Wonderful fights between narcissism and worthlessness

Not Getting Everything Exactly as You Want is WAY Worse than People Dying

on January 9, 2013

I’ve had occasion at work to start reading the Sunday Comics again, and despite all of the strips that routinely bum me out by reminding me about gender stereotypes (or playing other people’s differences for the butt of a joke), I still enjoy reading comics. It’s a great way to see exactly that, even if what’s revealed may be abysmal. There are also comics that are genuinely enjoyable from week to week for me. Granted, I’m reading them four times a year on average, but I’m usually not clawing at my eyes reading Lio or Non Sequitor, and after learning of Garfield minus Garfield (http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/) that strips pretty enjoyable to imagine as Garfield-less.

Of course, there are strips on the other end of that spectrum, that I can usually count on disagreeing with at a moral level. The Pajama Diaries is one of these. Described as such:

The Pajama Diaries details the personal life of Jill Kaplan, a contemporary working mother trying to juggle it all—work life, family life and sex life (or lack thereof)—without completely losing her mind. Modern families everywhere identify with the spot-on humor and find much in common with cartoonist Terri Libenson’s realistic yet funny look at being a multi-tasking, working mother.

The Pajama Diaries seems to be the modern, softer side of bad comedian wife jokes. It sits steeped in stereotypes and gender roles. To its credit, it is a bit more progressive than something like The Family Circus or Dagwood (Is that that comic’s name? I’m not looking that shit up, so it is now) or even Beetle Bailey that harken back to an image of family life in the fifties, but given the Republican / country music mindset of a lot of media sources, The Pajama Diaries often reads like bitter medicine stuck into a cookie. It’s never THAT bad, but there are often bad messages or assumptions inherent to the strips or their jokes. One such was the TPD from last Sunday:


I’m still trying to track down a wonderful piece by a homosexual person about Christians complaining of persecution, telling them how he understands how that feels, but how much worse off the persecution the discriminated and non-privileged face truly is. Basically along the lines of “You are made fun of for your beliefs. We are killed for being who we naturally are.” It was tremendously compelling, and pointed out a false equivalency that I believe is at the heart of “anti-PC” backlash. There’s a lot of ignorance fueling that particular fire too, but there’s also (usually) a sense from people complaining about MAH FREE SPEECHES that being told they can’t make X joke about Y group is as bad as Y group being discriminated against. This is how you get claims of “Reverse Racism,” of Feminists establishing Matriarchies to control men, and most of the claims on Fox News.

The TPD comic linked above is not up to that level, but it’s still a striking example of this trend of viewing privileged problems as on the level of the problems of the oppressed and discriminated just because they’re problems you are actually facing. The basic thrust of the comic is that our modern world is just so complicated. Why can’t we buy a normal goddamn cookie anymore? An angry, hack comedian could beat this premise to death in an angry voice and get lots of laughs.

But it also erases why these options are more and more present and the benefits thereof. Again, it’s this sortof soft offensiveness that won’t make you angry, or feel offended, but still have that core idea that is disturbing. The comic is from the point of view of a “normal” person, who is assumed to be privileged to have no food allergies. She just wants a cookie. Nothing wrong with that, right? And there isn’t, of course. But she can literally stop by any grocery store or gas station on the way home and nurse that bruised privileged sense of being displaced as A Person as the world around her grows to let people with food allergies enjoy a snack too. Not to mention how sever some food allergies can be, and that there’s a good chance this isn’t just letting someone enjoy a cookie without any pain or illness as the main character can anytime she chooses, but without facing potential death. The comic, in focusing on how hard this expanded world can be, forgets how much easier it is for people who now have a place in it.

If I come across as harsh in harping on The Pajama Diaries, I’m not. The ideas it takes for granted and that “Modern families everywhere identify with” are what I have a problem with, and TPD just happens to deliver them softly, with all the ability of any media source to bypass defenses and critical reading we usually have when presented with new ideas or arguments.

And I don’t remotely put this further problem on The Pajama Diaries, but this idea, that the modern world is so complicated (for the privileged) that ignores how much better off others are and how much less inconvenienced and threatened we are than were those who previously didn’t enjoy a more welcoming world, in other sources? Usually comes with a want of regress. Todd Glass has an amazing joke about the idea that the world used to be much better, and simpler.

“Used to be a fella’d hold a door open for a woman.”

“Yeah, and then he wouldn’t let her vote!”

There are a lot of people who want the world back to the way it was, and who treat the loss of their privileges (as certain Christians do with wanting their beliefs and pushes into government and culture to go back to being unquestioned) as equal to discrimination, oppression, and loss of rights. Comics like this one in TPD serve as a soft reinforcement of deeper-held and darker ideas. A way to reaffirm thoughts like, “The world today’s so complicated! SOmetimes I just want milk, ya know? NORMAL milk.” And this process happens for worse ideas, like “Yeah, man, the world’s so hard today. Gotta watch out that I don’t offend anybody! Hah, it’s so easy to do, too. People are SO sensitive! And why doesn’t anyone care when I get offended at being called a sexist for just making a joke? Jeese.”

Intersectionality is a hell of a thing, and the urge to treat loss of privilege or minor inconvenience as equivalent to the struggles and absent rights and place in society of the oppressed in an effort to keep things “simple” causes a lot of harm. No matter how soft and sweet the carrier of that idea can be.


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