Drop Everything and Read This: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud ~ Raj Venkata

There are people out there who know more about the Marvel and DC Universes than I ever will. People who can name every single Lantern Corps and at least three prominent members of each. People who know that Booster Gold has done more for the multiverse than Batman ever will, and can tell you in excruciating detail why and how.

I can hold my own, of course: I can name all five Robins and give respectable arguments for my favorites. If you name a Marvel hero I could probably name which side of the Registration Act issue he or she fell on. Maybe the most convincing proof I can offer that I’m a True Believer is the fact that I actually envy the people who know more than me.

One might wonder why anyone would envy such a dubious accomplishment. The answer is simple: because Marvel and DC are comic books and comic books are Marvel and DC. No matter what my relationship is with the medium, no matter how long it’s been a part of my life, no matter how much I can tell you about indie authors like Craig Thompson or Marjane Satrapi, there is a certain and very odd kind of street cred carried by the people who know the chemical difference between adamantium and vibranium.

It’s telling that the spandex-clad cliches of the old guard still define the medium of the graphic novel to the extent they do. Mention the term ‘comic books’ and what comes to peoples’ minds are tights-wearing superheroes, campy dialogue and the casual use of that questionable term, ‘multiverse’. Assumptions like these are certainly less true than ever these days; more and more, titles that were avant-garde obscurities twenty years ago are being recognized as works of popular literature now, perhaps even as classics.

Still, it’s hard to see what made these works so avant-garde in the first place. Read Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and its sequels (together composing an autobiographical epic history of a fictional row of tenement buildings in Depression era New York) and it’s hard to tell what made this story so revolutionary. For all its brilliance, it doesn’t drift that far away from the conventions of traditional artwork or storytelling.

Alan Moore’s Watchmen seems a little closer to revolutionary, but even two decades has been enough to dull its edge substantially. Movies like “The Dark Knight” have made it easy for us to believe that a superhero story can be real art. Twenty years ago, this wasn’t a fact to be taken for granted.

We can, of course, ask ourselves the mostly-rhetorical question of what exactly made these books so unconventional and world-shaking back in their own day. But we know, don’t we? What made them so remarkable was their suggestion that a comic book can tell a story for grown ups. That the medium might produce storytellers who could, a hundred years from now, be mentioned in the same breath as Woolf and Ibsen and Dickens and Dumas.

But I digress. All of this is just a really roundabout way of segueing into my main point:

Scott McCloud is a motherfracking genius who can destroy you with his mind. Bow before him, for you live only because he continues to permit it.

***

I’ve had a relationship with comic books as long as I can remember. I’ve read plenty of prose adaptations of theRamayana and the Mahabharata- the great Indian epics- but as odd as it is to admit, most of what I know about the oldest stories of my culture (and the world) originally comes from the Amar Chitra Katha line of comic books: a series that retells Indian myths, folk tales, scriptural stories and historical anecdotes. Then, after coming to the States, I was constantly reading the Big Two as well as a wide variety of indie titles. But I always read them as a distraction- as a break from the all-important work of stuffing my brain with prose fiction. As much as I would defend to the death, even in my early teens, such masterpieces as Craig Thompson’s Blankets or Neil Gaiman’sSandman series, I always thought of comic books as a sort of poor man’s cinema, a way of combining narrative storytelling with visual art and doing so without a multimillion dollar budget.

Scott McCloud completely changed my mind.

Understanding Comics, somewhat self-referentially, is itself a comic book- an incredible literary feat in its own right. Imagine taking the most complicated paper you wrote as an undergrad on literary theory or any other appropriately abstract subject, then expanding it to a couple hundred pages. Now try taking half of the text you wrote, and drawing it. The man wrote a book-length essay about literary theory in comic book form. And he made it fun to read. That’s all I need to know to be convinced I don’t want to run into him in a dark alley. The being that can communicate a complex literary theory using pictures is not one whom I want to look upon lightly, lest his pandimensional Lovecraftian visage drive me mad.

McCloud divides the book into history, technique and theory. While the sections on history and technique are a fascinating read (not to mention mandatory for anyone with aspirations in the medium) it’s the ideas that really make this book shine. If Understanding Comics is standard material in nearly every college class about sequential graphic narrative, it’s because of McCloud’s dazzling exposition of the fundamental building blocks of comic books. These are the sort of ideas, like Copernicus’ heliocentric solar system or Whitman’s use of unrhymed verse, that are brilliant mainly because they seem obvious when you look back. I don’t want to give too much away, especially since you can’t do the ideas justice without the art, but here is a broad sweep of two of the most important ideas in the book:

1) One of McCloud’s most interesting arguments is that there’s no sharp division between words and pictures, since it’s impossible to pinpoint when pictures turn into symbols and iconography, and where symbols in turn become written language. The book illustrates the point with an impressive diagram containing sample illustrations from great comic books of the past century, with one end of the continuum containing the relatively realistic illustrations of Jack Kirby or Bob Kane, and the other end containing… well, words, but also the more representational and non-realistic artwork of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts or Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

2) Another argument McCloud makes is that comic books have about as much in common with the prose novel as they do with film and television, since audience participation is an essential part of the experience. Unlike film, where the events of the story are conveyed to the viewer almost entirely through external stimuli (since the viewer is given a window into the story as it unfolds on the movie screen) and the prose novel, where the portrayal of the events happen in the reader’s mind and depend entirely on his or her imagination, the graphic novel gives us a type of work that falls between the two. With comic books, the reader sees the events happen a panel at a time, but it’s entirely up to him to connect the dots and form a cohesive image of the fictional world being presented. McCloud refers to the process of filling the gap between panels as ‘closure’, and provides a list of different kinds of panel transitions, such as the moment-to-moment transition (where two adjacent panels are connected by a progression in time) or the aspect-to-aspect transition (where panels show the reader different parts of the same scene). More than any of the other chapters, this one convinced me that comic books are a unique medium with a more than incidental place in the culture.

Understanding Comics is almost twenty years old and quite a classic in its own right by now. Scott McCloud’s ideas have made me drastically re-evaluate the way I perceive comic books as a narrative form. I have a deeper respect now, both for the so-called commercial schlock of Lee, Kirby, Siegel, Shuster and the like- who had more of true art in their work than conventional wisdom gives them credit for- as well as the creators who dared to explore the limits and boundaries of an ostracized medium back when so few would, people like Will Eisner, Osamu Tezuka and Alan Moore. Understanding Comics has taken me from thinking of comics as a niche medium to leaving me with the suspicion that they may well be for the 21st century what the prose novel was for the 19th.

26 thoughts on “Drop Everything and Read This: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud ~ Raj Venkata

  1. Hmm. I tried to go, but the Huffington buses had some major issues and I ended up eating PB&J in front of the capitol and going back home. BUT. I thought the whole thing was somewhat flawed – both the message and the construction. I read that press passes were being given to entertainment outlets first, which would in itself hinder actual news coverage of the event and make you question even more what the point really was. Though I agree, I did find people to be extraordinarily nice.

  2. It’s true there were a lot of flaws. First of all, the speaker system was no where near suitable for how many people were there. Other friends of mine who were there couldn’t hear anything that was going on, nor could they see the TV screens. So I would agree that the construction of the Rally was flawed and could have been much better; as to the message… well Alex and I were close enough to the stage to hear it, and for me it was spot on.

  3. Very thought provoking final paragraph, but I can’t help but feel as if the political movement has already started to wane when people start planning for large Rally’s like this one. With one or two notable exceptions (MLK’s rally comes readily to mind), these rally’s are nothing put political pomp, platforms for already tired rhetoric. They do have an affect on the people that attend them, but that affect is short lived. It is spectacle, entertainment, and it probably made somebody very rich, but it is not motivating, it is not revolutionary, and it is not calculated to have a real political impact. That’s because these rally’s are about compromise. In order to appeal to such a large group and keep all of them from throwing molotav cocktails at the stage, the message is watered down so that it is at least mostly agreeable to almost everyone in attendance. But that’s not what politics is all about. Politics doesn’t need to take place on the Capitol Lawn or on any lawn. Politics is firm and unbending, an expression of people’s most deeply held beliefs. These are often violent and always immune to compromise.

  4. Great read!
    HOWEVER
    I really don’t like that “that’s just like your opinion man” sign. Saying, “It’s just my belief,” is a popular excuse for not actually throwing one’s views into question. That sign is just perpetuating the problem: that there is no dialogue! And there is nothing to me about that image that makes me think that the sign is ironic i.e. “Actually, it’s important for us to subject our opinions to scrutiny.” Instead, it makes me think the sign was made to say, “Stop shouting so loud; it’s just an opinion; chill out.” And that was the whole ethos of the thing, right? As evidenced by the website of the Rally “We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat.” I can see that one of the aims of the event could have been to facilitate discussion, but the majority of the jokes are at the expense of the people who one would have the discussion with, so it’s counterproductive. And rather than telling people to have a discussion, just have the discussion.
    There are plenty of people from all sides of the political spectrum that are impediments to dialogue, many of them viewers of The Daily Show. Many of them likely even attendees of the rally. This whole thing just strikes me as a pat on the back for not actually doing anything.

  5. I entirely agree with Matia. I found this rally to be very empowering and definitely political: we were making a statement, but the mass media chose not to listen. From what I could see, it was clear that the vast majority of attendees at this rally were liberal or left-leaning in some way, rather than apolitical or conservative. So, I would not say that the attendees lacked opinions or promoted “doing nothing” instead of acting.
    The Republican Party, as of now, is promoting deadlock rather than compromise and constructive legislation. They have made it clear that they will do anything to ensure that Obama is not reelected. Hence, the rally was targeted against the right wing base that seems to be relying more on irrationality and ideology than rational discourse and compromise. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule, but, for the most part, it seems that the right relies on fear, hatred, xenophobia, and racism to achieve its ends infinitely more than the Democratic Party, progressives, and liberal political pundits (minus Olbermann and Schultz).
    More importantly, Stewart noted how the American media, “the conflictinator,” makes constructive behavior among the American people far more difficult, if not impossible. The televised media focuses on trivialities—murder, disease, rape, panaceas, fad diets, sex– all of which produce high ratings, yet distract the public from the fundamental problems facing our society . Our event centered media removes the context that surrounds complex issues. They report robbery and murder, but they will not analyze the underlying causes that may drive people to crime—social, economic etc.—and treat these events as aberrations, a deviation from our society’s imperatives rather than a product of them. They will show pictures and videos of violence and warfare throughout the world, but they rarely add a real historical/political background such conflicts; the causes are often dismissed as purely religious, rather than based on competition for territory/resources. They broadcast events as they occur and move on; leaving us with a whirl of information that lacks any kind of order or meaning. The only idea that sticks in the mind is that we live in a “scary, dangerous world that is constantly seeking destroy me and my family.”
    Stuart, of course, is guilty of many of these same practices, though I have always respected how his team pours through countless hours of broadcasting to provide some kind of continuity and context, and to point out the contradictions that are often presented by both our mass media and our politicians. For me, it was refreshing to hear a staple of the American media bring these criticisms to light.

  6. The nature of argument is such that by virtue of maintaining a particular conception of truth one will be forced to claim that the other party’s conception of truth is wrong and that, accordingly, the implementation of any plan founded upon the false-truth must be stopped. So, the same thing Republicans do Democrats do too in that Democrats obstruct the Republican agenda. Both parties have members who share positions of the opposing party and both parties also have members who are willing to compromise; both parties have bigoted members; and both parties have members who are impediments to deliberation. Otherwise, this rally promotes the very same thing the Beck rally promotes: the reduction of the other to a caricature. Both groups, then, view the other in the same terms; they are mirror images. This behavior, which is an impediment to deliberation, is shared by both groups! If deliberation is desired, instead of demanding deliberation just have the deliberation. Otherwise, pointing to the other party and saying, “You’re getting in the way!” is hypocritical and accomplishes nothing.

  7. I still disagree. I do not have the time to prove it as extensively as i would like to here. But I have found that, empirically, the Democratic Party as a majority and a minority in Congress during the Reagan,Bush sr., Clinton and Bush jr. administrations was far more willing to compromise than the current Republican Party. Democrats worked with Reagan to pass his tax cuts and tax increases in the 1980s. In addition, more compromises can be seen be seen since 1994 if you look up the number of bills initially introduced by Democrats that had passed versus the number that had been introduced by Republicans that had passed. The truth is, that until the late 80s, Republican politicians had been great compromisers in Congress, much more so than the Democrats. Then, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, they decided to become “the party of no” rather than yes, because they determined that they would not get enough votes from the people if they did not define themselves through opposition. Sure enough, they took control of the House for the first time in 40 years in 1995 and held on to it until 2007. A recent example can be seen in the number of Bush’s Executive/Judicial appointments that were held up by Democratic senators, which were many–but not nearly as many as are being held up today–versus the number of Obama’s appointments held up by Republican senators. Of course, this may just be a product of a general increase in partisanship, but I feel that the trends tend to show that Republicans are far more unwilling to compromise. Take for instance the fact that only the Republicans have gone so far as to shut down government to get their budget bill for FY 1999 passed without revision (Clinton vetoed it because he did not want a $10 billion increase in defense spending). The entire existence of the modern Republican party is based on this strong oppositional attitude. This often makes them more effective at passing strong legislation. The empirical information can be found in Lawrence C. Dodd’s “Congress and its Members.”
    All of this aims at Republicans in Congress, however, not registered Republican voters of those who tend to vote Republican. I am not saying that people who typically vote Republican or are registered members of the party adhere to these rules. This is just a measure of the way Republicans have behaved recently in Congress.

  8. While many people who attended the Rally may have been left-leaning, the event IN NO WAY supported either political party. In fact Stewart said himself in his speech that BOTH parties are equally to blame for the failures of our government. Now whether or not that is true is another issue, but in no way was this Rally anti-Republican or pro-Democrat. No party lines should be associated with it. And I will say that in spite of the fact I’m from Massachusetts, one of the bluest states out there, I am not one of those left-leaning people who may or may not have made up the majority of the crowd. I, for one, fall on the right, or to be more accurate, I lean conservatively.
    I do not think that this Rally was about getting a pat on the back for doing nothing. The people that were there, myself included, seemed eager to take action; that’s why we attended in the first place. As Matthew so eloquently pointed out, it is the media that has effectively made it impossible for those of us who were there to determine together, as in ‘on a large scale’, what to do next. I want to take action. I want to make a difference, but I’m only one person. I need other people, lots of other people, in order to effectively do something. The questions are: what to do, how to do it, and is that method reasonable?
    You, Mike and Ben, have taken seriously negative view points on this whole situation, and while I find your skepticism imperative and refreshing, the accusation that this Rally was nothing more than a watered down version of what’s wrong with our country presented in a watered down format so that people can feel better about themselves because they went, is in itself, counter productive. Here I am, one of the attendees, and I am telling you that I felt empowered by the event, and I felt connected to the people who were there. I am also telling you that now, a week later, while I still feel empowered, I also feel equally incapable of doing anything to effectively use that empowerment. I don’t want that to be the case. I want to do something, but I don’t know what I, one person, can do, especially now that the media has so effectively minimalized the actual existence of the Rally, let alone it’s message. I don’t want to feel powerless anymore. And your accusation just adds more fuel to the fire that is already burning away any effective movement that could have spun off of that Rally. Don’t make accusations, make suggestions. Ben you say we should have deliberations instead of just talking about having deliberations. This is a good observation; now, what solutions could you propose that would make that possible? Let’s fucking talk about this. Let’s stop complaining to each other and brainstorm how to get the ball rolling here!

  9. I have a good point but am too lazy to make it well, please read between the lines and incomplete sentences:
    The rally completed a process I have seen unfolding since Obama was elected and happened when Bush was President before:
    Marginalize the minority opposition.
    When Bush was President the opposition was labeled a bunch of un-patriotic, hippy pansies. Now the opposition is a bunch of bigoted hate-mongers.
    I’m absolutely against Glen Beck and Sarah Palin, but not for the reasons everyone else is. They took the language of a movement that was desperately needed in this country and fed it through their PR machines, corrupting and usurping it all the way. (One of the original Tea Party protest positions was that the US should end all illegal foreign wars and that the US had no right to detain ‘illegal aliens’ When Palin or Beck says that I’ll personally pay each of you reading this $1000)
    The fact that the Rally to restore sanity WAS such a powerful experience for people like Matia and Matthew shows us that they feel the need to tell someone to calm down, to take a chill pill, to relax. I’m sure lots of Neo-Cons truly felt that all of the anti patriot act folks needed to shut up and get a job.
    The point is, those actual experiences of those attending the rally indicate the manipulation of the perception of conservative opposition to the Democrats’ agenda to the point that all of the ‘useful idiots’ are now jumping on board, just as Neocon xenophobia indicated the successful manipulation of the anti-war message. (They’re just al-qaeda sympathizers)
    If there’s a group that I can’t kill from without, I better try to destroy it from within. That is exactly what the people pulling the strings behind both parties, business, and the media have done.
    Just wait until the Republicans are in power again (I mean REALLY in power), it’ll all switch back and the DEM’s will be painted to look like the idiots. First by the media, then by the actual loonies that will be incited to behave that way by the converge of them that was created before they actually did the loony behavior!!

  10. By the way, when someone is getting their arms hacked off, it is appropriate to scream at the top of their lungs. Just because someone is shouting, being unpleasant, flipping out etc doesn’t mean they’re out of line. The problem is the astro truf that shouts when it has no real problem (Beck) that creates the boy who cried wolf syndrome for those who actually are concerned.

  11. I was going to say something along those lines, BK. We can’t tell the difference between rallies hosted by entertainers and the real deal.

  12. It seems to me, though, that the disagreement is over the ratio of impeders to non-impeders depending on one’s party affiliation, not over the nature of disagreement itself. It’s entirely beside the point what percentage of congress works together and what percentage doesn’t because there’s much more to politics than what happens in DC. As far as I see it, too many Democrats and Republicans are guilty of the same thing, regardless of whether they hold elected office or not. Obama’s willingness to compromise doesn’t change how democrats and republicans see one another. And in arguing your position, you prove my point because you embrace the very schema I present.
    I think compromise is also a false good because what it entails is the maintaining of the respective status quos at the expense of legitimate deliberation i.e. the discarding of partisanship in favor of discussion. Fundamentally, Republicans and Democrats agree on the primacy of individual liberty. Legitimate deliberation would throw even this into question. At its very core, I think, deliberation must lead to a consensus on human nature, the human condition, what it means to be a person, or however else you want to put it. This is because what we’re interested in is how best to deal with people, so we’ll need to know what it means to be a person first. And given that we are all people, we won’t have significant divergence on what it means to be us. This is what I tried to do with my “Voting is Less than the Least Than You Can Do” article, although I imagine that I was hampered in trying to write a short piece on a very demanding topic.
    What it means to be a person will have tremendous impact on the nature of how we should arrange our society, what our morals ought to be, how we deal with our problems, etc. The way I see it, our institutions and the majority of our practices are founded upon a false conception of the person as autonomous and self-creating i.e. that we create our rational faculties out of nothing. The more accurate conception of the individual is that of the socially agent, whose nature is fundamentally as a being-with-others. Plenty of thinkers have sketched out this model and, in fact, it’s one of the dominant paradigm shifts of 21st century thought.
    Given a more accurate model of the individual, I think we should be able to more effectively deal with many of our societal ills. However, it doesn’t seem like we can wait for the government to catch up in both theory and practice, so it’s up to people to do it themselves. That’s why I think one must literally be the change one wishes to be in the world in a number of ways, one of which is being a teacher. This is because how we treat others, in turn, teaches others how to treat us.
    The sort of approach I would take to treating many societal ills is the same as that in my sexual assault article. This, I think, will deal with a lot of problems that relate to how it is that we frame and treat others. E.G. racism, sexism, discrimination, domestic violence, exploitation, etc.
    I gave a scant outline on my suggestions on education reform in my article on lowering the voting age and in the School Daze piece. Dealing with crime, homelessness, etc requires a combination of the aforementioned two categories.
    The reason I think it’s necessary to deliberate and teach is because change happens very slowly on the wide scale, even more so when the way we learn is not through deliberation but from our mistakes. It takes huge mistakes, then, to teach us anything.
    Change will be difficult, I imagine, but so will remaining on the same track, so we’re better off changing and facing new difficulties rather than succumbing to the same old same old.

  13. As for what to do, I am mulling that over myself. My aim is to produce a very detailed document of exactly what I think I should do given the information I have at the moment I write the document. Volunteering isn’t enough because it doesn’t address the systemic causes of our problems. There are also a lot of places that simply have too many volunteers. I was with a soup kitchen for a while, but left after it became obvious that they didn’t know what to do with me. THEY HAD ME DIVIDE ALL THEIR BEANS BETWEEN BAKED AND NON-BAKED.
    The reason I need to do this is because otherwise I will feel anxious. I feel anxious right now reading the news and stuff because I am not presented with the way out of any of the messes we’re in. And if I can figure out even a potential way out, then that means a way out is possible. Especially given that there is nothing about me that makes me any more capable than anyone else to look for a way out. I have, of course, the desire and time to engage in such a project, but given that the time and desire anyone else can do the same. We might not necessarily come to the same conclusions, but even coming to any conclusions is empowering. And in sharing our conclusions and reasons with others, we get even closer to a way out.

  14. I feel like a large part of the flaw in the message is the whole thing about keeping your voice down. I think this is subtly telling people not to speak up and take action, which is a huge problem. Sometimes you have to make a lot of noise to get a problem noticed.

  15. Matia, I didn’t mean to offend you. However, you said that you felt empowered by the rally, but you have admitted that you have not succeeded in using that emotional sense of empowerment to achieve real world results. This reminds me of a problem raise in the South Park episode about the hippie jam band concert. The hippies think that their music will somehow destroy corporate America, but their entire movement just centered around smoking weed, listening to loose jams, and patting each other on the back for “making a difference” while doing very little. This is not something anyone should be blamed for–it’s why rallys work so well, they play on emotion without substance because it’s easy and appeals to a large audience.
    In closing, one person can make a difference–I’ve realized it first hand working with clients through the criminal clinic. Maybe I’m not Barry Scheck, but I’m better than the alternative–nothing. A problem I see all too often is that a person realizes that they likely cannot do something with national significance right away, so they do nothing. If you’ve got the desire, you’ve got to use it, and soon.

  16. I can’t believe people still think a government can successfully cater to all the needs of over 300 million citizens. I thought such utopian aspirations died with the ’60s. That said, in instances such as these, I can’t help but be reminded of the words of JFK: “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
    As interesting as these rallies can be, really, they’re one big waste of time. The country would benefit ten times over if everyone who attended worked for three hours instead.

  17. Mike, you did not offend me at all. Not even in the slightest. As I stated in my comment I found your skepticism to be both imperative and refreshing. However, there is a tone of negativity in both yours and Ben’s comments, which I found frustrating. I was merely pointing out that negativity, as opposed to skepticism, proliferates the idea that nothing can be done politically or socially as a result of this Rally, or at all even. I find that negativity breeds hopelessness, and that’s something our country could do without for a while.
    As far as my admission that I have been unable to do anything with my empowerment, yes that’s true. In my comment I was trying to arouse conversation as to how one could, at present, use whatever empowerment is leftover to do something that would effectively make positive change. I’m trying to figure out what the next step is, where action fits in, and what that action should be. I was trying to get us all here to brainstorm about this issue to see if we could come up with a feasible course of action, whether on an individual level, or on a group level. Anyone have any thoughts?

  18. Some thoughts. Do something that makes you happy, but that also benefits others in some way. I enjoy trials, so I took the criminal defense clinic, which allows me to represent people charged with misdemeanors in Boulder County. I don’t hold myself out as a shining example–but I did get a few of those cases dismissed that would otherwise have landed someone in jail. That’s a small dent, I’ll be the first to admit, but it continues to make me feel good–it makes me feel like I’m not just some selfish hack trying to score that six figure starting salary. It works for me only because I enjoy trial work, and it is not something that I would recommend everyone, or even all law students, try. It works for me and I kind of figured that out by accident. You’ve got a pulpit with the JVP now that you’re head honcho. Maybe JVP can start some kind of charity work, or even dedicate some section to shedding light on injustice in the community or something like that. Think small, and think within your area of expertise.
    This is one of the problems I have with the rally: how much did it cost? Not just for getting everyone there, and permits, and what have you, but how much did D.C. spend securing the area, paying extra police officers? This money, certainly over $1 million, was spent in a single weekend. Could this money have been better spent? I say yes. Spend it over a year, break it down and give small chunks of it to motivated individuals, and see what happens.
    A friend of mine is considering a run for mayor of Boulder in the future, and I’ve been trying to convince him to use any campaign donations, not on “getting out the voice,” but on conspicuous charitable projects. That way the money gets spent in a positive way, he still gets his face out there, and win or lose, he has had a positive impact on society. This idea came to me while re-watching the Wire. Inspiration comes randomly, but you have to go with it. You’ll choose something good as long as you keep your eyes and ears open at all times.

  19. Some thoughts from the hack trying to score that six figure starting salary (I get money):
    I have to disagree, as I am prone to do, with Michael. The rally, I think, certainly had a positive, or at least significant, impact. Without taking a political stance, the message behind the rally was one of civic engagement. At the cusp of a midterm election in which, by at least most prominent media accounts, the Democrats were anticipated to get hammered after soundly retaking government only two years prior, the rally sought to energize individuals who have been turned off by the loud and largely insane rhetoric of the Tea Party 2.0 (Karl Roves tea party). After dominating the media airwaves for the past several months (and not having to justify inane political stances) it’s easy to see why many rational, sane American’s would be turned off to political engagement all together. Jon Stewart was there to remind us that we are not alone in our sanity, even if we are not as boisterous about it. If a few more people decided to vote as a result of the rally, surely it was worth it.
    And by the way, the economic advantages to local business which invariably followed the rally would, I expect, easily outweigh the cost of having it. Besides, I’m glad to see that someone put something together in response to Beck’s Rally for Haters, which occurred about a month prior. Holding the rally on the opposite end of the mall was not coincidence: not only did it take place right in front of Congress, but it counter balanced the forces of Beck that congregated on the other side of the mall.
    In conclusion, if you don’t turn energy from such an event into a positive impact, well it’s your own damn fault isnt it?

  20. I’m with Mike on this one: use the talents you have for common good as opposed to purely for personal gain. And if the rally was for sanity and discussion, again, why didn’t they have a discussion on the stage instead of The Roots? Or if they webcasted it and told people to have discussions and get involved with community service?

  21. Ben, how can one reasonably conduct a conversation between a few hundred thousand people all congregated in a large outdoor space? Please explain how that would work, since you seem so adamant that it is the only solution. And please stop referring to the Roots performance as though it is some kind of flaw in our political system! I think it was very appropriate that they were there, especially considering how active they are as a group both politically and socially. And why not play some music? If there is anything in the universe that unites people, it is certainly music.
    Mike, thank you for the suggestions. In a way, I suppose I have already used my empowerment to do something, albeit something small: writing this article about the Rally and the experience of being there, and instigating this discussion about what comes next. I am quite please with this debate thus far and the fact that so many people have chimed in. Your suggestion that the JVP might want to dedicate a section to exposing/shedding light on injustices within our community strikes me as something to explore further. New Brunswick is full of injustices of every degree; we all know this. I only wonder how to explore them without coming across as political, or without coming across as favoring a particular political agenda. The reason I say this is because every issue in New Brunswick from pot holes to schools is snatched up by one side or the other of the political duel that’s been going on in this city for who knows how long. As a result, it is difficult to address this city’s problems without someone bitching that you’re stepping on their turf… so immature. But, it’s worth the trouble I think. And seeing as how the JVP as a group cannot and will not have an agreed upon singular political stance whatsoever on any issue, we might just be the right people to tackle this project…
    Something else to consider: I find that these days it feels like any action a person may take, whether it’s picking up a dropped wallet and returning it to it’s owner, or starting a conversation with a random person, or even volunteering for community service, is construed as secondary to some negative, or selfish, or malicious ulterior motive, which may or may not exist in the first place. It seems to me that people can’t just accept action for what it is, especially when it’s done with good intentions. Sometimes I find that the world is too suspicious to allow for any change whatsoever.

  22. And I’d also like to add that there WAS a discussion on stage. I should have mentioned this in my article, though I did make reference to it, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert did conduct a debate on stage about what the purpose of the Rally was. They even went so far as to put together a visual demonstration of the kind of insanity that has gone unchecked in our media and in our government. By visual demonstration, I mean both the video they showed to the audience of the Rally that demonstrated the “fear doctrine” in the media, as well as their debate, which was done in satire (of course), and which showed by way of conversation the sort of unreasonable and irrational claims and points that have infected our political process.

  23. You do what we’re having but with people you disagree with. It’d be silly to have in front of so many people, so I would have just not have a rally. Stewart chooses to be a comedian when it’s convenient, and when he’s a pundit he doesn’t take it far enough. But you can be hilarious and say very profound things, like Louis CK or Bill Hicks. The discussion would look like the one we’re having, but would go even deeper.
    Also: politics, schmolotics. The discussion should start with discarding partisanship and just discussing what we want to do and why. The more perspectives we have, the more ideas we’d be exposed to. Having the same type of person wouldn’t be very fruitful, I imagine.

  24. I am holding a “Non-Rally to Restore Local Economies”. Instead of wasting thousands of gallons of gasoline transporting thousands of people to DC so they can listen to a couple of jokers, my Non-Rally will have thousands of people getting off their duff and walking to a local shop to get the things they need or working in their gardens to grow the food they eat. To participate, you don’t need to do anything at any particular time or rush to catch a glimpse of a celebrity. All I ask is that you replace some trips to big-box retail stores, like what’s-its-name-something-like-SprawlMart, with a walk or hike to a local shop. For those of you who like to be politically active, you can show up at town council meetings demanding the end to residential zoning and parking requirements. What this will do is allow you and your neighbors to open up your own shops, turning a long shopping hike into a short shopping stroll.
    This Non-Rally has already started and, hopefully, will never end. No, I will not see you at it unless you are already a neighbor.

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