Are You A Man Or A Mouse? (Or A Pussy?)

There are many reports of seemingly insane futile gestures in the news these days. In Tibet, a Buddhist monk sets himself on fire to protest the brutal suppression of his religion and culture by the occupying Chinese. It’s about as bold a statement as any human being can make, and unfortunately, the last one for the monk.

In Russia, the three women who comprise the band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of blasphemy and hooliganism stemming from their impromptu performance inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow last winter. The protest only lasted a few minutes and there was no physical damage to the church, but in Russia such institutions are the property of the state. Therefore it is a crime against the state. Pussy Riot staged the event in protest of Vlad Putin’s announcement that he planned to return to the presidency after eight years of constitutional exile due to term limits. (I daresay there are a few ex-presidents in our country who’d like to do the same, but can’t due to that pesky 22nd amendment.)

The episode reminded me of my own somewhat questionable roots in guerrilla art. Back in 1979, I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist, but was unsure of how to get started. By chance, I ran into Dan O’Neill, Nevada County’s first successful ink-slinger, on the deck of Framastanyl’s (now Cooper’s) bar one evening. It was the beginning of an odyssey that continues to this day. 

Dan started his comic strip Odd Bodkins in a now defunct local newspaper called The Nugget back in 1961. After honing his craft for a short time, he moved to the bay area and The San Francisco Chronicle. His strip was an instant hit, and soon was syndicated in over three hundred papers from coast to coast. But Dan’s habit of including politics in his humor was his undoing. One by one, conservative papers dropped him like a hot potato, which is fitting since he is Irish.

After being expunged from even his homebase at the Chron, Dan set his sights on a bigger target: Walt Disney. In a move reminisent of the SLA’s kidnapping of Patty Hearst, Dan and a rag-tag group of cartoonists called The Air Pirates hijacked Mickey, Minnie and a host of other iconic characters and forced them to do drugs and perform sexual acts in two comic books called Air Pirates Funnies. But why?

It was an insane futile gesture, for sure. Walt wasn’t even alive to be outraged, although there were rumors that he had been put into a cryogenic state to be ressurrected when the Disney Imagineers and technology had suffiently advanced enough to accomplish such a feat. Talk about a futile gesture. At any rate, I’ll defer to this account of the story in Reason magazine by Bob Levin. Here’s the link…http://reason.com/archives/2004/12/01/disneys-war-against-the-counte

Some years later, I was living in Seattle and was approached by a publisher of underground (or alternative) comics. He wanted to reprint the Air Pirates stories but wanted a new cover, and since I had been one of the sorcerer O’Neill’s apprentices, he thought I should do the honors. I agreed, with the condition that I could include a new story in the book to carry on the tradition.

And I had a lot to work with. Over the years I had collected news clippings of outrageous behavior by the folks at Diz-co. Stories about how they covered Central Florida in insecticides in their zeal to make Disneyworld a mosquito-free fantasy. How the French farmers blockaded EuroDisney to protest trade agreements. One of the strangest was Disney’s lawsuit to prevent tattoo artists from etching Mickey onto the skin of human beings. I didn’t have room for another story about a daycare center that was sued for painting a mural of Disney characters on the walls of their facility. After the story hit the press, Hanna Barbera sent a team of their artists to the school and painted Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw over the crime. Ka-Bong!!!

Our efforts didn’t provoke the ire of the Disney lawyers, and was never done for profit anyway. We gave away copies to our friends, even a few that worked for Disney, and that was it.

In a just society, that’s what would have happened with the Pussy Riot incident. Maybe a slap on the wrist for disturbing the peace, but certainly not two years in the gulag. Hopefully, international outrage will force the Russians to relent. Their reputation is bad enough as it is.

Futile gestures are essential to the life of a free people, even those which are deemed stupid or outrageous. Even those that target our heroes and most revered institutions. As distasteful as they are, even those religious fanatics who protest the funerals of fallen marines. Salman Rushdie opined, “What is freedom of expression? Without the ability to offend, it ceases to exist.” I still prefer the one Dan told me, which he said came to him in a dream.

“I never met a windmill that wasn’t looking for a fight.”

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26 Responses to Are You A Man Or A Mouse? (Or A Pussy?)

  1. TD Pittsford says:

    In addition to the books, there were a couple of posters depicting just about every Disney character in, shall we say, “compromising” activities. There were in every head shop in LA during the mid sixties. I sure wish I had them today.

    I don’t know how much I believe the urban myth about Disney’s head being frozen but a buddy of mine was working the night shift in a mortuary in Burbank (waiting to be “discovered” by someone, anyone) when they brought in the remains of great man. The following day he told me that he had finally reached one of his primary career goals which was to audition for Walt Disney. I pointed out that Mr. D. had departed this mortal coil the day before. With up-tilted chin and a smug grin, he informed me that when they brought Disney’s shell into the mortuary, he and another night worker, propped Walt up in a rolling desk chair and promptly went into their audition routine. He then unashamedly amended his resume to include that he had auditioned for Walt Disney on December 15, 1966. I don’t know if it ever got him any jobs but it sure did get some attention especially among his sick-o buddies of which I was proud to admit to be.

  2. rl crabb says:

    Here’s a piece from the Wall Street Journal on the latest Russkie shenannigans…
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444375104577595811340186308.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

  3. gregoryzaller says:

    I can’t make the connection between serious political protest and attacking Minnie and Mickey. I doubt they would make a connection in Russia either where the Pussy’s may spark another “spring”.

    • rlcrabb says:

      No connection, other than they were both protests of the establishment. If you read the Reason article the parallels are a little less murky. Disney had been connected with conservative politics for many years, starting with his opposition to his artists going union back in the forties. There’s another story about how Uncle Walt wore a Goldwater button on his lapel when Lyndon Johnson presented him with the medal of freedom.
      There’s also some question as to how much sympathy Pussy Riot has in conservative Russia. There wasn’t much sympathy for the Pirates either. They lost in the Supreme Court decision nine to zip.

  4. Anna Haynes says:

    RL, your denigration of mice is speciesist fightin’ words.
    :-)

    I think we as a society should accept and be guided by reality – especially the people that others look to, to give the straight scoop on their neck of ontology. This isn’t going so well right now.

    RL, how do you think we could encourage civil civic dialogue locally, to defuse the culture wars and encourage people – particularly our (many) “local maxima” of opinion or expertise – to be more evidence-based and less reflexively tribal, on science and policy?

    Background reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/magazine/the-mind-of-a-flip-flopper.html

    (and dammit I got sidetracked by this, I had things to do. Drat. Let this be a lesson to me… don’t be drawn in by fightin’ words.)

  5. F. Jimez says:

    Pussy Riot get’s two years in the can. I’d of let’em off with a slap on the butt.

    • Michael Anderson says:

      F. Jimez brings in the soft porn. Pernicious.

      • Todd juvinall says:

        I think the band name is that.

        • Michael Anderson says:

          What can Pussy Riot present to the TSA? Much more subtle, and perhaps more exciting and important. Absence of tube-steak is art, and Pussy Riot will pay for their industriousness.

          Putin is a short man, and you know what they say, right Todd?

          • gregoryzaller says:

            They “will pay for their industriousness”?

            Do I hear the inference that if they had accurately considered the consequences they would have remained silent? The news reports that they have remained defiant. I’d like to believe that they had considered the price and gladly paid it.

          • Robert Lovejoy says:

            Wonder why Judith is absent from this conversation. Where is T.Waters when we need him?

          • Todd juvinall says:

            Only you know what a “shot man” means MA. I think bigger, much bigger than you.

          • Steve Frisch says:

            Another 1 1/2 entendre from the Toddster. 9

    • Robert Lovejoy says:

      Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot. Whew, I said it. Feel much better. Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot gives me license. Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot.

  6. Don Baumgart says:

    While the Air Pirates thunderstorm went to the Supremes, Paul Krassner commissioned a center spread in The Realist by Wally Wood showing the Disney characters engaged in wild abandon, with out reprecussion. May be some truth to the comment that the second Air Pirates book pushed things from satire to insult and brought down the wrath of Walt’s lawyers.

  7. gregoryzaller says:

    Where did everybody go? Too bad you don’t have email notifications like Jeff, RL.

    Good op-ed in NYT today. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/opinion/a-verdict-against-russia.html?pagewanted=all

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