I, too, stumbled across the Doonesbury strip noted by Nick Stewart (no relation) in this past Sunday’s comic section. (Yes, the Philly Inquirer runs Doonesbury in the comics, not in the editorial section as is right and proper, but that’s a fight for another day or perhaps another paper.) I agree with Nick’s take on the issue – Trudeau seems truly terrified of the growing influence of bloggers and is expressing said fear as arch snark.
The reasons behind his terror aren’t readily apparent, however, if you look at Trudeau as simply a cartoonist and not a “visual editorialist”, to coin a phrase. We’ve seen this sort of diminution of bloggers before, primarily from paid pundits and editorial board members who make their very livings based upon expressing opinions and having them matter based purely upon the stature of their respective newspapers, TV channels, magazines and websites. The prime positions ceded to such people have been largely due to a great degree of inscrutability on the part of said editors and pundits – what we in the computing industry might call “security through obscurity“. Americans had to trust that the editors and pundits, given the greater reach and resources of the mainstream press/media, were more thoroughly able to form coherent opinions on the issues of their times than the average Joe on the street and the only two avenues of “response” to the expressed opinions were letters to the editor and calls to the subscription department.
Of course, this veil of secrecy had its flaws and every now and again, a whistle blower would come along and embarrass a few people, but (particularly post-World War II), most people simply thought of the upper echelons of the mainstream media as trustworthy, or at least benign.
Trudeau began penning his comic strip in just such an atmosphere and he fueled much of the “humor” in his early strips by playing an outsider whether it came to government, culture or the news media. Somewhere along the way, though, he became a part of that media – dependent upon syndication deals to put bread on his table and dependent upon those in the media to reinforce his own personal stereotypes.
And now he, as well as a good portion of the media, see that the days of being able to get by simply by claiming “We’re the press! Trust us!” are long gone. When each and every citizen has the potential to become a journalist (of a sort) in their spare time, then the old media types are forced into a very precarious situation. By a simple supply and demand calculation, it’s easy to see that as the supply of “journalists” (and thereby available news and media) goes up, the perceived value of their services goes down. This is particularly evident in the field of opinion journalism.
Given the wealth of information now available to an average citizen with access to the Internet, why should the opinion of someone with a journalism degree automatically matter more than that of a lawyer, say, or an engineer[Will Collier, not Steven Green. -ed.]? Why should Trudeau’s work be any more likely to be carried in a newspaper than Chris Muir? Why should people have to pay to access the New York Times’ opinion pieces when highly-paid professionals of all stripes are offering their informed and often far more interesting opinions for free?
Trudeau is terrified that his readers can finally “talk back” to him in such a way that vastly more than a few people can see other readers’ responses. Gone is his ability to “artistically” pontificate from on high and with it his assurances of self worth, it would seem.
So chuckle at good ol’ Garry. Don’t be offended by his comics page thrashings. He’s just an artistic buggy whip maker coming to the realization that these car things are around for good.