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Monday, November 10, 2003
Hillary makes a good point in the comments to the below post (i.e. that the Boondocks strip is actually anti-sitcom, not anti-laughter), and I found my response to be getting kind of lengthy and substantive, so let's make it a whole other post.

I'm not so sure you can assume any Boondocks strip is simply anti-sitcom--you can't help but read the series, I think, and get a sense that McGruder is profoundly distrustful, and even kind of ashamed of his chosen medium. (This is not uncommon among "strippers"--even Watterson's challenges to the syndicates'/editors' rejection of quality on the comics page were couched in a deep sense of futility and incrementalism. In his semi-celebratory formulation, the comics only possessed greatness in a bygone golden age.) So I think that I'm right in the context of the first panel, you're right in the context of the individual strip, but I'm right again in the context of the strip as a whole. I'm not sure how much McGruder wants people to actually laugh at his strips--I far more often tend to smile knowingly or, yoinks, smirk, and I don't think I'm alone in this. Laughter is, ultimately, a sub-rational reaction, something you DO do without thinking, but while that doesn't make it invalid (I think that makes it remarkably useful), it does make it debased in the cosmologies of some of your more "this is SERIOUS goddamnit!" types, and I think these days you could include McGruder in that category.

Especially problematic, of course, is that he's presenting Grandpa's comments as an anti-elitist critique, which is awkward because there are far more coherant and smart critiques out there. Like the Zippy one, for instance. One of the reasons I like that strip so much is that it seems to admit an honest ambiguity: whereas Griffy often represents the most virulent elitist voice way back in our head, Zippy tempers that pretty well, partially because he never falls into Griffy's formulations; he doesn't try and defend things as guilty pleasures or necessarily consistent with the values Griffy puts forth. He just has a whole other set of standards.

And so I think there's a competing notion of humor even within that strip, and I also think that the fact that Griffy is supposedly the authorial standin is evidence enough of the kind of bitter self-hate you see among newspaper cartoonists. And maybe that's one of those limitations, along with daily deadlines and space contraints, that make great strips truly great works of art--but I think it's defintiely there, and definitely a voice in the argument that is often heard. So yeah, the McGruder strip is anti-sitcom, but it's sort of anti-laughter, too, if not anti-comedy. McGruder wants his readers to, you know, think, and thinking is the opposite of laughing.

Or so it appears to me.