PIED FEIFFER

pied, adj.Β  of two or more colors in blotches — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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Another post, another autobiography (orΒ memoir, going by the book) to review — this one titled BACKING INTO FORWARD, by Jules Feiffer. But I am not so much going to review this 2010 book as pass along some thoughts from it, which, I think, are worth thinking about — relevant, at least in part, to current backward, black and white, regressive times.

First, a brief introduction: FEIFFER (born Jan. 26, 1929), is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and writer who was born and grew up ‘between a blotch (of angsts) and a hard place’ in the Bronx. Having a controlling mother, little interest in school and no athletic ability whatsoever, “Fear was the principal emotion of my childhood. I hid in my sleep. I hid in my dreams. I revealed myself only in comics, which were the embodiment of my dreams.”

In his teens, he was influenced by his older sister, whose “crowd was fast-talking, fast-quipping, mischievous, left, meaning far left in their politics, their taste in books, art, movies, and just about everything else.” Marry this influence with his passion for cartoons, and you have the seeds of the man and cartoonist he was to become (the engrossing details of which you will have to read in the book).

Now for some of those thoughts I previously mentioned and now quote:

Over the years I have been asked how I came to make certain choices. How did I know? This choice as opposed to that, this direction or that? Much of my life as a young man was spent ignoring or delaying choices. The choices I made were due to running out of time. Backed into a corner, a choice was made because I no longer had a choice not to. Having nowhere to go, I spot the one open window and jump through. Choice to me is much like Butch Cassidy and Sundance escaping a posse by jumping off a cliff. They jumped. And survived. It was the right choice. But when it’s not, you’re dead.

Up until I was drafted, I had found that I could survive under any circumstance, no matter how unnerving, degrading, humiliating, or demoralizing, if I could understand the unwritten rules, i.e., the culture that was beating up on me. Whether it was family, school, sports, work, sex, I was accustomed to getting knocked down, picking myself up, and starting all over again. But in the army I was on unknown ground. After five months something went terribly wrong. They transferred me to train me to operate and repair radios on the [Korean] front line–in other words, to be killed. Radio repair was indecipherable to me. I saw no good reason [for] this assignment. As Vice President Dick Cheney explained when asked by the press why he hadn’t fought in the Vietnam War, “I had other priorities.” Yes! Yes! Me too!

It was heartbreaking to watch [Jerome] Robbins go into his HUAC dance. The acting chair of the House Un-American Activites Committee, a somber, ministerial-looking fake, asked Robbins at the start of his sworn testimony what he did for a living. Robbins stated that he was a choreographer. The chair did not understand the unfamiliar word. “A chori–chori–chori–what exactly is that, Mr. Robbins.?” Robbins explained that it was something like a dance director and named shows he had choreographed, from On The Town, his first musical, to The King And I. The members of the committee seemed delighted to have this fancy new word to play with. As each one took his turn questioning Robbins, he took a crack at pronouncing “choreographer.” The point, made to the cameras for the heartland, was that loyal American don’t need highfalutinn words. No! Loyal Americans needed but one thing, fealty to God and country. Loyal Americans wrapped themselves in the flag.

Called soft on Communism, liberals quieted down about witch hunts and loyalty oaths. Called eggheads, they dumbed themselves down. Displays of wit were repressed as too highbrow. Accused of cowardice in the Cold War, liberals began appraising countries to invade. Vietnam was a liberal war. The Republican Dwight Eisenhower refused to be sucked in. But Eisenhower was a general, a war hero, he didn’t have to prove his manhood. John F. Kennedy, although a war hero, was a liberal Democrat. He had to prove his manhood. Kennedy couldn’t afford to let the Russians think he was incompetent and inconsequential, which they might well have concluded after the Bay of Pigs. The Soviets might move on Berlin because of Kennedy’s perceived weakness. Before they could make such a move, Kennedy moved on Vietnam. As much of a disaster as the war proved itself to be, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, after him, could not get out. To cut and run was not an option for Democrats because it would make them open to attacks from Republicans.

Enough. Or was/is it? Politics being politics and the American electorate being the American electorate, we now have the grotesquely cartoonish Donald Trump….so let us close with this (for what it’s worth):