Friday, August 13, 2010

The Demise of Cathy

And now for something completely different.

One of my friends, in addition to having a super-important serious job, is an independent cartoonist. This, shown below, was her recent take on the demise of the strip Cathy.

(Click to embiggen)

It strikes me as strange how attached we are to our punching bags. If we are ever to have peace and not constant conflict, it seems to me we'd first need to cast aside the means and methods of how we project our fears and anxieties. Cartoons like Cathy remind us that the offense we take from them is a result of how close to the truth they are sometimes. The female protagonist of the aforementioned comic strip was very much an over-the-top portrayal, constantly fixated on the same insecurities and phobias. And yet, I'm sure many of us knew people just like her, and perhaps even see bits of ourselves in what was essentially a caricature or perhaps even a pastiche of so-called modern womanhood.

I've surveyed a fairly wide range of Feminist critique over the past couple days, and it seems as though the basic sentiment is that Cathy reinforced negative stereotypes of women, reducing them all to neurotic complainers, desperately seeking the perfect swimsuit or man, for that matter. This is a sentiment not received well with many, particularly those who sought to avoid the Cathy stereotype or who are not exactly concerned with the eternal pursuit of men. I acknowledge their concerns with an open mind.

Yet, what has also been uniformly noted is that the strip broke a tremendous amount of new ground. Its basic premise has been co-opted into many successful chick lit books and chick flick films. Times change constantly and no doubt what has been written today may be seen as shockingly behind-the-times at some future date. Cathy was very much a product of her time. I often cringe to see racial and homophobic stereotypes in literature, art, and film from the past. Whether I toss aside the works altogether, or seek to look past the parts that are not in keeping with my own moral compass is my call alone to make. To me, it's a matter of individual choice, though the past has its own wisdom and guidance I am glad I learned, with life lessons I'd have disregarded altogether had I kept to a far stricter standard.

I love silent film, but I also recognize that depictions of people of color, if they even appear, frequently resort to minstrelsy as a means of comic relief. It's not terribly amusing to see African-Americans shown as childish buffoons whose cartoonish dialect is a frequent punch line, but I know audiences roared with laughter at the time. Likewise, the director John Ford worked closely with John Wayne in numerous Westerns, films which advance a conception of repressed, rugged masculinity that never really was, one where acting tough, unsentimental, and, when the situation demanded it, violent, was the norm. However, I can't help delighting in the beautiful black and white cinematography and the shot composition.

We may only be left with one of those unsatisfying on-one-hand, but on-the-other hand kind of resolutions.

I'm reminded a bit of Woody Allen's opening monologue for the film Annie Hall.

"There's an old joke. Two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions."

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