Cartoons, cartoons, cartoons.... John Crowther's Cartoon Odyssey

I think of it as The Fool's Journey. I've been asked who the "fool" is. It's me, but in the classical sense of the court jester. Only the fool was allowed to tell the king of his follies. All cartoons are available as prints or originals, framed or unframed, through my website or e-mail. For mugs, t-shirts, and other products visit my gift shop at* (be sure to include the *).

Thursday, May 31, 2007

It Was All Greek To Hippocrates

It astonishes me the way the stuff of everyday life transforms itself into cartoons. One of my dogs was seriously sick this past week requiring that he be rushed to the vet. On my way out the door afterward I glanced at the prescription for something I was to buy over the counter at the pharmacy. The writing was all but illegible. The doctor was, of course, apologetic, and carefully, letter by letter, straightened things out. "And to think," he sad ruefully, "I was really trying hard to write it so it could be read." He's a nice man, and a good veteranarian, but I couldn't help thinking to myself, "yeah, and he's also trying hard to cure my dog." P.S. The dog's going to be fine.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Empirical Evidence

You can't fool me with all this talk about how the earth is round. I've seen for myself that it's flat. I once journeyed from Alaska to South Africa by way of Los Angeles and London, a point darn close to exactly the opposite side of the earth if, indeed, the round earth people have it right. Well, I'm here to tell you I kept watching out of the window most of the way, with my eye on the horizon, you know, the edge of the earth where if you get too close you drop right off, and I'm here to tell you, flat flat flat! As if that's not proof enough, when I got to Johannesburg a day later, I wasn't standing on my head. Okay, some people will say, what about those pictures of earth they take from the moon? Sorry, folks, I have eyes. It's a great big flat disc.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Tell-Tale Art

"Art is not a tender or fragile thing. It has kept alive in the habitations of cruelty and oppressions. It has struggled toward light from the manifold darkness of war and conflict and persecution, Yet it flourishes most abundantly when the artist can speak as he wishes and describe the world as he sees it without any official direction." President Lyndon B. Johnson, June 11, 1965.

"I know great art when I see it," said the critic. "To which the artist replied, "I know great art when I feel it."

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Pause That Refreshes

My friend Dr. Richard Brown, a psychologist based in New York, called me to thank me for yesterday's cartoon. He was grateful, he said, for the idea of how he could triple his income. He told me of the time, a number of years ago, when he was working in a large medical building in which a number of other psychologists also had offices. Late every day as he left work he encountered numerous of his colleagues in the elevator, all of them, like he, bleary-eyed with fatigue. Only one, however, always appeared fresh and rested. When asked, finally, how he managed it, he replied, "who listens?"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Three Couches, No Waiting

Some of us are old enough to remember the Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner comedy album The Two Thousand Year Old Man. There's a strange fraternity of those of us who know it. All you need to do is mention the title to us, almost a half century later now, and we instantly start reciting the bits and guffawing with laughter. One of the classic routines was the interview with the psychiatrist on the flip side. Reiner, as the interviewer, asks about one of the doctor's patients. "She vass crazy," Brooks says in his loopy Viennese-Jewish accent that's impossible to capture in print. "She vass alvays ripping up paper." "So how did you cure her?" Reiner asks. "I told her," Brooks answers, "stop ripping up paper." It should be that simple.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A House Divided

Perhaps it's inevitable that in an increasingly complicated world we try to put things in some kind of comprehensible order by hanging labels on each other. That way we can avoid the hard work of trying to cut through the complexities by actually giving some real thought to things. Step number one is accepting the increasingly difficult notion that we all want the same thing, peace and prosperity for all. It's just that we have different ideas of how to accomplish it. Conservatives detest liberals, depicting them as wild-eyed lunatics who would kill babies and save trees, and would eagerly turn America over to the "enemy," whoever the hell it is. Liberals detest conservatives, seeing them as myopic troglodytes without genuine feelings or thoughts to the future who want to march around the world in jackboots making new enemies and stealing everyone's oil. And to make it really simple we have Rosie and Elizabeth duking it out on national television, the strident witch vs. the blonde airhead, each eschewing rational debate as they personify our worst fears about the other "side." Meanwhile, if they can't talk to each other sanely, what hope is there for the Shia and Sunnis? All it takes to start a conflagration is one hurled rock. Remember Cain and Abel?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Strange Bedfellows

It's almost a law of nature that over time people come to mistrust those that lead them. Small wonder. Too often throughout history leaders have proven in the long run to be untrustworthy or worse. Even those who start out with ideals and a vision for humanity end up serving only themselves and the small cadre of individuals who keep them in power. The great advantage of democracy is the ability to vote the bums out. Kings and dictators hang on until they're done in by their enemies or thrown out in violent revolutions. We have a quiet turnover, but care must be taken. Elections have become strident advertising campaigns, long on hype and short on substance. The candidate who speaks to the electorate in complex truths is at a huge disadvantage in the face of those who utter short, snappy lies. The higher-priced cereal in the colorful package with a catchy slogan outsells the cheaper generic brand. We have to start reading the labels more carefully.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

At what point exactly did human beings start to have ambitions? You only need to go back a measly ten thousand years to the time when we were still hunter-gatherers, and the question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" was non-existent. You weren't going to be anything else than what you were, and as far as what you were going to do when you grew up, you were either going to track and kill animals or pick leaves and berries. Somewhere along the line, and it may have been only six or seven thousand years ago, it became possible to dream of
success at something for which you were entirely unsuited. For every Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes born to an 18th century peasant family countless inept wannabes struggled unsuccessfully with paints and canvas, producing mud. And that brings us to today, and the reductio ad absurdum of reaching for the moon, American Idol, where tens of thousands of hopeless are encouraged to hope, and from the hapless hordes one new contestant for celebrity bowling is crowned.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Big Two Oh Oh

Here it is, folks, our two hundredth cartoon to be posted here at the "journey," two hundred days without interruption. I've decided to celebrate quietly, unlike the big bash we threw when we turned 100. Well actually we didn't throw the bash, we just made big plans. Story of my life. This time I've opted for 24 hours of meditation and quiet. That's the idea anyway, but it probably won't work out that way. I'm going to save the festivities for when we've managed to change the world. Right now we're over six months into this and things are just as dysfunctional as ever, gas prices are still going up, TV has another stupid competition where 3 snarly judges say nasty things about a parade of talentless jerks, the streets are filled with homeless, there's gridlock on the freeways, teachers aren't getting paid what they're worth, and corrupt thugs from Washington to Baghdad continue to line their pockets. Just when I'm tempted to throw up my hands in despair in recognition of the fact I've failed to make a dent in all this because people just laugh at me, I remember that's the whole point.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We Interrupt This Message To Bring You Your Life

We all go around vaguely aware that we are beseiged by advertising on a daily basis, but I suspect it's got so ubiquitous most of us barely realize what an onslaught it's become. In the advertising industry, clamoring constantly for our attention with messages that can somehow rise above the ad pollution has become an art form. The other day I heard a segment on the local NPR station devoted to ads that are now going to be placed in the little bins they give you at airport security check to put your shoes, watch, wallet, and coins in. In a brilliant bit of unintentional comedy, an ad executive defended the new practice, which I consider so benign compared to computer pop-ups and billboards as to render it almost non-existent. If any advertising is going to fly beneath the radar, pardon the pun, this is it. Still, the earnest exec tells us one of the advantages is that each bin will have an identifying mark so it will be easier to tell which is ours once it gets to the other side. What about the fact it's got my stuff in it? And, he said without a hint of irony, they'll be more hygenic. Hygenic, I thought, why? How hygenic does a tray with my shoes in it need to be? For that matter, how hygenic can it be when someone else's shoes have just been in it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Here's to Hair

My vast team of researchers has recently concluded that of all the businesses that tend toward too too cute names, hairdressing salons tops the list. Indeed, no other establishments come even close in their embrace of bad puns and silly wordplay. Some favorites: The Hairport, Hair Today Gone Tomorrow, The Hair Appparent, Ceylon Salon (proving its a universal thing), The Clip Joint, Knotty Girl Hair and Body Care, The Kindest Cut, Beauty and the Beach, Shear Madness, Hair Traffic, Hair Hair, The Cutting Edge, Sit Still, and Off the Top. But my favorite all-time business slogan has to be that of the Culver City Meat Company, whose trucks roam the streets with large letters on the side proclaiming, "You Can't Beat Our Meat." As Dave Barry says, I'm not making this up.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A 'Toon's Prayer

It's ironic, or perhaps not, that religion, one of the driving forces behind all human activity since Gods and demons were first conceived of, is also at the root of so much human dysfunction. How much hatred, how many wars, how much death and destruction can be traced straight back to religious belief? One can also hypothesize that the myths and tales, the creatures and deities that are at the heart of religion came from the same place deep in the human psyche that produces art, linking some of the most sublime beauty ever to be created by mankind to some of the worst horrors. What terrible glitch in the soul causes people to want to force their concept of the Almighty on everyone else? Who could be so cold and unfeeling as to deny a cartoon character his impulse to worship the Great Cartoonist Above, who giveth and taketh away with pencil and eraser?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Global Harming II

I've suddenly become an optimist. As the world appears to hurtle toward the point of no return on global warming, I've begun to believe it's not too late for mankind. All we have to do is follow a few simple rules.
1. Open the refrigerator only twice a day, once in the morning to get out whatever you're going to need that day, and once at night to put it all back. Okay, so you might have to do without ice cream and mayonnaise on hot days.
2. Allow yourself one trip a week in the car, even if it means sleeping in your office. (Hey, softies, whalemen were gone from home months, even years at a time.)
3. Everybody move to Palm Desert. It would be best if you walk there, pulling your belongings in a cart.
4. Don't turn on the television or radio. Do you have any idea the energy that's consumed broadcasting those signals, not to mention the wasted energy every time a news anchor opens his or her yap?
5. Make your own clothes by hand, without a sewing machine. And do without shoes, which will also save a lot of animals.
6. Stop eating at Pizza Hut. It won't do much to help global warming, but it's my way of getting back at them for their immoral TV spot where the guy is jubilant because he managed to cheat the pizza delivery kid.
I think there may be a chance for us.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Frequent Survivor

In the past few years, as airlines have increasingly cut back on in-flight services and made you pay for snacks and meals, I took to bringing my own food along with me. Now even that possibility has been denied me, as the threat that my tuna fish sandwich might contain a dangerous weapon has grown. Before the prohibitions had been expanded to include anything in a small Tupperware box, I was returning from Italy with a meal of delicious meatballs in my carry-on bag. I ate a couple on the late night leg from Rome to Paris, and then enjoyed a couple more on my layover in a cheesy little airport hotel that smelled of Pinesol and mildew. By the crack of dawn, when I boarded my flight to Los Angeles, I'd completely forgotten about the remaining two or three meatballs. While passing through U.S. customs I was waved aside for a thorough inspection of my luggage, and it was then that I was snagged by the feds. Two friggin' meatballs, and those goons glared and snarled at me like I was carrying ten thousand dollars in small bills stuffed in my shoes, which I'd done once years before after having been paid in cash for a rewrite of an Italian movie. Another time I made it past the authorities with a small aluminum foil-wrapped stash of cocaine in my breast pocket. It had been there, out of sight out of mind, since a movie star slipped it to me as a gift for, as he said, making him seem like an actor when I directed him in the post-synching of his dialogue for a movie he'd shot. Moral: if you're going to get busted, get busted for contraband meatballs.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

As a coach, I've had the privelege over the past years of working closely with young people across the economic spectrum, and have become hugely impressed by their decency, intelligence, and potential. I've also come to understand deeply that I have a responsibility to instill in them something that goes far beyond teaching the skills of a sport, and in so doing I've become increasingly mindful and in awe of the role of educators in our society. Participating in a sport is valuable, of course, but not central to the lives of most young people, and I accept that what I do as a sideline is non-essential in the much larger scheme of things. Teachers, on the other hand, bear a burden in building and maintaining a healthy society that's impossible to put a price tag on. So why are teachers so underpaid? I'm not talking about coaches. There are football coaches at the big universities that take home seven figure salaries, and that's just sick. Just as bad are corporate honchos, and let's not even mention sport and entertainment celebrities. But it doesn't stop there. Until teachers are recognized for what they contribute and are paid accordingly, this society will continue its inexorable slide into dysfunction. Our respect for teachers is repaid in lip-service only, unlike with doctors and lawyers and the network executives who inundate with us American Idol and Do You Think You're Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. Let's face it, we've got it all ass backward.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Distant Sounds of Triumph

Forgive me if I crow this morning, but my lacrosse team won yesterday, which might not sound like such a big deal. The thing is, if you go by the statistics we had a losing season. That in itself makes the victory special, but more than that, we won against a team that had already soundly beaten us twice. To ice the cake, we won convincingly, 7-1. Still, the numbers only tell a small part of the story. For one thing, the other team was short on manpower, and pushed themselves to the limit, which is to their credit. But my boys played spectacularly, showing good stick skills, passing well, looking for their feeds, coming up with the loose balls, pressuring on defense, cutting effectively on offense, shooting accurately, and playing together as a team. What is so satisfying is that these boys began the season with zero experience or knowledge of lacrosse, and since they're all latinos, not a trace of it in their cultural DNA. The history of this season is one of steady, inexorable progress. What is also satisfying is seeing their awareness of and joy in what they've accomplished. Can you tell I'm proud of them?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Un-Amusement Park

When I was a kid growing up in a New York suburb, one of our great treats was to be taken for an outing to Playland. When you're 8-years old you imagine the local amusement park is the only one of these magical places in the world, and you can't believe your good fortune in having it so near home. In reality, this one was typical, wonderfully, excitingly tawdry, hinting of something sleazy and exotic. The music, the clatter of the roller coaster, the sights and smells offered a step into another somewhat naughty, skewed dimension, in this case intensified by its contrast to the pristine Long Island Sound, on the shore of which it perched like a tarnished crown across the waters from Jay Gatsby's green light. And then came the day when I put my nickel into a fortune telling machine. The eponymous Esmeralda, an old gypsy woman, creaked to life, whirring and cackling metallically as her wooden finger moved across the playing cards laid in front of her. A small white card appeared in a slot. "Your last days," it read, "will be your happiest." Or perhaps it said "your happiest days will be your last," but it doesn't matter. Either way it was a terrible burden to plant in the mind of a child. I can't say that from that day henceforth I would be terrified of happiness, but the niggling thought has always been there accompanying those moments in life when I feel genuinely happy, is this it? After all, Esmeralda didn't lie.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Art of Doing Nothing

I discovered surfing relatively late. As a kid growing up on the east coast I'd body surfed daily every summer, but when I first came to California as a young actor I rarely went near the ocean. It wasn't until years later, after I'd returned for a period to New York and then had lived in Italy for almost a decade, that I discovered the joy of the surfboard. It wasn't at all what I'd imagined. With body surfing it's all about the exuberance of grabbing the wave and experiencing the rush through the water, after which you quickly swim back out and grab another wave. With board surfing it's about waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and it's surprisingly joyous. It's zen, really, a bonding with nature that can't be found in many other things. Some will claim it's the same with fishing, but I'd argue that a fisherman is adversarial vis a vis the fish, whereas surfing is passive. You just sit or lie there on the board, gazing toward the horizon, rising and falling with the swells as if feeling the world breathing, lulled by mother earth's ample breast. Every now and then one of those waves breaks just right, and you catch a wild, usually brief ride. The rest of the time you get mellow.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Daze

I offer today's post in sympathy to Jeremy's long-suffering mom. I'd dedicate this to the memory of my own mother, except that she hated Mother's Day and adamantly refused to allow us to ever celebrate it. One is, she insisted, supposed to be nice to their mother every day. She was a proto-feminist, before it became about burning bras and creating unisex terms like fireperson and peoplehole cover. Still, she actively and energetically juggled her roles as mom, wife, and career person, never allowing any one to take precedence. She also hugely resented the way the so-called holiday had become commercialized, and that was half a century ago. I can only imagine with a shudder what she'd have to say today. We've come a long and depressing way from the 18th century, when Harriet Beecher Stowe conceived of the idea as a move for peace, a way for mothers to rise up together in protest against the Civil War. "Our sons," she proclaimed, "shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience." You can bet she never expected to be presented with a bunch of roses and served eggs benedict in bed one Sunday a year.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Scale of One to Two

In what is arguably the most famous quote of the 20th century, Andy Warhol is presumed to have said that everyone has their fifteen minutes of fame. Setting aside the fact that it's not what he said at all, I would add to it that everyone has less than one minute when their opinion counts. And even then it doesn't count for much, because it's probably part of a poll with a five percent allowance for error. We're innundated with polls. Every week a new poll comes out showing Hillary preferred over the rest of the Democrats in pre-primary preferences, Rudy Giuliani has climbed one point, and Fred Thompson has surged ahead of Newt Gingrich. Add it up week after week and that's millions upon millions of people being polled yearly about everything from what they think about the economy to their ice cream of choice and nobody's ever asked me squat. But even if they did, let's say I turned out to be in the 12% of the one thousand people "randomly sampled" who would choose pistachio over maple walnut crunch and cookie dough, I could theoretically be shoved into the 5% error category. Put in other terms, the guy I chose to be president won the popular vote, meaning I was in the plus 50% nationwide that wanted him, but the other guy got the job. Which as far as I'm concerned, added to the fact I will probably never be asked anything in a poll, completely negates my opinion.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Half-Fast Food

I tried being a vegetarian once. It lasted a couple of years, but I got tired of rice and beans. The fact is, it just wasn't me, I'm a carnivore, and yet, I admit, I feel for the animal. I keep thinking of the cow with its big sad eyes staring at me. I empathize with lobsters. I feel pangs of guilt if I kill even a spider, though I would never want to consume one. And yet I eat my meat rare. Or as my brother says, "just passed through a warm kitchen." Once, in Italy, my Italian mother-in-law insisted on getting our Christmas turkey ruspante, directly from a farmer, because, she said, it was superior to what you bought from the butcher. A couple of days later she called to say the turkey was at her house, ready for me to come pick up. I arrived to find the turkey very much alive, strutting around the kitchen gobbling excitedly, towering over my wife's grandmother while the dog cowered in a corner. I drove home with the turkey sitting next to me in the passenger seat, watching the passing scenery. More than one car almost drove off the road. The portiere and his wife had to handle the execution, without my assistance. I mourned my new friend, and yet I still managed to get past my grief when he arrived at the table cooked.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Uneasy Lie the Heads

Back during the Falklands War the Queen's son Prince Andrew saw action flying a helicopter without too much brouhaha or media attention, but these are different times. The war in Iraq is being fought with as much PR hyping as military might, so it's no surprise that the question of whether or not the Royal Brat Prince Harry will be sent into harm's way is being squeezed for every ounce of possible ink. According to the press Harry, trained as a tank commander, is demanding he be allowed to see combat with his "mates," you know, the ones he gets roaring drunk with on his time off. Parliament has got into the act, concerned that the high-spirited lad will be a high-profile target for Al Qaeda, endangering himself and his fellow soldiers. Well, of course he would, especially now that everyone has made such a big deal out of it. Except that you know darn well that when he does ship out, as surely he will, he'll be protected better than McCain, Cheney, and Condi put together, while enduring daily photo ops choking down MRE's. One gets the feeling the whole media campaign has been mapped out long in advance.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oh To Be Young Again.... Not

I don't know when it came to pass that kids' lives started being micro-managed. When I was growing up, it seems to me, we were largely left on our own to figure out what to do with our free time Saturdays, Sundays, and the hours between the end of school and dinner. Free time. The concept didn't even exist for us. Time just was free, it didn't need a specific appellation to distinguish it from the rest of the day. When did free time get replaced by structured time? Lucky little buggers. I can barely imagine how thrilling it must be to have real referees in striped shirts and black knee socks adjudicating one's playtime, the unbridled joy of having mom regularly on call to get you from a tutoring session to band practice to counseling, and not having to make up your own rules for hastily cobbled-together games that involved rocks. We didn't have an outfield fence to swing for when I was eleven. Instead, we got a home run by hitting two sewers on a fly, and God forbid a car should turn the corner at the wrong moment. When I was in my early teens I went to art school in New York two afternoons a week. My mom had to pick me up early from school and get me to the train that took me from our suburb into the city. That was the extent of my coddling. Twenty minutes twice a week. I had a deprived childhood.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Democracy Is a Messy Business II

It seems to me that when I was a kid people identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans. Nowadays you're a conservative or liberal. Alas, this whole business of "being" on one side or another for many people is more an emotional connection than an intellectual, reasoned one, having less to do with carefully considered positions on specific issues and more to do with kneejerk reactions. People choose sides with as much rationale as they pick their favorite in the Super Bowl. If you ask someone if they want to be labelled or pigeon-holed they'll react with horror, and yet they do it to themselves. It's far more complex than rooting for someone to win in the annual football thugfest. Pundits talk about the "direction" the country is going. How the heck can you look at 300 million people of such widely diverse economic status, ethnicity, and personal interests and stick your thumb in the air? The craziness is compounded by the fact that people will identify themselves as a "social" liberal and an "economic" conservative, like cheering for the Bears on offense but the Patriots on defense. Someone once said a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. On the other hand, perhaps a liberal is a conservative who carpools.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Over the Edge II

I'm not going to say that art world hype has gone too far, but something occurred at the Venice Biennial a few years back that suggests otherwise. The biennial, of course, is the cutting edge of "what's happening," the huge exhibition where the only time you'll see remotely traditional "art" is if it's being mocked or stomped on. An invited artist erected an installation consisting of a huge plexiglass U.S. flag, a few inches deep, with the stars and stripes made of dirt dyed red, white, and blue. Then he filled it with ants. As the biennial progressed, the ants digging around transformed it, so that the flag was gradually obliterated. One might have expected some kind of outcry from Ameican patriots, or hoped for an expression of dismay from at least one critic, but neither happened. The only outrage came from Italian animal rights activists, protesting the mistreatment of ants. You can't make this kind of stuff up.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Over the Edge

Everywhere you turn there's some kind of program or therapy designed to deal with behavior that's destructive, anti-social, or just downright stupid. There's anger management, twelve-step meetings, rehab. What it really does is get your money. Even Dr. Phil is just more TV bait meant to hook you into buying the sponsors' products. Why doesn't everyone simply grow up? It's all about what I call "socially acceptable tantrums." What's a tantrum, after all, if not a glaring grab for attention, a way of saying "I want what I want, I want it now, and I don't want to have to do anything to get it." Nothing, that is, except turn everyone else's life into a shambles. A famous TV star gets roaring drunk and crawls around on the floor half naked eating a hamburger while his daughter videotapes his self-degradation. Tantrum. Another star loses it and verbally abuses his child on her message machine, calling her a "little pig." Tantrum. That's right, I said "socially acceptable." If they did what a five-year old does and cry hysterically while pounding the floor with their fists with any kind of regularity they'd be locked up in a mental home. Instead society goes "tut tut," the person "accepts responsibility," enrolls in a program, and shells out big bucks to someone with a degree claiming expertise.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

So You Wanna Be An Artist

Michelangelo was a recluse who rarely bathed. Caravaggio was murderer who spent the latter part of his life on the run, toting his brushes and paints with him. And every schoolchild knows the story of poor Van Gogh. The history of art is filled with miscreants and sociopaths. I have a theory about it. To begin with, I define art as the fulfillment of the obsessive impulse to share one's personal experience of life with others. Since experience itself is impossible to share, being that it's already in the past the instant after we've experienced it, whether it's the experience of a looking at a bowl of fruit or the experience of, say, a walk in the woods, it can only be shared through metaphor, which is one thing taking the place of another. And therefore, since a painting can at best be nothing more than a poor stand-in for the experience, the artist must remain always and forever dissatisfied, engaged in a frustrating and often debilitating quest for something he cannot possibly ever accomplish. The artist's life becomes one long, drawn-out tantrum.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Work Ethic

Click on image to view enlarged.

We tend to think of the arts as the epitome of personal expression, but it's only in the past hundred and fifty years or so that the artist has been allowed to break out of the constraints of conformity and expose his self through his art. Up until the Impressionists came along in the second half of the 19th century, an artist's first responsiblity was to the society in which he or she lived and worked. Individual artists stood out only because even though they did what everyone else did, they did it better. Styles and techniques changed slowly over the centuries, nudged along by artists who dared incremental innovations. It wasn't until the 20th century that there was an explosion of approaches to the making of art, and the name of the game became being different. One thing has never changed though, probably going back to the first caveman who got antsy one day and started messing around on the cave walls with a piece of charcoal from the fire, the artist as scoundrel and lunatic, but that's a subject for another day.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gimme Them Good Ol' Family Values

I can't decide which is more absurd, the rules themselves, or the way the guys who make the rules break them with such self-assumed impunity. Nature or God or whatever created human sexuality, and all the endless variations meant to keep it interesting precisely so that people would do it and therefore assure the continuation of the species. Somewhere along the line the same people with the same urges as everyone else decided that doing all that stuff was sinful. It would be forbidden, they decreed, and then went right on doing it themselves. It's nothing short of bizarre. So now we have an undersecretary of defense resigning his post because his name showed up on a Washington madam's client list, and one of his jobs was combatting prostitution in third world countries. It gets stranger. He claims that he never actually had sex with these women, just extraordinarily high priced massages. I guess in Washington they don't know you can get legitimate massages much cheaper. Maybe it's their version of flying first class. But it gets stranger still. The madam is insisting that she provides a good clean service, nothing more than a little harmless fantasy. Who do they all think they're kidding? Lyndon Johnson once said that there's no greater crime in a democracy that willful disregard of law. How about the willful disregard of stupid laws by the men who make and prosecute them? Or as someone once said about Spiro Agnew, he's the kind of guy who'd bust you for marijuana and then smoke your stash.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Everyone's A Joker

Imagine what a better world it would be if people would just lighten up. It works for traffic school. Suppose checkout clerks at the supermarkets kept people howling as they rang up groceries. "You're buying a quart of milk, a loaf of rye bread, and a large jar of peanut butter, ma'am. You must be single." "How could you tell?" "You're butt ugly." Ba da boom. Instead of the usual scowl, you'ld get comedy routines from the bank teller. "That's fifteen bucks in additional fees. And don't say anything or everyone else in line is going to want to pay that much too." You call Southwest Airlines to find out if your mother-in-law's plane is on time and the person at the other end says, "and thank you for calling Southwest, but on the other hand, why the heck would you call United, it's not their flight that's an hour late."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Let's Make a Deal

I had a terrible thought. Could this all be a huge reality show cooked up by the media just to suck everyone in and get them to watch commercials? Nothing is really happening in the world, it's all contrived, the ultimate audience participation gimmick. Meanwhile, anything approaching morality takes a back seat. There was a story on the news the other night about a guy who discovered his bank had made a mistake and transferred a half a million bucks into his account. He called them up, according to the TV anchor person, to report the mistake, and was told brusquely by the imbecile at the other end of the line that if it was in his account it was his. So he went on a giant spending spree. The announcer went on to say that as far as the law is concerned it's clear, as long as the man attempted to alert the bank he was legally entitled to the money. Nevertheless, the man intends to pay it all back. The two anchor morons had a couple moments of levity about the matter, and then one of them concluded giddily, "it's the bank's goof, they should eat it." Half a million bucks. Just like that, anything approaching ethics down the tubes, and your children might have been tuned in. I said it's a huge reality show, but I take it back. It's a surreality show.