Satire in a “Scary, Wonderful Country”

The role of political cartoonists has largely been usurped by Stewart and Colbert. But what should satirists even target these days?
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What is the political cartoonist’s role in the modern era?

Jules Feiffer: Well, I’m not sure about that role any longer.  The role used to be to mix things up and I think to a great extent it still is, but the quality of the work of the political cartoon has been succeeded by the wisecrack, the gag cartoon, so that the cartoonist becomes more of the equivalent of the Jay Leno monologues, or David Letterman monologues.  And there is not much – that digs much deeper, the most meaningful work on politics in terms of political humor that one can possibly find on the air is in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Colbert Show and occasionally on those opening monologues on Saturday Night Live.  But particularly with Stewart and Colbert, that satire, often very pointed, very barbed, with a real point of view at its best.  And there aren’t many cartoonists working that.  There’s still **** syndication is wonderful; there’s Jeff Danzinger, also in syndication, who is brilliant.  There’s Tony Austin of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Signe Wilkinson of Philadelphia Daily News, there’s Tom Toles who is extraordinary in the Washington Post.  But to my knowledge the L.A. Times, which for many, many years had one of the great cartoonists of our time, Paul Conrad, doesn’t have anybody anymore, or runs them in syndication, which is sinful, shameful. 

And over and over again, cartoonists are loosing their jobs, and I don’t think there are 100 cartoonists in the country working on the editorial pages today.  So, the whole form is in danger.  But I’ve been around a long time and I’ve found that these forms, whether it’s the cartoon, or whether it’s a play, or all these dying forms refuse to die. Something happens to rejuvenate them and it will certainly happen to the political cartoon.  It will come back.  But whether it’s on the internet, or whether it’s in some other form, however that works, whether it looks the way it looks now, or entirely different, I have no idea.  And thank God I don’t have to worry about it.

Question: Where should good satirists direct their satire today?

Jules Feiffer: Well, you know, with Obama being elected, we had a wonderful opportunity.  I hope it’s not blown, and we have forms of government that don’t seem to be up to the level of the leaders who are around who will want to move this country in a proper direction.  Where that goes and how that goes, I mean, we seem determined to not move ahead, to stay in the same place.  And there are a lot of nuts out there as well.  It’s a scary, but also wonderful country and I have no idea – I mean, look, I’m the wrong generation to ask that question too, because I’m mired completely in where I come out of.  And I come out of a Cold War sensibility, a Cold War mentality, and during those Cold War years, I used to know, I thought, the answers to everything.  And since the end of the Cold War, I’m just as dumb as everyone else.

Recorded on February 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen