Opus, Uncle Duke And All Snark All The Time Redux

The Best Of The Zola System

On Sunday, November 2, the last panels of Opus will parade across the nation’s newspapers and Opus the Penguin will be retired permanently.  First seen in Berkeley Breathed’s seminal comic strip Bloom County, Opus has gone on to have the sort of career that I really admire.  He has been a Tuba player in a death rock band, the personals editor at a newspaper, wooed a sculptor, run for vice-president, lived with his mother in Antarctica, a farmer, a garbage collector and a legal secretary.  Aside from Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke, he has had one of the weirdest careers in comic history.  (Both characters are rather odd choices for, but remain, heroes for me.)

When I heard the news initially, I thought Breathed was just going to retire Opus so he could go out on top, so to speak.  Let’s face it, the current Uncle Duke strips pale in comparison to his exploits 10-20 years ago.  I prefer Duke running Club SCUD over being a K-Street lobbyist.  So Opus leaving us for the bright spaces of adventures beyond on 11/02 wasn’t something I was looking forward to, it certainly was preferable to watching a slow decline into no sameness.

However, when Breathed was interview in Salon.com on October 18, 2008, he offered an explanation over the demise of Opus I didn’t quite expect.  Due to “…the rather wicked period in our National Discourse and that will make keeping the successful tone of the strip impossible.”  At first I was rather upset.  Berkeley goes on to discuss how the 24/7 “all snark, all the time” culture of the 24/7 media, coupled by its simultaneous political correctness bothers him immensely.

I was upset.  No, I was PISSED OFF.  How dare the Fox News, MSNBC demagoguery win out and cost me one of the few pleasures in an increasingly despairing world?  My reaction was that of the principled, middle class American: I wanted to know who to write letters to, how could a boycott be formed, was there a someone in the power structure who was as upset as I was, maybe I could get their help.  That’s the moment when the part of me that is made of my late father started to rear itself, taking Olberman, O’Reilly, Matthews, Buchanan and their ilk outside shooting them execution style seemed like reasonable.  It was perhaps the only way to get through their thick skulls and get the well deserved intelligent debate back.

On it’s face, a lovely idea.  In reality, prison stripes aren’t a good look for me.  The larger point Breathed is pointing to is disturbing but is now too well ingrained in the American consciousness to ignore.  We have become a nation of snark centric individuals.  As I have previously written (A Brief History of Snarky), I thought that snarky humor was simply a trait my generation of middle and upper middle class youth outgrew.  For awhile, I even thought the rise and fall of snarky websites/blogspots and books was just proof that everything goes in cycles.  If polyester and the leisure suit can make a comeback why not snark, I thought.

Just how far the snarky sensibility has drifted into our culture was on full display this last weekend when Lou Holtz, the seemingly kind, old football coach who is now an analyst on ESPN, compared Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez to Adolph Hitler.  Bill Martin, Athletic Director of the University of Michigan called and ‘addressed’ the situation with the sports network.  Holtz apologized, stating that his comments were wrong.

In general, Holtz has a point in so far as he is taking the head coach of the North American fascist sport and comparing him to a fascist leader.  In that respect, his comments are quite apt.  However, Rodriguez is the coach of a storied college football program that is changing its offensive strategy; he is not a genocidal maniac, except perhaps when it comes to Ohio State Buckeye fans.  Another ESPN columnist, Jemele Hill, made a similar comparison to Boston Celtic fans earlier in the summer and his column was suspended.

It would be nice to say ESPN was doing the right thing because they understood the flaws in analysis and down right dangerous accusations made by two of their employees.  But no, they were forced to apologize or suspended form their job because a few people took umbrage and ESPN had to maintain a neutral public face.  However, Holtz and Hill weren’t being lazy or provocative; they were engaging in snarkiness in lieu of analysis.

One of the saddest things to see is the true character become an ordinary citizen ala Uncle Duke and for that alone, I can understand ending the Opus strip.  It is another thing to watch the reasoned oddball, the disciplined stoic or the rational debater forced to defend a position of wisdom to another who dismisses any argument on the grounds that ‘you are wrong and I am right.’ This is why Opus will do his fade into memory and it’s a good thing.

Opus, Duke, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Lester Bangs, Lenny Bruce et al, shouldn’t have to deal with the likes of our current national stupidity.  Two days ago, when explaining how a Brooklyn Brewery Oktoberfest beer tastes to a waitress, I told her it donned a brown shirt, goose stepped over to the table, slapped the customer across the face and harangued them in a purple German tongue until they slammed the pint back so as to dine in peace.  She stared at me like beagle sniffing a tree in New York City.

“Do you understand what I was getting at,” I asked.

“No but why should I care,” she asked me.  “Anything to do with history is beyond boring anyway.”

I have to start saving my best material for appreciateive audiences

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