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