Friday, January 19, 2007

Politcal Cartoons: Stupid and Uninformative

My hatred of political cartoons is matched only by my contempt for Marmaduke. Like America's favorite two-dimensional great Dane, political cartoons are repetitive, obvious, unfunny, hyperbolic, and founded in an essentialist understanding of the world. But at least Marmaduke doesn't lie about global warming.

I browsed over a hundred of the "Energy and the Environment" cartoons reprinted by Slate, and I discovered a few themes: different artists tell the exact same jokes (I mean, c'mon), political cartoonists love excessive and bizarrely abstracted labeling, some authors don't get it that cattle wouldn't be so numerous if people didn't eat them, still others can't fathom that science should influence policy, and apparently everybody hates Al Gore (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Most disturbing is that political cartoonists, like most journalists, didn't have to pass a science exam to get their job, which leads to ass-hattery like this cartoon:

Sorry, Glenn McCoy, but no one with even a basic understanding of global warming would claim that the effects of climate change occur in the span of a few years and without anomalous years. If our artist knew anything about science, he'd comprehend that climate change is measured over the span of decades, not months, and that within a trend outliers may exist. This strip demonstrates a similar misconception about global warming, namely that if global warming were a real climatological force then global temperatures would rise consistently across time and that all locations on the planet would experience an equal increase in heat.

I'm also troubled that environmentalists are being portrayed as doomsday prognosticators, easily dismissed alongside nut jobs professing the impending Apocalypse. I don't recall Al Gore saying that ocean levels were going to rise up and swallow Manhattan next summer. Environmental groups, backed by many members of the scientific community, are simply stating that severe climate change and irreversible pollution are eventual outcomes of our current behaviors. I guess that concept is a little too nuanced to convey in a comic strip, though.


Aaron said...

and yeah the gore cartoon is pretty stupid

Lisa said...

I sense a niche I can fill! Hmm, concise, scientifically factual, pro-environment political cartoons. I bet those would be SUPER FUNNY! I'm gonna start with one that equates SUV driving with dead baby seals!

Seriously though, it's the same problem with bumper stickers. Reasoned, fact-based arguement AND comedy can't fit in tiny spaces. Maybe we can petition Dave Barry instead.