Explainers by Jules Feiffer – Introduction by Gary Groth


What is particularly striking is how well the strips in this volume hold up given the journalistic context in which they were written. Most of them are, in fact, eerily relevant today and testify not only to Feiffer’s acuity and prescience, but to a satirist’s natural allies — the universality of stupidity, opportunism, and corruption in the political realm and people’s endless ability to cause reciprocal misery in the private one. A few of the most effective strips [click on a thumbnail below to begin a slideshow] include:

  • The biases and hypocrisies of a self-righteously free press are skewered on March 30, 1961 (Fox News, anyone?);
  • Co-opting dissent is laid bare on May 4, 1961;
  • The legislative branch was as ineffective and morally neutered then as now (September 27, 1962);
  • Two kids know everything there is to know about the current technology but can barely read (December 6, 1962);
  • The means of marketing inevitably corrupting the ends however decent (February 14, 1963);
  • The squalid process whereby pandering becomes a learned habit — brilliantly explicated in 10 panels (May 21, 1964);
  • The infantilization of culture, now so prevalent that it’s invisible or taken for granted (March 25, 1965);
  • The government’s strategy to deal with dissent was the same then as now (November 10, 1966);
  • American’s punitive attitudes and disinterest in universally applied justice appear not to have changed (November 23, 1961);
  • Religion’s perspective on the separation of church and state (May 28, 1964);
  • The logical capitalist response to pollution (or global warming): economic growth and exploitation (September 30, 1965).

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Feiffer had to stake out a position for each of these strips and then think through how to express that position satirically with as much wit and force and artistry that he could muster. Each one of the strips in this book could be the subject of a Ph.D. thesis or at least a term paper; mercifully, space does not allow for such extensive exegesis here, but readers should find Feiffer’s thoughts behind a few representative strips insightful. Feiffer had a number of pet peeves that he assailed repeatedly. One of them was political middle-of-the-roadism (uncannily relevant in the era of Clintonian triangulation, which has become part of the the Democratic party platform). Consider the strips that feature spokesmen for the Radical Middle (July 25, 1963, October 24, 1963), or strips about mere wishy-washiness or talking out of both sides of one’s mouth (January 18, 1962, October 27, 1966). “I thought middle-ism was a great danger because the voice of the middle — or Radical Middle, as I called it — was in its guise pf reasonableness exacerbating our problems while pretending to address them. If you look back, the responsible moderate position on Martin Luther King Jr. was that he was a dangerous radical, alienating supposed allies, establishment blacks, and white liberals.”