America is the world’s soft power capital and don’t you know it – even the least likely satire swots could at least could name The Onion, or Jon Stewart, or Saturday Night Live. That’s just scratching the surface, though. It’s eye-rolling how people need to be often reminded that America isn’t so much a big, amorphous, culturally uniform, crypto-imperialist mass as much as a motley collective of fifty mini-countries, each with strong individual identities and many bigger than actual countries themselves. (As such, states’ rights has long been an issue in American federal politics.) In a nation with traditional scepticism towards authority, this makes for satire to be found at every level imaginable; not just at the East and West Coast national media megaliths.
Using a very unscientific measurement facility in Sporcle, I’ve picked the first state to home in on based on how relatively forgettable it is compared to all the others. Interestingly in this case, it happens to be Missouri, a state plumb in America’s midwestern heartlands. Happily, for the purposes of political comment, it’s also been thought to be significant on account of its traditional bellwether status, making it a sort-of ‘microcosm’ which has, as the wisdom goes, led it to correctly call the winner of every presidential election since 1904, except for the two most recent ones (2008 and 2012).
Missouri’s two biggest population centres are Kansas City and St Louis, which are right on its borders at opposite ends of the state. These two sprawling urban areas lean strongly towards the Democratic Party, whereas much of Missouri’s rural hinterland is conservative and Republican, giving Missouri its finely balanced contrasts. Remember, if you will, that when Missouri candidate for the US Senate, Todd Akin, made comments about ‘legitimate rape’ in 2012, both presidential candidates weighed in to try to politically manage the situation in what seen as a crucial and tight political race.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that The Kansas City Star punches above its weight. Apparently, it has won seven Pulitzer Prizes – not a bad show. Ever heard of some writer guy called Ernest Hemingway? When he left school he worked at the newspaper for a few months before going off to fight in Europe (an experience that would lead to A Farewell to Arms). Hemingway would later namedrop the paper’s style guide whenever people asked him about his writing.
The Star’s editorial cartoonist is Lee Judge, whose liberal cartoons often vex local conservatives. He appears to have the interesting honour of a Facebook page dedicated to trying to put him out of work, mainly because of a cartoon he drew in 2013 which was accused of using the unfortunate accidental death of a US Navy SEAL as a tasteless way of commenting on conservative attitudes to gun control.
In response to this week’s controversial decision by the US Supreme Court not to put a cap on total donations to political campaigns, Judge has been as on-point as any of his colleagues at the national titles.
I must say it would be disingenuous of me, however, to ignore the nationals – not least because good cartoonists often move back and forth between smaller and grander news sheets. David Horsey has been a favourite political cartoonist of mine since he worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer – a regional publication in the US north-west that went online-only in 2009. He now works for the Los Angeles Times, and his output is still solidly rapier. This is his comment on the campaign finance decision:
It’s not all Capitol Hill; Horsey also has a word on the furore surrounding the grumbles of religious fundamentalists in the US and elsewhere towards the film Noah. Noah is Paramount’s new blockbuster – which is of biblical proportions. tru story. Or not, as some might have it. This film also stars Emma Watson, famous obviously for other literally real films featuring fate, turbulent special effects, and birds as a postal service.
One of the important parts of a satirist’s job is to keep reminding his or her punters that however big a pedestal someone builds for themselves, whether it be moral or religious or social or economic or whatever, they’re essentially the same general height and make as you are. We can see this for ourselves, the satirist urges, if we’re bold enough to swipe the rickety rhetorical thing from under their feet. In America’s case, its characteristic individualism – which, though often criticised for clear reasons, has constitutional equality as its basic underpinning – can both find strength in and impart strength onto that satirical mission. The US aesthetic grandee that is the late Andy Warhol expressed its radical idealism – in a deliberately ironic, self-conscious, easy-to-quote fashion, naturally.
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.1