Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


September 16, 2002

McGruder on post-9/11 freedom of speech

By Eric Rangus

Through his comic strip The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder uses a cast of primarily African American boys and girls to satirize modern times. Using the same strong, schooled voice he brings to his comics, McGruder’s appearance at Glenn Auditorium, Sept. 10, was part media criticism, part political diatribe and wholly entertaining.

“Free Speech in a Time of War” was the name of McGruder’s address, which he delivered smoothly off the cuff for the most part, save a few notes jotted on the laptop computer he brought with him to the podium.

McGruder’s sense of humor and unpretentious air made the crowd of several hundred warm to him immediately. Author of a comic strip that is syndicated in more than 210 newspapers, McGruder likened his occupation to journalism (“but not really”) and entertainer (“but not really … it’s comics and nobody reads”).

Through The Boondocks, McGruder has criticized the post-Sept. 11 policies of the White House and, in the process, has had his strip removed from some publications.

“The great thing about satire is that it doesn’t play by the rules,” said McGruder, whose appearance was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and the journalism program. “It’s tremendous pressure and a tremendous responsibility, even though I try to be as irresponsible as I can. I have more opportunities to be profound than I’ll ever have profound things to say.”

Profundity, in actuality, was spread throughout McGruder’s comments. After pointing out a few of the things he was not—a motivational speaker (“I’m not here to make you feel good about yourself, or the world around you, and I’m not here to tell you, ‘You can do it.’ Maybe you can’t.”); a black leader (“Any of you expecting to get all riled up and ready to fight The Man … it’s just not me.”); or a scholar (“I’m a satirist. I draw cartoons.”)—McGruder let loose.

He began by attacking the media, which he claimed had lost its objectivity while in the throes of its cheerleading for the government following Sept. 11.

“I don’t care if you’re a patriot,” McGruder said. “I don’t care if you’re hurt. You’re an anchor. Report the news. Just because everybody decides to be unprofessional at the same time doesn’t make it right.”

McGruder criticized the administration of President George W. Bush, as well. (At one point he likened National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to Darth Vader.) Yet McGruder took some of his best shots at what he said was the weakness of the left.

“If President Bush had gotten on TV and said, ‘I can link the Democratic Party to al-Qaida,’ they would’ve voted to bomb themselves,” McGruder said.

When he addressed the matter of free speech, McGruder said he had no easy answer to the question of what is happening to it. He said media consolidation has shrunk the number of information sources available to consumers, and reporters are not motivated to break stories critical of government or others in power because their access to newsmakers will be taken away if they don’t step in line.

“What are we as Americans going to do to reclaim our government?” McGruder asked. “Sadly enough, I don’t have the answers.”

In conclusion, McGruder said leaders would need to understand the interdependence of the media and politics, and any change would have to be accomplished from inside the system. If someone works from the outside, he said, he or she would never be heard.

McGruder’s speech was the first event in the ethics center’s semester-long series, “Rethinking Just War.”

9/11 stories/photos:

9/11 commemoration a touching tribute

Hefner examines Islamic culture

Photos from 9/11

ER's 9/11 home page