Cartoon: Conservatives, 1988-Present


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The nice thing (and also the sad thing) about this cartoon is it’ll always be current; I just need to keep replacing the words “critical race theory” in the last panel with with each new scare du jour.

(This is something I do regularly – if just changing a few words will keep a cartoon current, I’ll do it! I just did with this cartoon this morning).

I remember first hearing the phrase “political correctness” in the late 1980s. At first it was a tongue-in-cheek term lefties used to make fun of our more over-the-top comrades, and of ourselves. But the right grabbed on to it and it became the menace that’s taking over the youth. Paul Campos writes:

In the 1970s and 1980s, [the phrase “political correctness”] was used by New Left people in an almost invariably ironic way, usually to signal disdain for leftist orthodoxy of some sort (“I know it’s not very politically correct, but I’m ordering a hamburger”).

Revealingly, Allan Bloom’s THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND (1987), which was without a doubt the ur-text for what would very soon become the ubiquitous right-wing critique of American higher education as a veritable viper’s nest of Orwellian indoctrination into leftist orthodoxy, does not contain the phrase.

Just four years later, the phrase was everywhere.  An October 1990 New York Times article by Richard Bernstein is generally credited for being the journalistic Ground Zero for what in short order became a full-blown moral panic about What Those College Professors Are Doing To Our Kids.

A few weeks later Newsweek, still a very important conduit of conventional wisdom to middlebrow America at the time, followed up with a cover story, and we were off to the races. (A NEXIS database search reveals 70 uses of the phrase in 1990, more than 1500 in 1991, and more than 7000 three years later).

In more recent years, the right hasn’t switched up their strategy at all – but it feels like they’re switching their terminology much more often.  (Probably social media has sped up their pace.) The phrases they use don’t need to make any sense (the right-wing definition of “critical race theory” is far more all-encompassing than the academic movement of the same name), as long as it can feed the panic.

Which isn’t to deny that some lefties – like some righties – are overzealous, too quick to judgement, and too unforgiving. Nor is it to deny that some people have suffered unjust consequences, like David Shor losing his job.  (Although Shor’s story is the exception, not the rule).

Is there a problem on the left of some people being too dogmatic and lacking in mercy or a sense of proportion? And that sometimes manifests in angry people on the internet overreacting and people getting fired?

Yes.

Is this anything that hasn’t been going on since at least the 1980s? No.

Is this at all unique to the left? Nope, the right does it too – and is constantly given a pass.

Is the level of panic we’ve seen about this both partisan and wildly disproportionate? Yes.

But I think creating that panic is beneficial to the right.

Christopher Rufo, the right-wing polemicist who has, more than anyone, been responsible for the current flavor of right-wing panic being “critical race theory,” forthrightly admits it’s a tactic:

We have successfully frozen their brand—”critical race theory”—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.

And it’s a tactic they’ll keep on using, even if they have to change their term every month.


This strip was so much fun to draw! Six panels of nothing but cartoony panic. The main challenge is making sure every panel looks different.

The strip was also drawn completely in Clip Studio Paint. After decades of drawing in Photoshop, this is a big change for me, but I keep being more and more impressed by the functions CSP has that make drawing comics easier. I realize that this isn’t relevant for 99% of the folks reading this, but if you’re a cartoonist who draws digitally, give it a try – it’s worth the learning curve.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has six panels. Each panel shows a different character or collection of characters. All characters shown are white.

PANEL 1

An extreme closeup of a white person who, seen from this close, could be any gender. They are screaming, spittle flying from their mouth.

PERSON: Look out! Political Correctness is coming!

PANEL 2

A woman is running on a desolate hillside, screaming in panic.

WOMAN: It’s the Social Justice Warriors! Flee! Flee!

PANEL 3

A bald man in a short-sleeved collared shirt with a reddish necktie is waving his arms around in the air and yelling at the reader. Despite being bald, he has very long eyebrows that stick out in a few directions (and I honestly have no idea what I was thinking when I drew those eyebrows!).

MAN: Cultural Marxism is here!

PANEL 4

A woman lifts her face to the sky, hands on her cheeks, yelling in panic. She’s wearing a long skirt with a pattern of stars, a collared shirt, and a reddish vest.

WOMAN: The Woke will destroy us all!

PANEL 5

We see three people. Far away from us, on a rocky hill, a person seen only in silhouette is yelling.  In the middle ground, a terrified looking person with shoulder-length hair is looking towards us. And in the close foreground – so close that half his head is missing – a man with huge bulging eyes and a big open mouth is staring at the reader.

SILHOUETTE PERSON: Run! It’s Cancel Cultue!

PANEL 6

An older man, with white hair and a white beard is yelling at the reader, his mouth huge. He’s wearing a brown-and-red-checkered shirt and yanking his own hair with both hands.

MAN: Critical Race Theory! Nooooooooooo


This cartoon on Patreon

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6 Responses to Cartoon: Conservatives, 1988-Present

  1. 1
    Kohai says:

    Nice cartoon! I like the expressions in panel 5 the best.

    I hope it’s okay to give some feedback. I think it would be neat if the panels added some visual queues to show the passage of time, and give more of an indication of just how long this sort of panic has been going on. Like maybe one of the early characters is in some hokey ’90s attire, and a later one of them is wearing a Je Suis Charlie pin.

    Also, I’d like to politely inform you that N.K. Jemisin’s name is misspelled along the side.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    I’m not seeing it? The side says “With Thanks to N.K. Jemisin,” which I think is the correct spelling.

    Thanks! I’m glad you like it. And more clearly period costumes would have been a good idea, you’re right.

  3. 3
    Eytan Zweig says:

    The side says “With thanks to N.K. Jenisin”, at least on my monitor.

  4. 4
    Kohai says:

    Eytan is seeing the same thing I am.

  5. 5
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    I see the same thing – no “m” in “Jemisin”. It’s been replaced by an “n”.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Oh, okay! I see what happened now – it was correctly spelled in the main copy on my computer (which is the copy I looked at after I read Kohai’s comment), but due to an earlier mess-up that I thought I’d corrected, was spelled wrong on the web copy. Oy.

    Fixed now. Thanks, Kohai and everyone, for pointing that out!

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