09 April 2007

B.C. Comic Author Dead

Johnny Hart, who writes newspaper comic strip B.C. and was a co-creator of comic strip Wizard of Id, is dead.

His humor brought joy to hundreds of millions of people. But, his sensibilities remained not far from where he started in the comic business, in the 1950s (not surprisingly conservative editorial comic Mallard Fillmore frequently picks up visual themes from B.C.)

Economist Joseph Schumpeter (whose signature phrase "Creative Destruction" is the name of one of my sidebar blogs), was famous for noting, among other things, that those prominent in new economic orders were rarely those who were prominent in the previous one.

Hart represents a man deeply immersed in what I sometimes think of as the God and County worldview. The drawings in his comics were simple, exaggerated line drawings and he also developed a reputation as something of a crummugen for his bold, simple and witty, but black and white portrayal of his faith on those pages. He came of age at the dawn of the Cold War and cut his teeth doing comics for Stars and Stripes (a military publication) while in the Air Force. He was a young man when the Eisenhower administration put "In God We Trust" on coins, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Fraternal Order of the Eagles put the Ten Commandments in stone in front of every small town city hall they could find. Back then, few people admitted to being atheists, Hollywood was suspect (and was ground zero of McCarthy's Red Scare). The ceremonial God and Country deism that took hold then was largely a reaction to the atheism as government policy of the Soviet Union, our Cold War adversary.

Just a little later the Civil Right movement went from a simmer to a boil, the 1960s took hold, and almost everybody in the entertainment and teaching professions adopted tolerance and an embrace of diversity as defining life principles. Generation X grew up uncomfortable with the notion that any faith or country should be entitled to unquestioned supremacy, saw the world in shades of gray, and became more sophisticated consumers of Hollywood than any generation that had come before us.

The ACLU has spent half a century working with my generation to undo Eisenhower's cultural legacy. But, ultimately, the change in our nation's worldview won't come from changed minds, although many minds have changed over time as our world's culture has transformed. It will happen because men like Johnny Hart will pass, one by one, while people of my generation come to the fore. As John Mayer puts it, "one day our generation
is gonna rule the population."

Johnny Hart wasn't a bad man. He lived a wonderful life and offered the world a great deal of wisdom. But, the new generation has come of age in a different time and has different insights to offer. The new generation is now stepping to the plate, and in time, our own ideas and defining cultural struggles will no longer be the ones our world most needs. Then, we too will pass the torch to a new generation.


Dex said...

this is the kinda post that wins best of awards, yo.

tovah said...

my best friend at NYU nearly 20 years ago was a good friend of Hart's grandson, and the then teenage goth had a personalized BC drawn for and about her.

I don't recall knowing then of his right wing leanings, don't think Cat did either.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Thanks for the story.

B.C. got a lot more serious in the mid-1980s when Hart underwent a religious reawakening. He attended and taught Sunday school at the Presybeterian Church in Ninevah (in the U.S., not the Iraqi one), but had a more conservative take on it than many affliated with that denomination.

Friendly said...

I wouldn't be too optimistic about your demographic replacement project. Young people are always more liberal than old people - but they become old people nonetheless. I see more of a resurgence in the ethos that formed Johnny Hart's worldview, and more of a decline in the ethos that forged yours, particularly in the segment of the population that actually reproduces its culture.

To put it another way, I'm a conservative, and I've got three kids, and most of my conservative brethren are similarly passing on our values to the next generation. You're about my age; how's the value-transfer going?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

A recent Pew report would argue otherwise, Friendly. It shows that the young are holding onto their formative political values into older age, particularly on religious and social issues.