Please Spare Me the Hypocritical Obituaries
SOMEWHERE IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN--I am researching a book, a follow-up to "To Afghanistan and Back," which in 2002 became the first book published about the U.S. invasion. Accompanied by fellow cartoonists Matt Bors and Steven Cloud, I am traveling from Kunduz to Heart via Mazar-i-Sharif and Mainana. By the time you read this, I should be about to turn south toward Zaranj, on the Iranian border.
Nimruz province is a challenging August vacation destination: lows in the 100s, highs in the 130s, scorpions and sporadic insurgent attacks at no extra cost. But political commentators have a duty to check things out for themselves. Sadly the U.S. doesn't invade places like France and Italy anymore.
I could die.
I probably won't. Thousands of Americans and other Westerners go to Afghanistan every year. Only a few get killed. But it is a dangerous place. The roads are awful. There are bandits. Everyone has guns. I've been shot at. Turn on a satellite phone, and you become a target for Predator drones. Did I mention scorpions?
The possibility of death is something you have to consider when you go to Afghanistan, especially when you leave Kabul. Last time around, three of my colleagues came back in coffins.
Yes, I'll probably be fine. But if I die, I would like to ask my colleagues in the media--those assigned to write my obituary, should I be deemed to rate one--to spare me hypocritical bullshit praise.
I'm not talking about the hundreds of publications and broadcast outlets who have been kind to me over the years. I am amazed and humbled that anyone likes my stuff; I am still humbled when I see my name in print. I'm talking about the outlets that have always snubbed me.
Which is their right. Go ahead, snub like the wind! But don't pretend you're sad when I croak.
I don't believe in an afterlife. Still, whatever remains of my spirit would be incredibly annoyed if The New York Times were to give me the Howard Zinn treatment. Zinn, the brilliant leftist historian who wrote "The People's History of the United States," was lauded both in a Times obit and an op-ed column by Bob Herbert.
When Zinn was still alive, however, you'd never know it by reading the Times. The Paper of Record repeatedly ran comments on political events from mainstream dullards, discredited neoconservatives and admitted plagiarists. They never ran Zinn. If they got reviewed at all, his books got short shrift. He was correct about most things, and thus too far left for the Times.
This is typical. Whenever an artist or writer tries to challenge the status quo, the establishment media boycotts his or her work. After they die (c.f. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Mickey Siporin) they get lionized.
As bad as it is for edgy cultural figures to be a victim of economic censorship, it sucks more to be dead. If they had any decency, the minions of the mainstream press would resist the temptation to steal your reflected (now safe in the grave) glory.
During the 1990s I was the most frequently reprinted political cartoonist in The New York Times. They ran my op-eds. Then 9/11 happened. Editors got scared. Publishers started sucking up to Bush and his right-wing supporters. I vanished from the print edition. Amusingly and Orwellianly, for several years, a black square appeared at NYTimes.com where my cartoons used to run.
I'm not whining. It's their paper. If they want to publish the worst political cartoons in the country (every Sunday in the Week in Review), they can.
But, Times editors, please don't sing my praises in the obituaries. Don't talk about how I was once the youngest syndicated cartoonist in the country, how I won a bunch of awards, how I helped revolutionize an art form, how my work was controversial and widely discussed, how cool it was that I went to Afghanistan and Central Asia. If you really thought I was great, you would have run my stuff. You didn't. You thought I sucked. Or you didn't have the guts to deal with angry readers.
Either way: shut the @#$% up.
This also goes for USA Today, which wallows in cartoon crapitude day after day. You never ran one of my cartoons. I've done more than 4,000 of them. Not one ever appeared in USA Today. Not one in 20 years. If you mention my death, please include an explanation of why I'm worth mentioning but not worth publishing.
If your explanation somehow involves peanut butter that would be cool.
Newsweek deserves special mention as well. Their weekly cartoon round-up is highly influential. Also, it sucks. Newsweek publishes the worst cartoons by the worst cartoonists. If I die in Afghanistan, one advantage of being dead will be that I never have to lay eyes on that p.o.s. again. They ran me one time. Once! And it was a terrible cartoon: as all political cartoonists know, a guy watching the news on TV is a lazy cliché.
Attention Newsweek editors: If you print an obit, and it says nice things about my work, I am totally going to haunt your lame asses.
Special you-ignored-me-my-entire-career-so-don't-suck-up-after-I-die shoutouts also go to The Washington Post, which canceled me in response to a write-in campaign by right-wing extremists, and The San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, and every newspaper in my home state of Ohio. When I shed my mortal coil and shuffle off to the great open bar full of funny cartoonists and loose women in the sky, whenever that happens, I beg you to do me one last favor: say that I suck. Or, better yet, don't mention me at all.
(Ted Rall is in Afghanistan to cover the war and research a book. He is the author of "The Anti-American Manifesto," which will be published in September by Seven Stories Press. His website is tedrall.com.)