Friday, March 16, 2012

Abortion week in Doonesbury

Posted By on 03.16.12 at 02:15 PM

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I heard from a reader wondering what I thought of the Doonesbury strips running this week in the Tribune.

Considering the milder strips they've held back over the years, it was shocking that they went with this one, let alone all the other references to trans vaginal exams in the middle of their comics page this week. Editorial lapse? Tribune feeling sympathetic to the strip's position? Or an attempt to give Doonesbury enough rope to hang itself with their readers, so they can get rid of it permanently?

I asked the reader for his or her (it was an anonymous e-mail) own opinion of the strips.

I like subtler humor. Trangressive for a printed comic page. And a fair analogy when you get right down and think about it. You could call it a cheap shot for a humor strip, but to the people on the wrong side of the Texas law it probably rings true. It's a little like reading Richard Dawkins when he goes straight for someone's throat. Can't fault the honesty, but maybe not the best way to change minds on the opposing side.

To me, it's not a cheap shot when bullies get called out for being bullies, no matter how easy they make it to make fun of them. Though, to be honest, in the forum of a comic strip it isn't that easy, and Garry Trudeau's tonal precision never ceases to amaze me.

Here's a report from the Washington Post that says more than 60 of Doonesbury's 1,400 clients spiked this week's strips, but none of them canceled Doonesbury as a result.

And here, thanks to Slate, are a week of abortion-themed strips that Trudeau drew back in 1985 but then pulled on the advice of his syndicate, Universal.

As for the Tribune, associate managing editor Geoff Brown, who oversees the comics pages, told me he and his bosses talked about suspending the strip for a week, or moving it to the editorial pages, but decided to stand fast. "We stood by our standards," Brown said. "Was it fair? Was it in good taste? Was it satire? Was it, you know, self-promotion?" Not of Trudeau himself, Brown said, but of a cause he favored. Doonesbury passed these tests. Some readers might argue that good satire and good taste are mutually exclusive; it appears the Tribune, correctly, disagrees.

What have you heard from your readers? I asked Brown.

"Virtually nothing," Brown said. "I don't need two hands to count the response."

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