The Art of the Insult

    A quirky gentleman by the name of Paul Conrad died a couple of years ago (September 4, 2010). The brouhaha about libel in the Philippines brings him to mind. Conrad lived 86 years. His name was legend in the United States, reflecting the power and popularity of a pen. A pen that was busy writing, not words, but pictures. He drew political cartoons for major American newspapers.
    He was a peace lover, so his views of war and political figures relentlessly ridiculed the aggressive America. He also didn’t like crooks or stupidity.

    I’m sure he got his instruction and motivation from the grand master of World War II cartoons, Bill Mauldin. Mauldin didn’t much like war, either. His characters “Willie and Joe” dealt with the absurdities of fighting.

    Comparing Bill Mauldin and Paul Conrad is like comparing Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordon. Who had greater impact on their respective games, politics and basketball?
    Bill Mauldin WWII

    Mauldin was good, for sure. And popular. But I’d guess that Paul Conrad is the most famous cartoonist of all time. He had no super hero to draw but lots of wrongs to right, lots of villains to slay. And his pen was mighty in the slaying.

    In the Philippines, he would be arrested for libel.
    In America he made people cringe . . . then applaud.
    He made editors cringe, like the one at the Los Angeles Times who refused to publish the cartoon of the elephant and the donkey over there. The drawing ridiculed Republican notions of what bipartisanship means.
    Conrad on Bipartisanship

    Conrad was great at shocking his readers. Unifying humor and political perspective so sharply that the readers’ reactions invariably passed through four stages:

    • Shock
    • Laughter
    • Comprehension
    • Appreciation
    In the Philippines, if we imagined a political leader sitting down at the breakfast table and skimming the newspapers for the latest insights on what is happening in their nation, we can imagine his reaction to a Conrad ridicule:
    • Shock
    • Anger
    • Comprehension
    • Litigation, whining or sanctioned murder
    Leaders in the Philippines take themselves way too seriously.
    Conrad on Government Snooping

    Interestingly, the un-powerful have a deep sense of humor and great appreciation for ridicule. Ridicule and cheating are two primary values of common living. Ridicule to bring others down from their higher station. Cheating to get ahead when you have no other way to do so.

    When everyone else has more than you do, those are understandable values.
    But those leaders. The powerful. They are missing a bulb or two in their self-deprecating humor chandelier.
    Philippine leadership seems too often to lack perspective. Lack humor. Lack comprehension that a democracy is a MULTITUDE of peoples and ideas. Not a single idea, the one espoused by the leader.
    I wish I could draw a picture of their definition of freedom of expression. But half of the picture would be censored. Filipino leaders seem to believe that speech should be free “if I approve of it”.  The morality of the powerful.
    Below are four  Conrad cartoons ridiculing from the top left, clockwise: President Lyndon Johnson and VP Humphrey riding a bomb into Viet Nam and political oblivion, Presidents Nixon and Bush as Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, President Reagan as a clown, President Nixon as a dark and villainous soul.

    Presidential jabs don’t get much sharper than these.
    I have no idea why Noynoy Aquino is whining so much about media criticism, why he somehow feels wronged. Why he advocates libel laws instead of free speech, as if oppression comes naturally to a man of his “station”. He works at the hardest, most complex, most impactful job in the nation. He is engaged on many prickly issues. He thinks he can skip merrily through six years and not attract criticism?

    Get real!

    Criticism comes with the territory.

    And as Captain John Paul Jones might put it:

    • “We have not yet begun to ridicule.”
    If President Aquino fails to get off his duff to advocate for a better Philippines by pressing for RH legislation and Freedom of Information laws, he deserves to be ridiculed. Why, he might just end up looking a lot like all of these characters, combined . . .
    LBJ Bombs Out of the Presidency
    Nixon and GW Bush, Dumb and Dumber
    President Nixon
    President Reagan

29 Responses to “The Art of the Insult”
  1. Anonymous says:

    If Pnoy were dumb, I , who voted for him, would be dumber. Does that statement qualify as ridicule or self-deprecating humor? (I have an idea for a cartoon with the caption, F**ked again! )DocB

  2. Ah, well, Pnoy is not dumb, so you are saved. He is merely trapped within social convention, and it is our job, nay, or obligation, our passion, to help him remove himself from such limitations.Your cartoon would probably help. I'll reserve space for it.

  3. andrew lim says:

    Since we are on the topic of insults, read this:–awarding-120-000.htmlChinese man sues wife after finding out she had surgeries before to improve her appearance. Their baby turns out to be ugly in his opinion. Court agrees with him, grants divorce and awards him damages. ha ha ha ha Pondered lengthily on the angles of this case before sleeping:1. Grounds for divorce- is this a basis?2. Privacy rights- how much should one divulge pre-marriage?3. False advertising – is the wife guilty of this?4. Bioethics – should there be a national registry for "altered" people? Just like a marriage bann, you can check it prior to weddingWonder how Vicky Belo reacts to this…

  4. Quite a striking change, before and after. Round the eyes, thin and raise the nose, take a little off the ears . . . voila, poof, peasant to babe. I enjoyed reading the comments. One woman characterized the man as "shallow and awful". I wonder what that makes the woman? They both looked at the before picture and saw the same thing. Rather than pay a lawyer, Dad could invest in the same cosmetic surgery for his daughter. If his daughter, upon reaching the age of 21, decided on it herself. Plus, Dad seems to take no responsibility for HIS half of the creative concoction. Maybe HE imparted the features he finds unattractive. Let's get a picture of him, eh?I like your number 4. Cracked me up. I'd be there because I had braces. My teeth were horribly crooked. Fortunately, I've already informed the wife, in writing, notarized, in triplicate, filed with the courts.

  5. Edgar Lores says:

    1. I’m not sure that the art of the cartoonist is appreciated in the Philippines.2. I’ve dredged my memory and the only name it throws up is “Malang”. Wikepedia records he is Mauro Malang Santos born in 1928. The info also mentions (Liborio) “Gat” Gatbonton which rings a bell. Apparently Malang was an apprentice of Gat, and Gat is recognized as the father of Filipino komiks. (If anything, this proves how ancient I am.)3. If you scan Philippine news media, the weight of influence lies clearly with columnists. So the adage of “a picture is worth a thousand words” is not necessarily true as a political weapon.4. Cartoons are independent or used to illustrate the main editorial, and I have a feeling nobody reads editorials. Columnists, yes, as attested by the volume of comments that trail the body of the columns.5. I’ve been thinking how I would depict politicians in cartoons, and I find I am not graphically creative. I can only imagine variations of that huge elephant humping the poor donkey. The subtlety and wit of Conrad's take on government snooping I would not be able to imagine in a decade. Also, in the sequence of my reactions, comprehension precedes laughter.6. So words are the weapon of choice in the Philippines, and just looking at PDI, the weapon ranges from the 12-pound cannons of Conrado de Quiros to the .22-caliber pistol of Ramon Tulfo.7. Strangely, or not so strangely, one can predict with high accuracy the velocity, direction, drift and drop of the projectiles of each columnist on any given issue.8. Sorry, we were discussing cartoons and freedom of speech, and my bullets have strayed. Oh, well, it’s been a long week of deep reflections, and one hopes that the President will reflect on the need to preserve our freedoms – with or without cartoons.

  6. As a former artilleryman, I appreciate the technical perspective on bullets. With big shells, the drift is farther, as they spin their way along over hill and dale, and you have to take into account the wind and the humidity. In my day, we had to be mighty quick with a slide rule type of calculator in the fire control tent. Today, they probably have computers. I'm nearly deaf in my right ear from that little playground of the big boom.As for newspaper columnists, I have always thought that is one bright spot in the popular media because of the variety of perspectives and candor. After scanning the sensationalism on the front page, I always turn to the columns for the heart of the edition. I agree, most editorials by editors are real yawners.I'll see if I can find some cartoons by Malang and Gat. I'll post what I find in the right column.

  7. Cha says:

    Ed, 2. I remember Larry Alcala and A Slice of Life, a social commentary on the Philippines and the Filipinos, back in the '80s. I think it came out the Bulletin Today.I never knew Malang was also a cartoonist. He was already quite popular as a painter in the 80s also. I remember going to one of the local galleries to view his work and write a reaction paper for my Humanities Class.

  8. Cha says:

    If I were the wife that ended up with this superficial prick for a husband, I would plead No Contest on the divorce proceedings. Then sue him for Fraud for failing to disclose his mental incompetence before the marriage.

  9. Cha says:

    Can you just imagine what the politicos would do to a Jon Stewart in the Philippines?

  10. Cha, the superficiality is not superficial to many guys, I would imagine. I used to go round and round with one of my ex-wives about her weight. Too much weight and my sex drive flips off like that light switch over there. Superficial, yes, but factual. As uniforms turn some women on. Or who knows what works . . . And how do we excuse the woman her vanity and not the guy's superficiality?That argued, I think the guy is a jerk . . . for being a really hideous father.

  11. Ha! Can you imagine what Jon Stewart would do to the politicos of the Philippines?He'd be so popular as to be untouchable.Bring him over!!!

  12. brianitus says:

    Ah, criticism. One can ignore. One can appreciate. It depends on the delivery. The president should just be handed a to-do list or checklist of what's wrong. Just hide the newspapers from him. It won't make him any less dumber.Haven't you also noticed how some people react towards satire?The day this country appreciates satire will be the same day I congratulate the Department of Education. Teaching people not to go ballistic all of the time is a tough feat.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Sotto would sue the pants off Jon Stewart. If he came over. Regarding political cartoons, there is a line no coward artist or even the brave Mr. Conrad will want to cross–the muslims. These people, well, their more fundamentalist brothers, will not suffer fools gladly, as recent events show. Sotto may issue a fatwa on Stewart if he knew this.DocB

  14. Yes, satire is a litmus test of humor, perspective and intelligence. The education system seems humorless, intent upon perspective that is narrow rote "say back to me" (rather subservient, now that I think about it), and intelligence in the box, not outside. I agree with you on all counts.

  15. Well, I'd like to think "the people" would take care of Mr. Sotto.Muslims are hard to deal with from outside because they have zero tolerance for non-believers. Tolerance is inversely related to the intensity of the passion for the faith. Muslims are hard to deal with from inside because the internal divisions have so little tolerance for one another. Given that faith is built on that which has no substance – an ideal, or dream, or hope, or image, or set of manmade hooplah – it is bizarre that so much anger and hostility can be directed at real people who are mainly just going about their business. Seems like upside down values to me, for the well being of the human kind.

  16. And clearly, Muslims have a very different interpretation of free speech than did Thomas Jefferson. Is it insecurity, or what, that drives people so mad over ideas that pop out of the human head . . .

  17. Anonymous says:

    There is a pecking order for dishing out insults in the Philippines.You have to know your place in the totem pole. Politicians and theelite are at the top; it's acceptable to laugh with them, but tabooto laugh at them. Overuse of papaya soap has created a generation of thin skinnedFilipinos so beware, insults can be dangerous to your health, your pocket book, or your freedom.amoramor

  18. Yes, and that is what I find so frustrating about President Aquino, a guy who I think is fundamentally well intended, and yet there is his apparent resistance to how uplifting it is to the human spirit for people who, like him, are also being earnest, but think differently, to find their views listened to rather than dismissed because the hearer is closed to any interpretation but his own. It is sooooo sooooo banana republic rather than enlightened. Why does the President not wish to lead an enlightened State?I start to buy into Coco's view that the Philippines remains an occupied State, with the powerful being the occupiers. It is not truly of and for the people. No matter what the President says in his SONA.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately he is being shuttered by too many close friends in his administration to fully appreciate the light outside the cave. Their incessant whispering in his ears are drowning out the voices of his bosses' who are clamoring for tangible change. He must fully realize that he is not an accidental President but voted into the Presidency due to the belief that his parents ideals are ingrained in his genes.The people should be armed with megaphones to appeal not only for P-Noy's attention but also the rest of the ruling class!amor

  20. Cha says:

    Vanity and superficiality actually deserve each other. That marriage is worth saving after all.

  21. "incessant whispering in his ears" That is consistent with the ruling class being more than a class, but a cabal of righteous title holders, rather like kings and earls, who are actually apart from the people. This is consistent with the view that the Philippines is still an occupied state. Bring out the megaphones, indeed, and the catapults and other instruments with which to storm the intellectual gates.

  22. Ahahaha, yes, they deserve each other! Throw the judge out though.

  23. brianitus says:

    "Overuse of papaya soap has created a generation of thin skinnedFilipinos so beware, insults can be dangerous to your health, your pocket book, or your freedom."+1 on this one.

  24. Cha says:

    I just remembered, there is this lady that calls herself Juana Change. More of a performance artist, but the only one that I can think of that seems to be getting away with political satire in the Philippines. Maybe because the targets have not been specific personalities.. Yet? She was out and about during the Comelec registration of candidates for 2013 poking fun at political dynasties by posing, along with fellow actors as a family of aspirants for various positions.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I think Juana blasted Pnoy with that video of her waiting for a ride on Pnoy's new second-hand Porsche. She got away with all right but I think a fall out developed with the pro-Pnoy civil society group that was Juana's ally before the Porsche incident. This and many others gave currency to the lie that Pnoy is sincere in uplifting poor people. DocB

  26. Anonymous says:

    I think satirists and cartoonists and lampooners are better in exposing our and especially the ruling class's hypocrisies, insecurities, and contradictions.DocB

  27. baycas says:

    "The problem with political jokes is they get elected."- Read

  28. Thanks for the reference. The Heckler will enjoy the blog next week about Ambrose Bierce. From "The Devil's Dictionary":LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.I'm sure you appreciate the humor.

  29. I think they can add a lot to the general enlightenment, as fast as electricity moves hereabouts, especially text jokes.

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