"Radical Islamist. Hot new fad on the planet."
August 25, 2007 4:43 PM   Subscribe

The Official Berkeley Breathed Website [warning: ComicSans] announced that the weekly "Opus" comics for August 26th AND September 2nd* "have been withheld from publication by a large number of client newspapers across the country, including Opus' host paper The Washington Post." The reason? Making jokes aout Islam. And just the week before, Opus was thoroughly ridiculing the late Jerry Falwell. BB recommends catching his missing strips in the Salon.com comics section. But it being the Internet, somebody has already found and posted tomorrow's "Opus". Let's hear it for Fatima Struggle!!!
Berkeley Breathed is no stranger to controversy. Even his latest children's book, "Mars Needs Moms", was declared "Politically Incorrect". He is no stranger to me, either, although my last email exchange with him was over 3 years ago and I had nothing to do with this recent interview at MSNBC.com.
*Comic strip trivia: Most newspapers have their Sunday comics printed weeks in advance; that's why Kudzu ran Sunday strips two weeks after the dailies ended when Doug Marlette died.
posted by wendell (44 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
T'will be interesting to see if they print that in MY local rag.

Frankly I don't see anything that objectionable to tomorrow's strip, especially compared to what normally gets done to my own faith in the funny pages these days.
posted by konolia at 4:51 PM on August 25, 2007

I do have a question. Do news venues withhold things like this out of respect-or out of fear?
posted by konolia at 4:52 PM on August 25, 2007

The definition of politically correct is that some things are ok to ridicule while others are not. And that divide is political.
posted by stirfry at 4:54 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Any claim that the joke is insulting Islam is pretty weak. Did anyone see CNN's "God's Warriors" specials this week? If anything, the withheld comic strip appears to mock the presentation of piety in Islam amongst young American Muslims as something hip, which is a theme that I've seen pop up in the media a lot lately.
posted by Shakeer at 4:56 PM on August 25, 2007

For the record, tommorrow's Opus is about as offensive as a cheese cracker.

Also, it really doesn't make jokes about Islam, per se, but more about his girlfriend's nutty spiritual quest with Islam as just a backdrop.

I'd like to know how some groups develop a mentality in which they view themselves as being completely above the slightest insult. I think its outrageous that people are cowed into not drawing funny (or even unfunny) comics about any particular group of people for fear of .....

....what exactly? Being ridiculed back? People not liking you?

Is that really worth the self-censorship?
posted by Avenger at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2007

Hey, they got Comic Sans italic! No fair!
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:05 PM on August 25, 2007

Actually, I provisionally take back the part about supposed Muslims feeling "completely above the slightest insult". From what I'm reading, the censorship was done voluntarily by the papers and not under pressure from any Muslim groups.

But seriously, we need to stop the pre-emptive censorship for OMG TEH RELIGIONZ ARE OFFENDEDZ!!!!11 reasons.
posted by Avenger at 5:07 PM on August 25, 2007


I thought the "we must print images of Muhammad!" stuff from the far right last year was pretty darn lame. It seemed to me along the lines of feeling compelled to shout "nigger" at black people during race riots, to show support for free speech.

But this...

That cartoon is just not even offensive. What a poor decision.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:12 PM on August 25, 2007

Remember when Berkeley Breathed was funny?
posted by brain_drain at 5:15 PM on August 25, 2007

Remember when he was GENUINELY controversial?
posted by wendell at 5:18 PM on August 25, 2007

Yeah, I'm missing something here. Not that last week's strip was, from my POV anyway, anything for Christians in general to be upset over; though I can see why Fallwell might be a mite miffed.

If its mocking anything, its mocking the right wing idea that liberals are just a hair's breadth from becoming radically conservative Muslims [1].

Either the newspaper editors banning this are part of a conspiricy to help the conservatives play the poor oppressed Christian game, or they're stupid to a degree that is staggering. Either way its an indicator that the coming death of the old media is well deserved.

[1] Never did understand how even a complete abandonment of logic can get you to that position. I mean, radical Islam is conservative in a way that makes Ann Coulter look like a hippie, why would *ANYONE* assume that it's an idiology that would be attractive to liberals?
posted by sotonohito at 5:21 PM on August 25, 2007

Remember when Berkeley Breathed sneaked into the express line with more than 8 items?
posted by found missing at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2007

This will wen... dammit!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:32 PM on August 25, 2007

Remember when Berkeley Breathed sneaked into the express line with more than 8 items?

Yes, he was right in front of me.
posted by wendell at 5:33 PM on August 25, 2007

Remember when Berkeley Breathed dinged my cardoor as he parallel parked? The ripe bastard.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:35 PM on August 25, 2007

Sorry, Zach, that WAS me... I'd borrowed his car.
posted by wendell at 5:43 PM on August 25, 2007

Ooh. I hadn't been paying attention to Breathed's Big Comeback. I stopped buying newspapers about the same time Watterson stopped doing Calvin and Hobbes. They can boycott all they want. I boycotted them years ago.

Maybe I should reconsider though. That one's nice.

Oh. And Lola Granola's hot? When did that happen? I thought she was the ex-fiance of Opus who looked like a hobbit with glasses. Or am I thinking of someone else? And when did Steve Dallas start looking like me?? *shiver*
posted by ZachsMind at 6:33 PM on August 25, 2007

For the record, tommorrow's Opus is about as offensive as a cheese cracker.

posted by loquacious at 6:34 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

When did Steve Dallas morph into Paulie Walnuts?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:55 PM on August 25, 2007

Ah! I remember now! Lola's the chick with the tattoo.

I think he meant to say "cheese grater" which are slightly less offensive than actual crackers, but only for a select vocal minority.

Things I learned from Berke Breathed:

* Always remember to do the math.
* Beware alleys bearing grifters.
* Chicks dig Fruit of the Loom.
* Ignore that loud saucy lady.
* Take a moment now and then to contemplate the azaleas.
* And finally, if a horrible platinum-furred tonsil sucker is trying to eat your face, let it.

Jedi Masters don't wait fifteen years for a sequel. Good day!
posted by ZachsMind at 6:59 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

The humor in the new stuff seems mostly like the older stuff.

That's because when he's still funny, he's borrowing his old setups and punchlines. He was a genius, now he just needs cash. The art peaked in 1986 or 87 too. It's been too stylized and getting busier for 20 years.

Sorry to seem like a negative asshole, but I love this man and want him to leave well enough alone.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:01 PM on August 25, 2007

Back on topic... from the penguin's own mouth:

"Berke always told me his goal was to figure out how to take an issue and make it funny. The more serious an issue, the bigger the challenge." - Opus

I give BB five stars for trying to find the funny in the muslim culture clash with western weirdness. I think his approach to the humor potential is not insulting muslims, but the West's distorted and disturbing perspective on what a muslim actually is. Wrap yourself in a burqua and follow a few dictated behaviors and voila you're the latest religious fashion craze! I've seen the Lola transformation in real life, up close, and you wanna simultaneously laugh in her face and cry in your beer. It's cringeworthy to say the least. Some women are plain crazy. Catholic girls are the worst. Don't git me stahted...

"Sorry to seem like a negative asshole, but I love this man and want him to leave well enough alone."

No offense Mayor Curley, but Bill Watterson took your advice and left when he was at the top of his game. He'll probably never come back. I for one wish he'd come back and wallow in the muck of his past success for several years, just so long as I got to see more Calvin & Hobbes strips that I ain't seen yet.

Yes BB is covering familiar ground and taking the well beaten path - but that's because he CAN. More power to him.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:15 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wow, what utter spinelessness on the part of the Washington Post. I'm just completely flabbergasted that any major newspaper in the United States would take that stand, over this cartoon, now. Just astonishing. What the hell do they think they're doing by conceding that much territory over such a ridiculously non-offensive cartoon?

For all the neocon bullshit the paper's spewed over the last few years, I don't think WaPo editors could have done anything more to convince me it's a lost cause than this little bit of awful cowardice, whose ramifications for free speech and the engagement between democracy and radical Islam are truly horrifying.

p.s. to wendell: why the hell did you saddle a decent post with a dumb reference to a MetaTalk thread almost no one on the site read? please don't do that to the front page.
posted by mediareport at 7:24 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Zach, thank you for linking to the article that i dare not. Why not? Look at the byline!!! That particular statement was my quoting of a previous interview with Berkeley.

mediareport, anybody who hasn't read that MetaTalk thread won't get the reference and will just interpret it as a pre-emptive ass coverage against any accusation of semi-self-linking. But this kind of post is EXACTLY why I raised the issue in MeTa.

BTW, for those of you who haven't kept up, you can find the last 14 weekly strips here and Opus going back to the beginning here (just search "Opus" for the whole series and put up with some annoying copy protection stuff)

When he started the 'new' Opus, BB had let 10 years pass and but "rebooted" Steve as an older version of his old self and a single father to Augie (the kid in Zach's first linked comic who asked 'What question?'). He didn't want to try to follow most of the characters years later, so he tossed out some exposition - the most outrageous being that Binkley, after a disastrous first teen-age kiss, had run away to become a Tibetan eunuch monk. Which made it a bit of a shock when he started what is now a major reboot with a scene last month in which the ack-to-child-age Binkley was hanging out with Augie. And that's why Steve Dallas is the only character looking obviously older.

Of the several directions BB has tried to aim "Opus" over the last 3.75 years, this new one (after the initial WTF?) might just be a winner.
posted by wendell at 8:09 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I took too long with that previous comment and still screwed up...

The "previous interview" with BB was NOT my own, just one I'd read while researching for the piece.

and "ack-to-child-age" sounds like something Bill the Cat would say - should be "BACK-to-child-age".
posted by wendell at 8:14 PM on August 25, 2007

Thanks for all the links, wendell (and ZachsMind, who added links in his comments). I've loved Opus since Bloom County. Did you know he had his own Christmas television special (called "A Wish For Wings That Work") in 1991? YouTube has some clips listed here, but I can't find the whole thing online.
posted by amyms at 8:22 PM on August 25, 2007

A good quote from him: "If you'll read the subtext for many of those old strips, you'll find the heart of an old-fashioned Libertarian. And I'd be a Libertarian, if they weren't all a bunch of tax-dodging professional whiners."
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:28 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

The strip is ingenious because it's about fundamentalist Christians. That's why the newspapers are boycotting it—they're afraid that their Christian readers will see that the joke is about finding the commonality between Muslim "jihadists" and the Christians that complain the most—they both hate and control women. The newspapers aren't worried about offending Muslims.
posted by interrobang at 8:47 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

That's why the newspapers are boycotting it—they're afraid that their Christian readers will see that the joke is about finding the commonality between Muslim "jihadists" and the Christians that complain the most—they both hate and control women. The newspapers aren't worried about offending Muslims.

Cute idea, but it doesn't fly when you actually, you know, look at the 12 panels in question.
posted by mediareport at 9:00 PM on August 25, 2007

Oop ack!
posted by ColdChef at 9:31 PM on August 25, 2007

"Remember when Berkeley Breathed was funny?"
posted by reidfleming at 5:23 AM on August 26, 2007

Well, they printed it here.
posted by konolia at 9:03 AM on August 26, 2007

when any group tries to impose exaggerated deference toward its identity tokens, it's incumbent on those who oppose this to mock that group roundly, again and again, until it gets the message that it's no more equal than the rest of us.
posted by bruce at 9:53 AM on August 26, 2007

I know this was from yesterday's post, but since my local paper printed it, did anyone receive a newspaper that did not? I am curious as to what the paper itself said about not publishing.
posted by annsunny at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2007

Reidfleming, you're one tough milkman and you nailed it. Bloom County was always more self-satisfied than funny.
posted by Man-Thing at 11:06 AM on August 26, 2007

And the 'banned' comic is on the WaPo's web site. Could it be the illustrious Mr. Breathed has pulled a little "viral outrage" stunt on the web (and me, personally) to draw attention to his weekly drawings? If so, I apologize for spreading it, but then again, as a long-time Opus fan, I really don't.
posted by wendell at 12:32 PM on August 26, 2007

I always thought Bloom County was hilarious back when I was a kid, and going back to old compilations reveals that, if anything, I like it it more now.
posted by JHarris at 12:41 PM on August 26, 2007

Saying that his children's book was "declared 'Politically Incorrect'" implies that someone actually referred to Mars Needs Moms as "politically incorrect" and meant it pejoratively. It would be more fair to link to the Publishers Weekly review to which he refers in the Salon interview as the sole instance of the "daunting pc police," which says, "Martians are keen on human females because 'They needed driving to soccer!... Plus cooking and cleaning and dressing and packing lunches and bandaging boo-boos!'" Wow, some pretty daunting police tactics there.
posted by transona5 at 1:07 PM on August 26, 2007

My local, extremely conservative, paper isn't running this week's Opus. Whatever the problem is, it ain't an overabundance of liberal sentiment among newspapers, not if my local rag is doing it too.
posted by sotonohito at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2007

I don't think my local paper carries Opus normally, but then I wouldn't know cuz I refuse to buy newspapers. This state is so conservative, it regularly takes laxatives so that the Brazos river can dump out to the Gulf of Mexico, which leaves Texas rather gassy.

Those of you who do buy newspapers, you're helpin to postpone the extinction of a dinosaur. Cut it out. Stop being an enabler. Let the beast die.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:12 PM on August 26, 2007

Nice observation, crash.
posted by donpedro at 5:31 PM on August 26, 2007

Bloom County was always more self-satisfied than funny.

Not true. Bloom County was hilarious. Even when I was ten and didn't understand most of the political content.

I guess some of the characters were self-satisfied from time to time but I found the overall feel of the strip to be rather sweet and genuine, if anything.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:50 PM on August 26, 2007

Maybe you're thinking of Doonesbury.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:58 PM on August 26, 2007

Not really a fan of Breathed, but I enjoyed his two-part interview on The Bat Segundo Show.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:28 PM on August 28, 2007

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