Twenty-five years ago, I followed the comic strip Bloom County avidly. Berkely Breathed's sense of the absurd and his flair for political and social satire surpassed anything on the comics page in the 1980s. Part Jules Pfeiffer, part Pogo, but with an original sensibility that transformed comics, Breathed made the comics page a must-read every day. Later, as he started to get less balanced and more advocative, the strip lost some of its luster, but even during its weakest moments outperformed almost every other satire in publishing.
Breathed has spent the last several years working on a Sundays-only offspring of Bloom County called Opus, in which he gives us frequent flashes of his brilliance. Needless to say, I rarely agree with Breathed's point of view, but I can see the power of his satire and the truth behind some of what he skewers. Newspapers have delightedly snapped Opus up for their Sunday comics section, especially given Breathed's political inclinations. Or at least they did until now:
Note to Opus readers: The Opus strips for August 26 and September 2 have been withheld from publication by a large number of client newspapers across the country, including Opus' host paper The Washington Post. The strips may be viewed in a large format on their respective dates at Salon.com.
Why have the Washington Post and other publications blacked out Opus? Because this time, Breathed has skewered radical Islam -- and that apparently crosses the line.
Today's strip features Steve Dallas and his on-again, off-again paramour and spiritual flibbertigibbet Lola Granola. In the strip, she has changed her name to "Fatima Struggle" and argues that she now knows not to resist a "man's rightful place". That's it; no exploding bombs, no images of Muhammed, no violence.
Also, no newspaper has addressed its decision to black out Breathed for today and next Sunday. It's possible that next Sunday has something more objectionable, but if today's strip is any indication, the reasoning is that newspapers refuse to show any kind of satire that targets Islam, even if specifically aimed at its radical extremes.
Last week, the Post and all of Breathed's customers had no problem satirizing Jerry Falwell and Christian beliefs of the afterlife. I'm glad they didn't; I found it funny and provocative, the kind of installment that Breathed usually produces. If anything, today's strip is less about the religious belief of Islam than last week's was about Christianity's tenets, and yet, the newspapers found it necessary to protect themselves from this strip and not the other. Why is that?
Oh, yeah -- because radical Islamists react with violence rather than rational objections. And the newspapers, in all their collective courage, can't find it within themselves to let a satirist do his work where it is most needed. Billy Hollis at QandO says the newspapers should be ashamed of themselves, but won't be. Maybe Breathed can tackle that as his next subject.