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This is sort of a “guilty obligation” comic. :-p
By which I mean, it makes me furious that our pundit class – particularly those who pat themselves on the back for their commitment to free speech – spends an enormous amount of time worrying about the threat to free speech of wealthy campus speakers facing rude student protesters, while ignoring far more dire threats to marginalized groups, like undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and sex workers.
But then I had the thought, “have I actually done any cartoons focusing on free speech threats to undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and sex workers?” A line of thought which eventually led me to this cartoon. (Doing cartoons about free speech and undocumented immigrants, and free speech and prisoners, remains on my “to do” list.)
As a Democrat, it’s embarrassing to me that every Democratic senator aside from Ron Wyden voted for Sesta. It’s a terrible law, that assaults free speech on the internet and hurts those it claims to help. And because the group it’s attacking is so marginalized, who knows when or if the damages will ever be repaired.
Really, I could have done this same cartoon (or a very similar one) about either prisoners or undocumented immigrants. A danger of putting any group outside the law is, there’s very little motivation for politicians to think about, or care about, their well-being. That’s why the free speech rights of sex workers is so easy to crush – while the free speech rights of people like Christina Hoff Sommers and Charles Murray, while important, are not in any substantive danger.
And that’s what the “kicker” panel below the strip is about. The problem isn’t that politicians don’t know better. It’s that, even if they did know better, they still wouldn’t have any incentive to care.
When I see pundits get into a free speech panic over Charles Murray being protested, while people actually being shut up by the law get ignored, it’s hard not to see this as what Noah Berlatskycalls “chattering-class solidarity.”
When pundits denounce student speakers, they are engaged in a kind of chattering-class solidarity. Free speech, for pundits, often is indistinguishable from a call for free speech for pundits. They are saying, in so many words, People like me should be able to talk without interruption from people like you.
Pundits can easily imagine themselves being in Charles Murray’s shoes, but can’t imagine being an undocumented immigrant, a sex worker, or a prisoner. And that makes the very mild threat to Murray’s free speech seem much more urgent, to pundits, than the objectively much greater threat to the free speech of marginalized people.
From a technical standpoint, what worried me the most, drawing this cartoon, was establishing character recognition. The cartoon simply wouldn’t work if the senator in the fourth panel wasn’t recognizable as the same character from the previous three panels.
That’s why his head is odd. In the original drawing (see below), I drew him with the same globe-shaped head the other characters have. For me, globehead style is a very easy, natural and fun way to draw characters. But I decided to change his head shape entirely, to make it easier for readers to pick up on him being the same character. That’s why his head is shaped like a finger in the final cartoon.
I also wanted to draw sex workers that looked more like real-life sex workers I’ve seen interviewed on TV, than like the sex workers on TV dramas – in other words, not 100% young, white and thin.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four main panels, plus a tiny “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon.
There is a large caption saying “THEN“.
Three women — one wearing a hoodie, one wearing a leather jacket, one wearing a pony tail and a “casual nice” office outfit – are talking to a middle-aged white man at a desk, who is wearing a vest and necktie. The women are of various ages and races, and are all looking at the dude in the necktie, who is a Senator. The Senator is holding up a finger in front of Pony Tail in a “wait just a sec” gesture, while he turns in the opposite direction and speaks to someone off-panel.
PONY TAIL: Senator, if the Fosta-Sesta bill becomes law, it’ll harm sex workers like us – the people this bill is supposed to protect!
SENATOR: Julie, bring me a sandwich, please.
The same set-up, but now Hoodie is speaking.
HOODIE: We use the internet to avoid pimps and screen clients. Fosta-Sesta will censor all that. Some of us will be forced onto the streets.
SENATOR: Make it roast beef.
Same set up, but now Leather Jacket speaks, looking angry and holding her hands extended, palms up, in a “come ON!” sort of gesture. The Senator is now holding a sandwich, which he eyes warily.
LEATHER: Fosta-Sensa will make more vulnerable to predators of all kinds. This bill will help pimps and traffickers!
SENATOR: Julie, there’s no mayo on this, is there?
There is a large caption saying “NOW“.
The Senator is pictured on his own, reading a newspaper. We can see a huge headline on the front page – “Report: Fosta-Sesta Helping Pimps and Traffickers.” The Senator, with a mildly distressed expression, has turned his head and speaks directly to the viewer. (The newspaper’s masthead says it’s called “The Useful Trope.”)
SENATOR: No one could have known this would happen!
SMALL KICKER PANEL BELOW BOTTOM OF STRIP
The three women are again talking to the senator, the women looking stern, the Senator responding cheerfully.
HOODIE: So NOW will you listen to sex workers before making laws about us?
SENATOR: Definitely not.