Nel's New Day

March 10, 2012

Newspapers Censor ‘Doonesbury’

Republicans can force women to do their will, but they can’t talk about it. Neither can the media, at least not on the “funny pages.” After Gary Trudeau used the obscenely ridiculous occurrences within the past few weeks in next week’s comic strip Doonesbury, many newspapers are refusing to run this series because of its “graphic imagery” and “graphic language.” At least some of the newspapers are moving the comic strip series to the opinion pages or posting it on their websites although others are out and out rejecting it.

In Oregon, the Register-Guard (Eugene) plans a link on registerguard.com for readers who want to see the series while The Oregonian (Portland) posted on its website that Gary Trudeau “in our judgment went over the line of good taste and humor in penning a series on abortion using graphic language and images inappropriate for a comics page.” They also plan to post the series with a poll about the decision not to run it in the newspaper at gocomics.com/doonesbury. Of the 44 comments to the decision thus far, only one commended the newspaper. Sample comments to the decision:

This newspaper thinks its readers are morons.

I disagree with your shortsighted decision.

When did the Oregonian become the arbiter of “good taste” for its readers?

You are eroding your trust with the public you serve by this decision.

It is an embarrassment to the state of Oregon that our largest newspapers so freely practices censorship.

Apparently the obscene nature of the matter and its substance can be reported, but mocking the asinine nature of the subject is verboten.

For its premise, the “shocking” series uses the recent spate of state legislation requiring ultrasounds–many of them transvaginal–for women seeking abortions.It shows a woman going to a clinic where she is confronted people who state that she should be ashamed. A doctor reads a script for Gov. Rick Perry (TX) inviting her to a “compulsory transvaginal exam,” and a middle-aged legislator calls her “slut.” In one panel, the mandated procedure is compared to rape with the device described as a “ten-inch shaming wand.”

Complaining about the “language” and “imagery” is ironic because the same information has been on the news where children can see and hear it. Rush Limbaugh’s program is aired at a time that children have ready access to it.

In defense of the Texas law that requires an ultrasound before an abortion, abortion being a legal medical procedure in this country, Perry’s spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said that the governor is proud of his leadership on the sonogram laws. Frazier also said, “The decision to end a life is not funny. There is nothing comic about this tasteless interpretation of legislation we have passed in Texas to ensure that women have all the facts when making a life-ending legislation.”

Frazier is right about ending a life not being funny. People in Texas, more than in any other state, should be knowledgeable about ending lives because of the huge number of people, some of them innocent, executed by that state. This is also the same state that will no longer receive federal monies to help 130,000 low-income women in obtaining contraceptives and breast cancer examinations.

Thus Texas will protect the children and guarantee that more women become pregnant because they are unable to obtain birth control, an action probably leading to more abortions. This is the country where a political party that claims to be for “limited government” can force doctors to perform medical procedures with which they disagree. Women can be forced to hear a description of the image and the fetal heartbeat, but comic strip readers are “protected” from hearing about the horrific law passed by some of the states, with Virginia making the eighth one earlier this past week.

Doonesbury is satire, defined as an attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice or a critique of dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards. Stephen Colbert used satire when he employed an ultrasound wand to make Margaritas during his Super Tuesday program. (In my viewing area, Stephen Colbert’s show aired at 6:00 pm and therefore readily available to young people.) Laughter comes from shock, and the states’ mandates to force women to have transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion is shocking.

The fact that Doonesbury is influential may frighten conservatives. The comic strip has caused social change, for example when it satirized a law in a Florida county that required minorities to have a passcard in the area. The law repealing this act was nicknamed the Doonesbury Act. Conservatives know that the most effective way to defeat opposition is to silence it.

Kudos to the Washington Post and the Cleveland Plain Dealer for running the satiric comic strip where it has always been—on the “funny pages.” Debbie Van Tassel, assistant managing editor of features at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said that she and other top editors have decided to run the next Doonesbury. “We didn’t deliberate long. This newspaper deals with those issues [abortion and transvaginal ultrasounds] routinely in the news sections and in our health section.” She pointed out that the first page carried a story about the movement by women legislators across the country to curb men’s abilities to get vasectomies and prescriptions for erectile dysfunction. “I haven’t heard of any objections to that story yet,” Van Tassel said.

Fortunately some newspapers don’t want to suppress negative reactions to the conservatives’ attack on women.

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