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October 23, 2003

I wasn't sure on

Daniel Radosh

I wasn't sure on Monday but now it's pretty clear now that Aaron Magruder knew what he was doing when he did a series of strips on Conoleezza Rice's romantic inclinations. It's even possible, depending on how quickly he works, that the new series, which began yesterday with the strip above, is an intentional middle finger aimed at the skittish Washington Post for pulling the strip.

Blogger Felix at MemeFirst is critical of people who bring up the rumor gratuitously, a group in which he mistakenly includes me: "Daniel Radosh while ostensibly criticising the strip, still manages to get in this: 'If you missed it, it hinged on whether Condi preferred black men or white men. And I know what you're thinking: men?' ...People seem willing to use anything to give themselves an excuse to make the allegation: after all, the comic strip is quite explicitly about Condi Rice finding love with a man, and not a woman.

But wait, I wasn't criticizing the strip for trafficking in rumors -- I was criticizing it precisely for avoiding the most pertinent rumor out there. And what Felix thinks I slyly "managed to get in" was in fact central to my point: IF you're going to make jokes about Condi's personal life, you'll just look clueless if you don't tackle the question on everyone's mind (and I neither know nor care what the answer is). Hell, if I wanted to "make the allegation" I wouldn't need an excuse, would I?

(As an aside, the normally astute as hell Choire Sicha responds to Felix's post by slamming what he thinks was the thrust of the Boondocks strip: "The whole if she loved a man thing? God, that's fucking retarded. How utterly stupid." I think Sicha's making an oddly rookie mistake of confusing a character's point of view with the author's. The humor here is not in its "statement" about what Rice needs, but in the ignorance of the people who would make such a claim. ("And what I really like about the idea is that it isn't the least bit sexist or chauvinistic," Huey muses.) It's so obvious, I kind of have to think that Sicha simply didn't read the strip itself.)

It should also be noted that even though I have no idea if Condi is a lesbian (and don't think it matters one way or the other, despite the anti-gay politics of the administration in which she serves) the rumor is not simply, as some suggest, based on the fact that she's a strong woman. The not having a boyfriend in twenty years is part of it too.

What's really interesting about all this is that Magruder managed to force the rumor into the public without even raising it, and in this, he was helped immensely by The Washington Post. Sam Smith emails that the Post is simply "transparently scared of offending the administration," and would have pulled any joke about any official's private life, but I think that's wrong. Rather, I think the Post panicked that even if Magruder never even hinted at the rumor, any mention of Condi's love life would bring it to mind among people (e.g., everyone in the Beltway) who already knew it, who would then blame the Post for printing it. Update: Sam e-mails again: "I didn't say that the Post would've pulled any joke about a member of the administration... It's pretty clear to me that the Post (as well as much of the mainstream media) is afraid of making waves, and upsetting those in power. Which is what you seemed to be saying too. By the way, I'd never heard anything about rumors of Condi being a lesbian. Nobody tells me anything! I read that she has an oil tanker, that she named after herself. That's all I need to know!"

Magruder is a frequently great comic writer, a dopey speechmaker (too earnest), and an absolutely brilliant manipulator of the media. Despite his occassional misfires, we're all better off for him.

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