Monday, July 7, 2014

On Editorial Cartoons

As I was driving this morning I tuned in to NPR and heard an interview with Ed Williams, the former editor of the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer, discussing his new book, Liberating Dixie: An Editor's Life from Ole Miss to Obama. This was, in case you missed it, as I was driving. One of his statements early on I wanted to remember and so I dug around for a pen and paper to jot it down. As I was driving.

I could only rummage so far.

I found a brown Subway napkin, left over from an earlier meal. I drew circles on it (the broad airbag spot on my steering wheel as a desk) with the ink pen I found in the door pocket, but I couldn't get ink to flow. Meanwhile, traffic flowed around me and I could do nothing but flow along with it. I began chanting the sentence over and over and over. It almost became a mantra:

The job of the editorial page is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Or something to that effect since I was doing it from memory. Over and over I said this, overlaying the conversation on the radio, waiting for a stop light to catch me, which for the first time ever, it didn't. When I pulled into the bank parking lot I wrote hastily, before I forgot, while he was still talking.

The quick research I did when I came home attributed that quote to Finley Peter Dunne, an editorial writer in Chicago. It's a far leap from the audience and the needs of the comfortable and the afflicted in Chicago's south side to the audience and the needs of the comfortable and the afflicted around Pilot Mountain School of the south mountains, but I'm going to make it, thanks to the superintendent of schools in Burke County from 1925 to 1963, who couldn't help but stir the pot with his editorial cartoons. He saw what the world didn't, the underbelly of mountain culture and how it affected his students and his teachers and his community. So he did what all activists do. He stood up for them. Through his drawings he gave an insider's view to the political situation in North Carolina and offered a glimpse of his dealings with legislatures who controlled the budget.

How much has changed since the 1950's?

When I was writing this book I went through stacks and stacks of original editorial cartoons now in the possession of the History Museum of Burke County. Looking back with that quote in mind, I see how the afflicted were comforted in the fact that at least one person understands their tribulations. I see how the comfortable became afflicted (and enraged, I'm sure, at some of the cartoons I was privileged to see) when their actions were questioned.

So today, and every day, read to become comforted. Read to become afflicted, too, in case it's speaking to you.

Catch of the day,


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