A Stick Figure World: Politics as Rotten Cartoons


Politicians are stick figures in a rotten cartoon factory, one that produces the State as pure anti-hero. But where are our super-heroes? And, one must add: Where is the door out of this cracker-jack box?

More and more the irony of this year’s election is bringing out the truth that we live in a post-democratic society here in the good old U.S.A.. At home and abroad America is taking a dive, demoralized we’ve become the stock and trade joke of the early 21st Century. A government that would rather bail out the Plutocrats than its own citizens no longer deserves anything but derision and satire. Yet, this isn’t the end of it, citizens will need to do more than laugh in the months and years ahead.

Satire has a rich and varied history. Juvenal, the Roman satirist, lived under the dreaded Domitian and wrote of his life as an administrator (bureaucrat). He wrote of the corruption of society in the city of Rome and the follies and brutalities of mankind. In the first Satire, Juvenal declares that vice, crime, and the misuse of wealth have reached such a peak that it is impossible not to write satire, but that, since it is dangerous to attack powerful men in their lifetime, he will take his examples from the dead. He does not maintain this principle, for sometimes he mentions living contemporaries; but it provides a useful insurance policy against retaliation, and it implies that Rome has been evil for many generations.

Of his satires it is Satire 7 that depicts the poverty and wretchedness of the Roman intellectuals who cannot find decent rewards for their labours. In the eighth, Juvenal attacks the cult of hereditary nobility. One of his grandest poems is the 10th, which examines the ambitions of mankind—wealth, power, glory, long life, and personal beauty—and shows that they all lead to disappointment or danger: what mankind should pray for is “a sound mind in a sound body, and a brave heart.”

Today Juvenal would probably be labeled a moralist and reactionary in some ways, yet he was able to give us a pattern and set of tropes that guide much of our critical arsenal today. Satire was to expose the darkness hiding in plain site, the underbelly of our political and social worlds, and those minions of power and fame that hollow out the core of a nation’s life. We live in an age that is beyond satire, a time when the very meaning of satire no longer goes far enough to shape the truth. For our age has no truth, ours is nihilism defined; a time when men and women play at playing on the stage of media worlds that have become nothing more than the One-Dimensional sounding boards of their vein narcissism. The cardboard characters that strut the stage of our late spectacle no longer define life, but instead define the cultural death squads of a future without hope. Our despair is not that we want find the Good, but that the Good has already become our Evil. Ours is the age of Cartoons, a time when the scripts that politicians follow are mere facades for the idiocy of a post-mediatocracy that presents the spectacle as the only show in town.

The destiny of such a Mediatocracy living in the gap between satire and farce is that it has suborned the real into a cartoon village world where pundits and citizens alike gaze on in stupefaction as the leaders play out an end game that has no future, only a present full of derision and vanity. No longer the days when we could hope for real change, reality has exited the stage and left us with this charade of wonderland. The apocalypse will not come by way of strange days, but rather with the whimper of a citizenry who allowed cartoon gods to rule over them.

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