Goin’ all Old Testament on Gary Trudeau’s behind


Over at the comments section at Doonesbury.com, there is much pained consideration by fans of this Sunday’s strip which manages to raise two classical anti-Jewish tropes in just six panels (most papers drop the first two panels): The "Old Testament" God is vengeful, as opposed to the loving New Testament God; and the bad guys, the truly hateful villains, are the moneylenders.

I’ll leave the disambiguation to the contributors; Andrew Greene’s strikes me as the most thoughtful post:

God in the Hebrew bible is a complex character, filling a parental and sovereign role, which sometimes means acting in accordance with the attribute of justice, and sometimes with the attribute of lovingkindness.


Which of these two is more loving and which more angry: the one who says "No one can come to the father except through me" and damns non-believers to eternal hellfire and brimstone just because they are not of the "correct" faith, or the one who says that there are seven basic moral precepts that all humanity is expected to follow, and religious observance is only obligatory on those who have accepted the "yoke of the commandments"?


Over history the role of the moneylender in Christian society was foisted on Jews, who weren’t allowed into many other lines of business. The "Jewish moneylender" was a common trope throughout Christian literature; Shylock is merely the most famous of these representations.

I can’t say I’m surprised though: Doonesburry is a cutting, brilliant satire, all the more so for having been sustained for forty years. Its Jewish (and also gay) character, Mark Slackmeyer is nuanced and sympathetic.

Yet, like any satirist, Gary Trudeau writes from where he lives. He is a classic Yalee, a New Englander, and he is shaped by the views native to that culture, and that includes his views of Jews. Eons ago, he described Slackmeyer as descended from the folks who "owned the Mayflower." That’s not exactly a Borscht Belt sensibility.

It’s not just Jews. In another early strip, he mocks the "Pips" (Merald "Bubba" Knight, Edward Patten and William Guest) as lazy black guys living off the sweat of a woman, Gladys Knight.

Satirists often use their posture – necessarily apart, inevitably mean-spirited – to explain away such bigotries. (Perhaps more painful than being accused of being a bigot is the natural corrolary – that the satirist is conventional.)

They need to be called on it.

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