Cartoon: Too Petty To Talk About

Another comic drawn by Mr. R. E. Ryan!

In July 2023, Emily Yahr wrote an article in the Washington Post about the irony of Luke Comb’s cover of Tracy Chapman’s song “Fast Car” being a smash hit on the country charts, since when “Fast Car” originally came out, in 1988, a queer Black women would have had a great deal of trouble breaking into the country charts.

Yahr tweeted her article with a two-tweet thread:

As Luke Combs’s hit cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” dominates the country charts, it’s bringing up some complicated emotions in fans & singers who know that Chapman, as a queer Black woman, would have an almost zero chance at that achievement herself:

A recent study from @data_jada and @jadiehm shows that fewer than 0.5 percent of songs played on country radio in 2022 were by women of color and LGBTQ+ artists, and were largely excluded from radio playlists for most of the two decades prior.

Then, literally hundreds of right-wingers responded – ignoring that Yahr has specified “the country charts,” ignoring the second tweet entirely – by pretending Yahr was so ignorant that she thought “Fast Car” had never been a hit for Chapman.

Of course, Yahr never thought that – her article mentioned that the 1988 “Fast Car” reached number 6 on the Billboard Top 100. But right-wingers were having too much fun talking about what an idiot the female lefty writer was – what she actually wrote was irrelevant. (And honestly, probably almost none of them bothered reading the article.)

This was, even at the time, obviously the sort of flash-in-the-pan controversy that no one remembers three weeks later. I wrote a very short thread about it on Twitter.

One self-proclaimed leftist responded to me:

Let people enjoy their entertainment of choice w/o submitting it to a racial examination. Why isn’t Springsteen being played on hip hop stations? C’mon. Lefties have more important things to do than look for ‘racism’ everywhere.

I replied:

“Lefties have more important things to do…” But nothing more important to do than trying to discourage other lefties from talking about racism?

And that exchange was what inspired this cartoon.

I wouldn’t have bothered doing a cartoon if that was the only incident. But that person’s reaction – “lefties have more important things to do than” talking about [fill in some issue the speaker doesn’t care about, or is opposed to the social justice view on] – is one I’ve seen many times over the years, and it always bugs me. Because if what I’m talking about is too petty to be worth talking about, then isn’t you telling me you find it petty even pettier, and therefore even less worth talking about?

(Man, this is definitely getting too long to fit on one page of the reprint collection. I wonder what I’ll cut out? Oh, well, that’s future Barry’s problem.)

When I say I’ve seen it “over the years,” I mean that literally. I wrote a very long blog post dismissing the “pettiness” charge… back in 2006.

Someone named Chuck had responded to a list of “male privileges” I had compiled when I was in college. (The list is still circulating around online and given as a handout in Freshman gender studies courses, and honestly may be the most widely-read thing I’ve ever written.)

Chuck wrote:

We have women on this planet with REAL PROBLEMS and we’re going to fill our list with entries about our clothes and our weight issues?

My response to Chuck was too long for me to quote the whole thing here, but here’s part of it:

Chuck’s standards are unreasonable. Is there anyone who ignores all local issues so long as, somewhere in the world, someone is suffering worse? Pretty much anyone who isn’t concentrating full-time on the genocide and mass rapes going on in Darfur can legitimately be said to be using their time on something other than the most immediately pressing issue in the world today.

(Every time I see this critique of feminists, I’m struck by what hypocrites the critics are. I’ve never seen a “how dare feminists write about makeup” critic whose own writings didn’t include some less than earth-shaking concerns. Chuck, for example, has recently posted about the etymology of “y’all” and about what’s on the telly (he’s pissed that American Idol is so popular, and I can’t blame him). Since Chuck doesn’t write exclusively about immediate life-or-death matters, why does he think it’s fair to hold me to that standard?)

Not only is it an inevitable human condition that most people are interested in analyzing what happens in their daily lives, it’s probably a good thing. A feminist movement that considers day-to-day sexism too petty to ever discuss would be ivory-tower and snobby. A well-rounded feminism – like a well-rounded life – should include many concerns and many approaches. The demand that we ignore “petty” local issues is a demand that we stop acting like human beings.

Obviously, my cartoon doesn’t get into all that. (Maybe I should do another cartoon about pettiness?) It does, however, touch on the hypocrisy I wrote about – how the people condemning us for including what they consider unimportant issues, never subject their own views to the same scrutiny.


This cartoon has six panels. All of them show different scenes, but all of them focus on the same character – a thirtyish, square-jawed guy with short light brown hair and a seemingly permanent scowl on his face. Let’s call him SCOW (short for scowl).


Scow is sitting and typing at a computer in his apartment. He’s wearing an undershirt. In the background we can see city buildings and the sun high in a blue sky.

A word balloon shows us what Scow is typing.

SCOW: Why are you talking about racism in music? There are more important things!


Scow is now sitting up in bed (he has a nice bedroom, with dark wood furniture and framed art on the wall), wearing red jammies and intently typing on his phone.

SCOW: Time spent talking about race could be spent talking about something important!


Scow is apparently at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner – there’s a big turkey on the table. He’s wearing an argyle sweater vest and talking intently to the unfortunate 12-ish looking girl sitting next to him. (His mouth is full, and little bits of food are coming out.) The girl looks annoyed and is rolling her eyes.

SCOW: Who cares about race and casting? There are more crucial things to talk about!


Scow is now back in his apartment – it looks like a living room – wearing VR googles and (presumably) talking to someone in VR. He’s waving his arms as he speaks.

SCOW: Why do they always make a white character Black when they remake movies? They’re obsessed with race!


This is the same scene as panel 1 – Scow is sitting in his apartment typing on his computer. The window in the background now shows stars and a moon. Scow is leaning his head heavily on one hand, presumably because he’s exhausted but well into the “I can’t go to bed, somebody is wrong on the internet” zone.

SCOW: Don’t we have more important things to focus on?


Scow and a friend are sitting on a park bench hanging out. Scow is talking to the friend; the friend is reading his book and seemingly paying no attention to Scow. (I mean, I’m assuming that the guy is Scow’s friend, because that’s what I said when I wrote the script, but nothing in the panel establishes that, maybe this is just some random stranger that Scow sat down next to and started ranting at, in which case, wince.)

SCOW: And these ridiculous people spend all their time talking about the same unimportant things!

SCOW: Over and over!

SCOW: They never stop!

Too Petty To Talk About | Patreon

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