.

The former international affairs editor of Rolling Stone magazine, who had been a garden-variety campus leftie in the late 1960s, had two great tricks. He managed to synthesise a right-wing, almost Hobbesian, political philosophy - "neither conservatives nor humorists believe man is good. But left-wingers do" - with a libertarian paradigm of personal freedom taken to excess, which was a core faith of the 1960s counterculture and the comedic engine of his seminal 1979 article in National Lampoon entitled How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink.

The first paragraph is a masterwork of irresponsible thought crime: "When it comes to taking chances, some people like to play poker or shoot dice; other people prefer to parachute jump, go rhino hunting. or climb ice floes, while still others engage in crime or marriage. But I like to get drunk and drive like a fool. Name me, if you can, a better feeling than the one you get when you're half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke up your nose and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over, while you're going a hundred miles an hour down a suburban side street. You'd have to watch the entire Mexican air force crash-land in a liquid petroleum gas storage facility to match this kind of thrill."

There are not many who've read those lines about 'not spilling your drink' or the Mexican air force who've ever forgotten them. Boy, are they politically incorrect, and scathingly funny for a lot of readers.

Which brings me back to Gregor Robertson's encounter with Jesus Christ back in 2006, as recounted on BC Poly Blog:

"Then the most amazing thing happened," our source exclaimed, wide eyed. "Gregor started sobbing and Jesus stopped in his tracks, sighed, and made his way back to our sad MLA. JC says, 'My son, it feels like you have been slapped in the face, does it not?', and Gregor makes this kind of whimpering 'Yes' sound. Jesus then says, you need to remember Matthew 5:38-42 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'"

From all accounts, Gregor was renewed with a sense of overwhelming confidence and true to the Lord's scripture he turned his head away in an exaggerated manner to show JC that he was taking His words to heart.

"Then Jesus sucker punched him", our source concluded. "Like I said, best thing I ever saw or heard."

Is it funny? That's for you to decide. But they say when they start laughing at you in politics, it's time to move back into private life.

- post by Mike


Have you given up writing about urban issues?

@Mike you have outdone yourself....
thanks for the new links...hours of reading pleasure...and who knows what little gems might pop up...brilliant!!

Boo, I think you're making Mike's point about the left's humour challenges.

I think your numbers are off:

$850,00O was the pre-Olympic office reno numbers.

We must not forget the additonal $260,000 that came along after the Olympics......

The Vision Vancouver debt clock is ticking.....upwards.....

"...when they start mocking you in politics, it's time to move back into private life." Who the heck said that? If you can't handle being mocked, you shouldn't be in politics.

great catch Max...

Actually, it's 'laughing at you' - mockery comes with the territory.

Ok Frank. 'The left' lol.

Hmm. I didn't really see much humour or profound political messages in that video. Did I miss something? I'm a fan of Jon Stewart and Colbert, so, I get the ironic kind of political humour that you were maybe aiming for, but, that was more of a slideshow with some facts and music.

But keep trying! Perhaps an iMovie class to make it more animated. Maybe throw in some sock puppets doing Gregor and Penny. That might make me chuckle.

I like it.

It is short and straight to the point.

The one thing I my have done (differently) is to mention programs or projects that were NOT funded by our tax dollars and of which we have lost, like the Children's Petting Zoo at Stanley Park, or the storage program for the homeless that First United runs, the summer programs for children etc.

Programs that are worthy of our dollars over those that have been spent for selfish indulgence.

While its not a requirement, I do tell family and friends that when they cross the suburban borders to visit me here in Vancouver, knowing the steps to the "chicken dance" can help navigate their way thru the city.

Check out!

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