Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Toon It On Out

Surely by now you've recognized it's a cartoon world. Don't say you never suspected.

I actually thought of this even before the nascent uproar in the Muslim world over Danish comic strips. As for that sad and by now infinitely pontificated on topic, maybe the less said the better, but I'll provide what I hope are three concise observations on the matter.

First of all, no one can tell any person anywhere what should or shouldn't offend his or her sensibilities. Taking offense is generally a relexive behavior; one's response to it can be controlled, but whether or not one is offended is, at best, supremely difficult.

Two, there is no right NOT to be offended in any society I'm aware of. In different parts of the world, standards vary as to what can be read, viewed or expressed in private or in public, but it is not the job of any government, any law enforcement, any organization to ensure individuals or groups are never offended.

Finally, the right of free speech, free press and free expression are crucial tenets, but with rights come responsibilities. Let's assume for the sake of argument I fly into a rage whenever I hear the word "Klansmen", read any reference to Klansmen, or see any Klansmen. Most people who aren't Klansmen would concur that Klansmen of the Ku Klux variety are pretty offensive and I couldn't be blamed for disliking their mention or existence. If I have an acquaintance who enjoys provoking me by saying "Klansmen" and I attempt to injure him every time he does, it is I who have committed the far greater transgression. But it's also difficult to deny that my acquaintance acted foolishly. He was within his rights to say "Klansmen" and I bounded well outside mine by attacking, but should he not have used better judgement?

It is difficult to determine whether or not the European newspapers that reprinted the Danish cartoons could have foreseen such an outbreak of violent protest, although without question they must have known something would happen. But it's worth noting now that not everything within one's rights is a wise course of action. Mind you, that has never stopped me from saying any number of foolish and provocative things, but the subject at least bears consideration.

None of this exonerates anyone who committed or attempted a violent act, ostensibly over outrage at a cartoon. Grow up, I say. And if you can't manage that, just whine about it like everyone else. At least then you won't die or go to jail; you'll just be annoying.

And now, on to what I meant to bring up in the first place, the cartoon nature of the world! It first occurred to me when I heard Disney bought Pixar and at roughly the same time, Boston Scientific was making offers to purchase Guidant, a company known for designing medical supplies like pacemakers. Suppose, however, a dreadful mixup occurred and Disney bought Guidant while Boston Scientific inadvertently annexed Pixar. Then all the pacemakers in the world would be animated, visible and heart-shaped and whenever you saw a desirable person, the device would protrude from your chest and pump loudly and uncontrollably.

One recent Friday in Terre Haute--which is not my hometown in spite of its frequent recurrence in this blog--I had a cartoonish encounter with the city's trains. If you've never driven in Terre Haute, don't! There are actually places in Terre Haute where the traffic lights are perfectly synchronized in reverse! Seriously, the one you're sitting at turns green, the one directly in front of you turns red. Trains are another bane of the town.

On the aforementioned Friday, I drove down Fort Harrison Avenue and spotted a sign that read "Road Closed Ahead." The "ahead" wasn't very far, as a giant utility truck straddled the road about fifteen feet beyond the sign. Nice notice, but not untypical. Behind the truck, a train sat motionless on the track. As it was a diagonal line, the train managed to block motorists in both the westbound and northbound directions. I turned south, but moments later ran into the same train attempting to cross the tracks on a different thoroughfare. This seemed unreal to me, just as it seemed unreal when I visualized people rioting over a cartoon.

So when things seem too exaggerated for reality, just shake your head and toon it out. What else can you do? In any case, don't try to hurt anyone else. That, after all, would be despicable! And you might get your beak shot off, too.


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