Jack B. just left this lengthy comment on an old thread. I thought I’d highlight it here.
This discussion interested me enough that I thought I’d try to revive it, lo these many months later.
Johnny Ryan’s comment about the bully’s perspective being more interesting than the victim’s perspective has always struck me as really insightful, especially as it comes from a guy whose work can be so dumb. There’s something kind of precious and self-pitting about art with a sweet, sensitive narrator/protagonist, whether it’s Craig Thompson in Blankets or Holden Caufield, that you don’t get when the narrator is Humbert Humbert or Alex in A Clockwork Orange (although the latter two characters are self-pitying themselves). I also agree with Ryan that Lucy is a good character—her dual role as the cause of Charlie Brown’s problems and his psychiatrist was one of the wittiest things about Peanuts. Noah, even before his excellent interview with Ryan, made the point that the strip would have been a drag if it had focused only on Charlie Brown and his melancholy, as some alt-comics Peanuts fans seem to do.
Jacob Canfield’s problems with Ryan seem to involve the victim/bully dichotomy in areas beyond art, and I think I might side with Ryan in some of those areas, too. Like a lot of left-leaning internet commentators, Jacob seems to think that “macho” is a bad thing and that straight white men should be very conscious of their privilege. But speaking as the wussiest “beta male” you could possibly imagine and as an upper-middle-class white person with a fair amount of guilt, I’m not so sure that it’s good to be like me. My experience is that self-confidence and male strength, even on the part of straight white males, is looked on favorably by almost everyone, including blacks and women, outside of left-leaning internet circles. I’m pretty sure that most black, blue-collar workers would prefer working with a confident, macho white guy than with a sensitive Caucasian who enjoys discussing his white male privilege, for example. By the way, Jacob’s line, “It makes comics critics look like macho assholes” struck me as unintentionally funny—they might look like assholes, but I doubt that they’ve ever looked macho to anyone other than Jacob.
I definitely don’t want to go too far in aesthetically favoring an “alpha” perspective over a “beta” one, though. P.J. O’Rourke once said something to the effect that Jewish American humor is pro-loser while Irish American humor is pro-winner, and he called The National Lampoon a breakthrough in that it succeeded with the latter for the first time in American pop-culture history. I don’t know if there’s anything to his history or his ethnic breakdown, as plenty of Jewish comics from Groucho on have been more aggressive than self-deprecating, but I will say that I love early Woody Allen and can’t stand what I’ve read of The National Lampoon or O’Rourke (I think I’d hate him even without the stupid right-wing politics). So I’m definitely not in the fratboy camp when it comes to humor.
And of course, when it comes to real life, siding with bullies over victims is pretty horrible. I would imagine that one of Johnny Ryan’s main influences is Howard Stern, and Ryan drew this poster of the regulars from The Howard Stern Show: http://www.flickr.com/photos/18176432@N00/990828987/in/photostream/. Those who are not familiar with Stern—or, as I prefer to call him, “Fartman”—may wonder about some of the people depicted on the poster, such as “Gary the Retard” and “Wendy the Retard.” These are actual mentally retarded people that Fartman has had on his show to make fun of; mocking disabled and generally fucked-up people is a major aspect of the show (there used to be a gigantic Wikipedia article describing this aspect in excruciating detail, but it’s been truncated into a tiny one at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wack_Pack). I seem to be alone in this, but I find it extremely disturbing that a guy who has publically picked on mentally retarded people to their faces on the air as an adult has gained Fartman’s level of mainstream acceptance. Whenever a coworker mentions liking him, I actually feel kind of queasy, as if they’re admitting that beneath a veneer of adult civility, they’re much worse than the most vicious junior-high bully you could possibly imagine. Beyond that, I really believe that the relatives of “Gary the Retard” and “Wendy the Retard” should have the legal right to murder everyone, including Johnny Ryan, who has publically fucked with their loved ones. On the other hand, I’m a big Eminem fan, and he’s made plenty of shitty jokes about Christopher Reeve and other unfortunates, so maybe I’m just a big hypocrite.
Some final thoughts on Ryan—maybe I shouldn’t have called for his murder, because I actually like his art a lot and find some of his comics extremely funny. I have to say, though, that I don’t think his overall batting average for comedy is so great. For example, I just looked through a bunch of his altered Chick tract covers (at http://www.vice.com/read/johnny-ryans-chick-tracts), and the vast majority of them didn’t make me laugh. However, looking through them was definitely worth it, as the ones that did make me laugh, like “The Letter” (http://www.vice.com/read/johnny-ryans-chick-tracts/115761), “The Contract” (http://www.vice.com/read/johnny-ryans-chick-tracts/115762), and one that suggests my favorite rapper will not go to Heaven (http://www.vice.com/read/johnny-ryans-chick-tracts/115796) made me laugh an awful lot. Batting average aside, he really hits a joke way out of the park every now and then.
Well, those are my thoughts. If no one finds this incredibly lengthy post worth replying to, I’m going to be extremely embarrassed.