The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Wednesday, October 29, 2003
UNDER THE BOONDOCKS: Boondocks is a comic strip for people who think sophisticated social commentary consists of namedropping. It reminds me of the old Jean Shepherd
bit about "the non-controversial controversial comic":
He has this bitter look on his face, this very special bitter look that says I know....He looks with this kind of casual look, as though it's building up, this anger. And then finally it comes out, and he says:

"Governor Faubus."

(canned laughter)

The word is beginning to come. You can feel it!

"Ad-lai Stevenson."

(canned laughter)

Now he's beginning to really swing. He's really giving us the truth! He waves his hand for silence. His face has assumed the bitter look of the tea that General Yen long ago himself drank deeply to the dregs. Disgust is evidenced for the entire world -- all of the things, everything he sees!

"Ike."

(canned laughter)
Cartoonist Aaron McGruder's niche lies in applying this brand of comedy to black pop culture. Where Shepherd's prototype says "Ike," McGruder says "Sisqo"; where the prototype says "Adlai Stevenson," McGruder says "Juwanna Mann." There's rarely an effort to say something clever about the targets. It's easier just to pronounce their names with a sneer.

For all that, Boondocks is actually one of the less objectionable strips out there: It has one genuinely funny character (Huey's grandfather), the Sunday art looks great, and occasionally it pisses off the right people. It's come under severe criticism recently for mocking Condoleeza Rice -- the gag behind a dozen or so recent strips is that the woman just needs a good man to warm her heart, and while that isn't especially funny, it's entertaining to watch the political class get discombobulated over it.

It also shows how slow the pundits can be to catch onto these things. This is hardly the strip's low point, but it's still unleashed rants like this one from National Review's John Derbyshire:
Never mind Doonesbury. For a REALLY offensive comic strip, check out "Boondocks." The basic premises here are:

----White people are scum.
----Black people are wise and good, except that...
----Any black person not an anti-war white-hating socialist is a self-loathing moral criminal with a tortured soul.
----Capitalism is evil.
----Black and non-black Americans are engaged in a zero-sum game.
----Blacks are losing that game because they don't hate whites enough.
----Blacks who collaborate with The Man in any way are either evil or mentally ill, or both.
Which is just strange. Administration officials aside, white people are not the target of Boondocks. Black people are. They are mocked not for failing to be "anti-war white-hating socialists" but for being "embarrassing," a trait which sometimes consists of espousing the very ideas that Derbyshire is attributing to the strip. McGruder's politics are on the left side of liberal, but when his protagonist, the boy radical Huey, goes off on a real tear, chances are it's Huey and not his hate object that's being satirized.

But the biggest problem with Derbyshire's critique is that it's looking in the wrong direction. Boondocks is not mediocre because of its "premises." It's mediocre because its creator seems to think his job stops once his premise has been stated.


posted by Jesse 12:17 PM
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