Brian Mackey: Ted Rall can open your eyes

Brian Mackey

If you go see the exhibit of political cartoons by Ted Rall on display at the University of Illinois at Springfield, turn right when you enter the gallery.

A single line of cartoons spans three white walls of the exhibit.

At the far right end, the first panel sums up what appears to be Rall’s guiding philosophy: “Obliviotocracy.”

In the first of four panels, a pair of Europeans is seen getting angry over something they read in a newspaper. One yells that they should go out to protest.

The second panel shows a pair of people watching TV while an explosion happens outside their window. It says, “Americans, on the other hand, are too busy working and watching TV to keep up with the news. We outsource the government to politicians and assume they’ll do a good job.

“Every few years, we discover that they’ve trashed the joint, we freak out, fire the (bleeps) and put in new ones to clean the mess,” the third panel says, with an image of a White House in ruins.

The fourth panel shows two men in a sports bar: “Then we sink back into obliviousness.”

As works of art, Rall’s drawings are efficient. There’s no need to waste time pondering his brushstrokes or why he chose to paint that particular haystack.

The ideas hit you like a baseball bat.

The exhibit of Rall’s work continues through March 23. The UIS Visual Arts Gallery, located in Room 201 of the Health and Sciences Building, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Since seeing Rall speak at the opening of his exhibit last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about his approach to political commentary.

I think it’s fair to say that Rall is harsh, even when compared with his notoriously blunt colleagues in the ever-shrinking world of professional political cartoonists.

He’s a liberal and proud of it, and while he was relentless in his mockery of former President George W. Bush, he has had plenty of harsh things to say about President Barack Obama in recent cartoons.

But every now and then, mixed in with a steady diet of sometimes-funny and always-tough drawings, Rall unleashes a work that’s bound to make even his biggest fans wince.

One such cartoon, not too much farther down the row from “Obliviotocracy,” shows why a so-called mainstream newspaper like The State Journal-Register would probably never publish his cartoons on a regular basis.

In the first of two panels, a suicide bomber is seen dead, thinking, “Make room in the afterlife bed, oh 72 virgins! Here I come!”

In the second panel, a dead American serviceman is thinking, “I die secure in the satisfaction of having briefly delayed the toppling of a puppet kleptocracy and civil war, and that my government will take care of my family.”

That’s the pitch and the swing. The whack of the bat is in the caption that ties the men together: “Choose your delusion.”

Can you imagine? People would burn the building down.

So is Rall’s approach actually getting anyone to think hard about his or her political opinions? If the audience at Rall’s talk last Thursday at UIS was any indication, the answer is no.

The only challenge, as I noted in the news story I wrote about the event, came from a man who thought Rall was being too hard on Obama.

And that’s too bad. In his talk and a brief interview, Rall came across as someone who thinks seriously about American government and politics.

He may be a liberal, but there’s nothing knee-jerk about it — Rall seems to be the anti-talking point, and he’s no one’s shill.

If you disagree with Rall but can set aside anger over his most incendiary work, he may just open your eyes to seeing aspects of American life in a new way.

And that’s not a bad day’s work for any piece of art.

Brian Mackey can be reached atbrian.mackey@sj-r.com or (217) 747-9587.