June 20, 2013
Alan Grayson Tells It Like It Is
Posted on Jul 21, 2011
Mr. Fish: I’m just …
Robert Scheer: … you’re just the messenger. Let me ask you, and then I’ll let Kasia take over—but I’ve known a number of cartoonists in my day: the great Jules Feiffer; we run [Mike] Luckovich, who I think is very good, on our site; Ed Sorel, who I think is a raving genius. You know, there’s—and help me here, Dwayne—but you can go back to the French Revolution; who was it, Dumont, or …
Mr. Fish: Daumier.
Robert Scheer: … Daumier, and I remember as kid even, going to the museum once, they had an exhibit of his work. And you’re really—and I’m not flattering you, now—I think you’re really up there with the greats. And I was just curious, what drives you? I mean, I first saw your work in, I guess, the LA Weekly and Harper’s, and we’re really privileged to be able to feature the uncensored Fish, Mr. Fish, on Truthdig. But you know, really, where do you get your views? What … where do you come from? Who are you? [Laughter]
Robert Scheer: You’re being a little unfair, Mr. Fish … and please, don’t do a cartoon where you show my head up my behind, or something … [Laughter]
Kasia Anderson: It’s imminent! You’re asking for it. [Laughter]
Robert Scheer: … I know I’m asking for it, but you can hardly say that Ed Sorel, or Jules Feiffer, or certainly Paul Conrad were party-line guys. But there is, I will say, to your work, an element that you haven’t addressed: There’s a wildness to it. You’re kind of like Allen Ginsberg and the beats. There’s an extreme perception here, and again … that’s why I brought up your gentle demeanor, and so forth, your bookish style. [Laughter] But where does this wild, crazy, raging passion come from?
Mr. Fish: It probably comes from just the tradition in fine art to serve the art when you’re creating something. So if you want to do something that you think should be excessively beautiful, then you just pull out all the stops. And it’s the same thing with political conversation, and stuff; I don’t have any … I’m not going to self-censor … how can I say this? ...
Kasia Anderson: How many times are you asked this question, in particular? Out of curiosity? Explain yourself! What is it that you do?
Mr. Fish: [Laughs] Yeah, usually it’s fighting words that ask me to explain myself, and it’s easier to respond. [Laughter] But yeah, I mean, it’s like I said. Especially when it comes to points of cultural discussions and political discussions, I think people tend to pull their punches and be a little bit too polite, when in the way I see things, it’s politics that screw things up more than anything else. Organized ignorance is the most destructive sort of thing. And I don’t think that … I have a certain impatience for walking that line and allowing somebody the right to their opinion if it is—if I can see down the road that it’s going to allow fracking to happen, for instance. [Laughter] Here in Pennsylvania … there’s just, like I said earlier, there’s humanitarian issues that demand the response of a human being. And if there is something dire and something desperate going on, then you should be screaming a little bit.
Kasia Anderson: Well, back to your book, “Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People.” I was a little bit startled when I first opened the book and saw that your introduction kicks off with a discussion of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying,” and the five stages of grieving. Can you elaborate on your choice there?
Mr. Fish: Well, I knew that I wanted to have a book that wasn’t just, like, the 101-things-to-do-with-a-dead-cat, zippy-cartoon type collection, where it was just either arranged according to the year the cartoon was produced, or anything like that. So I was hoping for some organizing principle to have a framework. And it happened almost immediately; I mean, I sat down and I said, why do I do what I do?—which I guess you just asked me; maybe this will help answer that. And I just felt the weight of the world all of a sudden, because [Laughs] that’s what I feel like I do, you know? Sort of like attack anything I can, or try to understand everything I can about existence. And then it just popped into my head, and I was just like, oh, the five stages would be interesting to break this down. And then I realized, in an instant, if I reversed the order and began with acceptance, and went to depression and then bargaining and then anger and then denial, it actually explained my process of work. You know, you wake up and you accept the fact that the world is how it is; and that is reality. And then with that acceptance comes a certain amount of depression, because it’s not all great, and there’s a lot of suffering that’s going on. And then you have to bargain your way through how you’re going to affect change or not affect change. And then you’re angry because what you do, it’s very incremental; you know, saving the world and avoiding doomsday. And then at the end of the day, you’re in denial in a couple of different ways; you’re in denial with the fruitlessness of your quest to change things, and you’re also in denial that you’re ever going to be able to do that. And the only way you’re going to be able to get up the next morning is if you are in denial. And that allows you to sleep, and then you can begin the process all over again.
Kasia Anderson: Is there anything that you won’t cover in your editorial cartoons? Are there any topics that are off-limits to you, that you’re aware of?
Mr. Fish: Um … the metrics system. I, just, that’s very boring to me.
Kasia Anderson: I knew I was going to get something like this. [Laughter]
Robert Scheer: Tell me something about your experience with publishers. You were with the LA Weekly … first of all, I mean, when did you learn you could draw, and how did you get into this whole thing … and then you’ve been at Harper’s, you’ve been at LA Weekly, and then what happens? Ownership changes, and you get pushed out, or how does it work?
Mr. Fish: Right. For the LA Weekly, yeah, that’s what happened; it was … the ownership changed, and then … I was just no longer needed there. But let’s go back to the drawing part of that question, because one thing, I’ve always been able to draw; and I always found an audience with that ability. So it was built in. So all through school, starting in grammar school, the teachers would actually bring me around and show my sharks and skeletons—which is what I was drawing a lot of then—to different teachers and to different faculty, because they thought it was really, really good. And I used to draw all of these things on black construction paper with white chalk, which nobody was doing at that time. And so I found that if you can draw really, really well, at least you’re going to stop somebody to admire the craft of what you do; and if you can stop somebody long enough, you can engage them in some sort of conversation.
Kasia Anderson: Well, we have the whole conversation right in front of us in your new book, “Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People.” And local L.A. types can stop by Bergamot Station on August 6th at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica to see more of your work. That’s all we have time for today. I’m Kasia Anderson, this is Truthdig Radio, and Robert Scheer and Mr. Fish, aka Dwayne Booth. Thanks for your time, Dwayne.
Mr. Fish: Thanks a lot.
Kasia Anderson: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Kasia Anderson, associate editor. I’m here with Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer, and we’re speaking with the Rev. Madison Shockley, who is a contributor to Truthdig and is also the pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California. And also joining us is professor Greg Carey, who is professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Welcome to both of you gentlemen.
Greg Carey: Thank you for having me.
Kasia Anderson: And Robert Scheer will have his own angle on religion, I’m sure. But I wanted to get going with Greg; one of your recent articles for HuffPost Religion—it’s from July 7, I believe, and it’s entitled “What Does the Bible Actually Say About Marriage?” And from what I’ve read from your HuffPost columns, you’re kind of a FactCheck.org equivalent for Scripture, for readers out there who may think they know what the Bible says about this or that issue, but it turns out they may not know the specifics. So can you give us some context about your marriage article, to get the conversation started?
Greg Carey: Sure. Well, I love the way you described me; that’s really flattering because, to be honest, the real mission of what I was trying to do is help people be honest about how we use the Bible. In our public discourse, there’s lots of talk about biblical family values, and the right shape and size and composition of a legitimate family. And obviously, the Christian right has been very much involved in trying to defend traditional male-female marriage. So what I wanted to do is ask, very simply, if you open the Bible from cover to cover, what’s really in it? And the simple fact is that a lot of things that people assume the Bible teaches consistently, it either doesn’t teach at all or it hardly ever teaches. And in many cases, the Bible, different parts of the Bible, deliver different kinds of teachings on different subjects. So it was important to me to lay that out. One of the reasons that’s important to me, as I look back I’m aware my mom raised me as a single parent; she was divorced. And there was a great stigma that she lived with when she tried to be a part of churches or religious communities; it just wasn’t acceptable. And so I’m very much in tune with the fact that lots of people in our society live under a burden of shame or inadequacy that’s been imposed on them, unfortunately, by the churches. And as a biblical scholar, if I can lend some help to that, then that’s really great with me.
Kasia Anderson: Right. And also, this is obviously a timely subject given the national debate on gay marriage. Do you have any thoughts on that—or also, Madison, if you want to chime in?
Madison Shockley: Well, I think Greg has made a tremendous contribution to the conversation by just laying out the facts. And what we’re really dealing with is not so much Christianity, but American civil religion. And American civil religion has Christian attributes. But it’s clear from the beginning, whether you’re talking about Manifest Destiny or whether you’re talking about American exceptionalism, that any time that the gospel of Jesus Christ is in conflict with American ideology, within this umbrella of American civil religion, American ideology—or the American Dream, if you will—trumps the gospel every time. And so this marriage vow is a very good example of a recent iteration of American civil religion: that family as it’s defined, quote unquote, “traditionally,” and marriage and so forth, don’t come from the Bible, but they come from this American ideology of how Americans perceive themselves. And so we need to make a clear distinction that what people talk about as Christianity in America is not the gospel of Jesus.
Kasia Anderson: Mm-hmm.
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