First blush: A man with a mosquito for a head stands by and does nothing while Seymour Buttz cruelly moons a woman dressed in the Jolly Green Giant’s tunic. To this rather traditional collage of elements Â one might naturally respond “a sad commentary on today’s mores, yes, but does it really deserve a national conversation”?
On closer inspection, however, the genius blooms. The mosquito is none other than our president, the man with the plumber’s butt is Uncle Sam, and the woman is a stand-in for our very national economy, all of which has been filtered through the scandal generated by leading Republican neanderthal Todd Akin.
Now the secret decrypts itself like lines of Matrix code raining before your eyes! Â Cartoonist Tom Bonnette is saying that Barack Obama has turned his back while America ravages its own economy. The callback to Akin’s “legitimate rape” line tells you that Obama believes the economy had it coming.
You may think I am mocking my fellow ink pusher’s work, but this cartoon may in fact be the masterpiece Bonnette thinks it is. By completely confounding our expectations of conservative thinking, Bonnette has pulled off a deft of slight of hand that shows that he is no partisan that the Republicans would ever embrace in today’s climate.
The plebs among you will say I am getting Bonnette’s message wrong, that this strip is declaring Obama a rake who has marauded virtuous capitalism, and doing it in the kitschiest way possible. But this could hardly be the case. The cartoonist himself has vouched for his own pedigree in the field of criticism, even saying that after “[studying] itÂ from end-to-end, top-to-bottom, back-to-front and inside-out…Â I concluded that [this cartoon] is a work of near genius. It will soon be printed and situated in a frame to occupy an honored spot on my office wall.”
I assure you, we cartoonists do not lightly Â frame and faun over our own work. So let us feel this strip with a heart of flesh, not stone.
Of course, the truly “gutsy” thing to draw, if one wanted to portray the President in the foulest light, would be Obama himself pulling his pants up. This is also the only clear way to communicate the metaphor of Obama-as-rapist, and a skilled artist like Bonnette would know that. What Bonnette has done instead is make the president stand aloof as another person does the deed. And that person, in the form of Uncle Sam, is you and I.
Nor can you suppose that Uncle Sam represents the Federal government. The president would be the better avatar for that as well. Instead, Uncle Sam is Leviathan, the masses, the People and their institutions. It is the People who have debuached America and her mighty promise (the woman’s green rag evoking Lady Liberty). The president is simply the Pedestrian-in-Chief–the voter, actually–blithely ignorant of what is happening at all levels of our society.
With the message thus interpreted, Bonnette shows himself to be much more shrewd than his detractors let on. A conservative perhaps, but one with a sense of civic responsibility to point the finger at the People, not the president, who is only the rotating placeholder for our fickle cravings.
Genius? I am afraid Bonnette has let his ego get away with him there. But this cartoon is no dull butter knife of wit. Â Bonnette’s mind is a subtle edge, splitting atoms and exposing new realities to the public’s conciousness. His is the voice of a coming revolution in which left and right will both find that they have new masters. If Bonnette can avoid life imprisonment in a FEMA internment camp, America may have found her next Thomas Paine.