Archive for October, 2017

Be a Mensch!

Be a Mensch!

It’s ironic to me that the best guidance for men (specifically men with power) comes from a 1960 film, an era when sexual predatory behavior was often encouraged if not celebrated.

In the 1960 film “The Apartment,” CC Baxter (played by Jack Lemmon) is a bright and earnest young man trying to make a success of himself at a big insurance company in New York City. Baxter is single and lives in an apartment in the city near the office, whereas the executives he works with (and is eager to impress) are married and live in the suburbs. To improve his career opportunities Baxter reluctantly lends the key to his apartment to some of these executives for trysts with women who are clearly not their wives.

His next door neighbors and the landlady assume Baxter is some sort of party boy, with the loud music and noises and constant parade of various women. He lets them think this to protect the reputations of his superiors. Baxter knows he’s being used, but he rationalizes his moral misgivings by throwing himself even harder into climbing the corporate ladder.

At work, Baxter meets and finds himself falling for a young woman, Fran Kubelik (played by Shirley MacLaine). Unfortunately, he soon discovers that Miss Kubelik is the mistress of a very high exec to whom Baxter recently started lending his apartment key. The exec is cruel and manipulative, leading Kubelik on to a point where she attempts suicide by ingesting sleeping pills.

Baxter comes home late that evening to find her passed out in his bed. At first he is furious but soon realizes the situation and rushes next door to get his neighbor who is a doctor. Dr Dreyfuss is able revive her and once she is somewhat stabilized, he tears into Baxter:

Dr. Dreyfuss: I don’t know what you did to that girl in there — and don’t tell me — but it was bound to happen, the way you carry on. Live now, pay later. Diner’s Club! Why don’t you grow up, Baxter? Be a mensch! You know what that means?

CC Baxter: I’m not sure.

Dr. Dreyfuss: A mensch — a human being!

It turns out the film’s advice is deceptively simple: No matter who you are — from an everyday Joe to a celebrated entertainer, a Hollywood mogul, or even the President of the United States — first be a mensch, a decent human being. Let’s hope we can all follow the good doctor’s advice.

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Hey, Watch the Name Calling

Hey, Watch the Name Calling

As an editorial cartoonist, I get called names all the time. Most are just garden variety insults (stupid, wimp, jerk), many are nonsensical (“Marxist Fascist” is one of my favorites), and some are ones that occasionally get close to sensitive areas (we “talentless” cartoonists actually prefer the term “artistically challenged”). What name-calling has never done is change my mind and win me over the name-caller’s side of an argument. I’m pretty sure that’s how it works for most people.

During the campaign last year when Clinton referred to Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” it wasn’t surprising for her to lose the support of that demographic. In fact, it became something of a rallying cry — Trump supporters proudly wearing “Deplorable” t-shirts. In a similar way, whenever Trump perceives that a woman has the audacity to slight him, he will refer to her as “nasty.” Boom, there’s the mayor of San Juan with a “Nasty” t-shirt.

I think we can all agree that name-calling is counterproductive for winning arguments. But it is oh-so-pleasing to our reptile brains, isn’t it? It feeds right into our tribal tendencies. And then along comes social media providing the easiest way ever to launch a killer burn! We don’t even have be witty ourselves — just share a pre-packaged meme. It’s a name-caller’s dream!

So I have some sympathy for Michigan State Police Director, Kriste Etue who, as the cartoon mentioned, shared that meme. Just like any of us, I’m sure she saw it, felt that rush of righteousness, click, and it was shared.

Except, of course, Col Etue is in a position of power and privilege that comes with a great deal of responsibility. She is paid well to understand the consequences of her actions as a police leader, to be able to anticipate the potential damage of her words, to know better. She failed miserably. That sure seems like a punishable offense.

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Flint Water Crisis Bad? This Is Even Worse.

This Is Even Worse

At this point another editorial cartoon about guns and gun violence (especially after a mass shooting) feels like an exercise in futility. There is the emotional tumult that fuels an enormous bonfire, and the cartoons simply get tossed in. It rages and eventually burns itself out, leaving a feeling of despair. Rinse and repeat.

I tried a different route here and attempted to add context, specifically for my fellow Michiganders. But any metaphor is imperfect. Guns aren’t just like cars or cigarettes or abortion or freedom or God or whatever. They aren’t “just like” anything. Guns are guns. Especially in America.

So I only really have one important takeaway to share. People are dying. Sometimes individually, sometimes in groups. On average, 93 Americans are killed with guns everyday. But that’s not the takeaway — the actual takeaway is this: We can in fact do something to reduce this. If we want to.

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