My mother Leah frequented the Durban Public Library in South Africa at least once a week. As the youngest child, I was often forced to tag along with her. I enjoyed those sessions. I used to haul out the dinosaur books or the big portfolio tomes about the pictorial history of World War One. I learned at an early age that the world was indeed a scary place. If T-Rex wasn’t going to eat you, Big Bertha, Vickers machine guns, potato masher grenades, the trenches or mustard gas would do you in. So I was continuously on the lookout for something less dire. That’s when I found the Punch Magazine volumes. Say what you want about how fucked up South Africa was then, the Durban Library outings taught me about political satire. Some cartoonists have the ability to succinctly explain situations without the usual verbiage and hot air. Here are two examples and I believe they bear some relevance to the mess that we currently find ourselves in.
An entire page in Punch was devoted to the following cartoon. The scene is this…a motorist is driving down a lonesome desert highway. There is absolutely nothing on either side of the road. For entire panels the driver is alone, until a speck appears on the horizon to the right. The dot looms larger until it is visible, a large cactus plant. It is the only other object in the drawing, except for the car and the white line blacktop. Finally, the driver reaches the plant and crashes into it. The motorist had one opportunity to make a mistake and managed to pull it off. Now, there is junk all across the horizon, a real highwayman’s farewell.
The other one that stuck with me is of the biker preening himself in front of the mirror before a Saturday night out on the town. He is wearing a leather jacket with a whole host of zippered pockets and lapels. After the careful Brylcreem pompadour preparation, he meticulously zips up each part of the jacket, the collar epaulets, the chest pockets, the side pockets, and the main one up the middle. Proud of his prep work, he gives himself the Gene Vincent Teddy Boy thumbs up and steps out into the street. But the fly to his pants is open, he forgot to zip that up. It is reminiscent of the old gag, “How do you make an elephant fly? First of all, you get a great big zipper.”
For some reason, these two cartoons have always remained with me, perhaps because they represent how smart and stupid we can be at the same instance. Think about this…how many times have we prepared for an event, an action, a publication, an announcement of the next big thing, when we have dotted the “i” letters and crossed the “t” ones, and still fucked it all up by missing the bleeding obvious?
We are currently in that conundrum. Most of the time we are blessed with the notion that however wrong we are, we are more right than not, especially given how wrong the opposition is.
My point is that we can take nothing for granted. What we thought was a definite last week might not even be a possibility next week. And then the opposite is also true. We do well to rely on our experience and our analysis of how these things work. But we continuously need to adapt. Otherwise we will run into the thorny bush with our pants down, like the characters in the Punch Magazine cartoons.