Thinking about it now, it’s hard not to remember the bile rising, hard not to relive it. In at #2 on MAD’s “20 Dumbest” for 2008 was Herman Mejia’s “Keeping Bad Companies”. We’d just made it out of the Financial Crisis without hitting a second Great Depression, but in February of 2009, we were beginning to ask, “But at what price?” Was the Bailout too much to afford, too high a price for us as a nation?
And there in the pages of MAD, in the starkest of terms, was Mejia’s caricature. President Obama, Geithner, Bernanke raising a parody of the Star-Spangled Banner, in a parody of the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising. But this wasn’t the real American flag—just as the ground underfoot was not the soil of Iwo Jima but piles of cash, the flag had its field of Stars deleted, only to be replaced by corporate logos.
Even now, the bile rises at the memory of that image. It’s the idea that we’ve been had, been taken in not only by the financial wizards who caused this mess, but by the political wizards who engineered the Bailout. A powerful image, with a powerful message.
Three years on, Mejia struck a powerful note again. Failing to raise the debt ceiling and the consequent downgrading of the US Dollar by ratings agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s would be caricatured as the hit TV show the Walking Dead.
We’ve seen Mejia tackle the big and the bold, but how about the simple? Mejia’s accurate portrayal of the dilution of Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” won’t fill you with the same ire as either “Keeping Bad Companies” or “the Walking Debt”. The stakes aren’t as high when it comes to entertainment, as they are with our economic future.
But there’s that same, familiar sense of loss. That sense of some promise having been broken, and a manifest destiny having been revoked. This is Blues Country. And it’s the same psychic territory that comes with the failure of the 99-cent things that’s perennially wrestled with so elegantly by Greil Marcus. In Mystery Train he writes:
No one ever captured the promise of American life more beautifully than Fitzgerald did in that passage. That sense of America is expressed so completely—by billboards, by our movies, by Chuck Berry’s refusal to put the slightest irony into “Back in the U.S.A.,” by the way we try to live our lives—that we hardly know how to talk about the resentment and the fear that lie beneath the promise. To be an American is to feel the promise as a birthright, and to feel alone and haunted when the promise fails. No failure in America, whether of love or money, is ever simple; it is always a kind of betrayal, of a mass of shadowy, shared hopes.
Where were you when “Adult Swim” first aired? And did you share in those hopes of a redemption of the idea of cartoons? Did you also believe, that like baseball or football that some things just should last forever, well past our childhoods?
In at #9 on the “50 Worst Things about Cartoons,” “Adult Swim” won’t make you angry the way earlier Mejia’s did. This is simply the sound of your cigarette turning to ash and your beer turning flat. And Drake on your radio, crooning: “All I care about is money in the city that I’m from/I’mma sip until I feel it, I’mma smoke until it’s done/I don’t really give a ƒ#ç˚and my excuse is that I’m young/And I’m only getting older…”