LEARNING TO SWIM IN THE DEEP END WITH MR. FISH

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Watching a great documentary recently called Cartooning from the Deep End by Los Angeles based filmmaker Pablo Bryant dramatically raised my awareness of the radical evil that has tightened its grip on American society in the form of Neoliberal crony capitalism. The film is a portrait of an amazing graphic artist named Mr. Fish (real name Dwayne Booth), a master cartoonist who courageously strives to expose the truth about the corrupt, authoritarian kleptocracy that now threatens to kill us all. But because what he does is antithetical to the functioning of the avaricious meshwork he lampoons and because his art is so effective in unveiling the myriad lies that sustain it, the people with a stake in that system naturally seek to marginalize and censor his voice. An artist of Mr. Fish's caliber is a real problem for the neoliberal plutocrats because his work succeeds so well in inspiring audience enthusiasm for his finesse in exposing the fraud of corporate control, a gift that also qualifies his work as a revolutionary agent of ecological sustainability, another virtue that's anathema to the capitalist cabal promoting conspicuous consumption, continuous GDP growth and the commodification of everything under the sun. 

Mr. Fish is also the author of a fantastic book titled Nobody Left, a rich collection of essays, cartoons and interviews with some distinguished cultural icons and artists from the past who share a rare characteristic with Mr. Fish that he calls "emotional mutuality." The luminaries include Lewis Lapham, Graham Nash, Lily Tomlin, Lenny Bruce, Joan Baez, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Tarig Ali, Robert Scheer, Paul Krassner, and many other like-minded individuals featured in this treasure tome of cartoons and texts "packed with nutrients for the progressive brain," as Pat Thomas describes the book. The point is, after you see the movie, get the book, which can be ordered from Mr. Fish's website, Clowncrack.com. As Robert Scheer urges listeners in a recent Scheerpost podcast with the artist, "Give it to you nephew or your own child or grandchild, and that'll give them a reason to hold on to integrity." 

When I ordered the Deep End DVD directly from Pablo Bryant, he asked for some feedback and I gladly complied, explaining that I heard about the production via Mr. Fish's On Contact interview with Chris Hedges, and like one of the artist's paper airplanes featured in the DVD, it flew all the way from L.A. right into our hearts. I also told Bryant that I thought his documentary reflected his deep respect and admiration for the subject and his amiable family. Bryant wrote back that the project was indeed a labor of love, "one that feels like it is now withering on the vine," but as my ebullient email reminded him, "comes alive with every viewing." In an interview with Filmotomy, Bryant confessed he was "blindsided" by Mr. Fish's art when he discovered it, "the sophistication, the humor, the brutality and uncompromising nature of the work," as he put it. "It all represented a world I struggle with to meet head-on, because it is often so complicated and dark." 

Mr. Fish's view can be dark indeed and for good reason. The American Empire currently spends trillions on weapons and defense and a pittance on domestic necessities such as rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and launching green energy initiatives for the preservation of precious soil, water and other natural resources in the face of what scientists believe is a major species extinction event, which also threatens the end of Homo Sapiens. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned that mankind now lives in a "triple crisis: a climate crisis, a biodiversity crisis and a pollution crisis. And if we don't act immediately, we are on the verge of the abyss." While Mr. Fish's cartoons inject a lot of welcome humor into the darkness, beyond the mirth the corrosive evil at the heart of the Beast looms ominously in the background. Accessing the scope of the predatory ethos driving the dissolution of American society, Mr. Fish's friend and colleague, Scheerpost columnist Chris Hedges, writes, "Imperial ineptitude is matched by domestic ineptitude. The collapse of good government at home, with legislative, executive and judicial systems all seized by corporate power, ensures that the incompetent and the corrupt, those dedicated not to the the national interest but to swelling the profits of the oligarchic elite, will lead the country into a cul-de-sac."  

The news from the front lines is grim to be sure. After another rigged election, we find ourselves once again with a "One-party system with two right wings," as Gore Vidal once described the situation and a Congress made up of mostly "schmucks and rouges," to borrow James Howard Kunstler's colorful line, while their constituents in the lower reaches of the electorate shoulder the burden and endure the pain. Meanwhile, the Equestrian class at the top tier of the economic pyramid wallows in what William Morris characterized as "the swinish luxury of the rich." When it comes to economics, it seems the more things change, the more they remain the same, and sometimes things can get pretty bleak. But Pablo Bryant's film and Mr. Fish's wonderful book of interviews Nobody Left, have a way of brightening things up considerably. Mr. Fish's brilliant cartoons and sardonic humor demonstrate time and time again that making arrangements for the Apocalypse doesn't have to be a grim, bloody affair with barricades in the streets, attacks on Capitol Hill, guillotines in public squares, and mass shootings in schools and workplaces. Hopefully, violence will be entirely unnecessary and dismantling capitalist culture can become more about changing perceptions with empathy and humor rather than with inciting riots and trying to force the issue at the point of a gun. 

Some righteous rebellion is surely in order, of course, as Mr. Fish's cartoon of two wishbones points out in Nobody Left, one wishbone with a slingshot attached and one without, accompanied with the tag, "Which has the greatest potential to stop Goliath from acting like a complete Dick?", a question that makes one contemplate the power that the metaphor once had during the righteous antiwar protests of the 60s when We the People were the "slingshot" and unleashed our collective rage, a true community of citizens with a veneration for the truth and other democratic virtues that money can't buy, a power we need to reactivate by "carrying out mass, sustained acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to smash the MegaMachine," as Chris Hedges states the case.  

 

 

 

 

In his interview with Lily Tomlin, Mr. Fish explains that "People keep telling me that I should be a millionaire and I tell them that corporations and private investors are the only ones capable of making anybody a millionaire and that most everything I do is some variation of the same message: FUCK CORPORATIONS AND PRIVATE WEALTH." After watching the film, I also wondered why a genius like Mr. Fish was once compelled to work at Whole Foods in order to make ends meet, but in Nobody Left, it became abundantly clear that he has too much integrity to sell his soul to the Neoliberal Devil. The irony of this state of affairs is that Mr. Fish is a wealthy man in terms of what really matters in life: integrity, talent, and genius, virtues that don't amount to much in a society that reduces human interaction with reality to the cash nexus and the ruinous specter of forever wars and capitalist feasts of perpetual consumption. The love of truth is the staff of life in Mr. Fish's world, not money. He works on the moral edge of the issues that challenge the neoliberal quest to mine the world for profit until exhaustion while the mainstream culture of greed shoves him and his creative medium to the margins of public discussion. The only moral path to economic security for Mr. Fish, it seems, is via the patronage of his fans, which makes Mr. Fish the ideal candidate for the independent Internet platform Patreon, a very popular cyber venue for independent writers and artists these days. Mr. Fish's refusal to compromise his art to the demands of mainstream publishers and his incendiary mission statement that defines his work as a "threat to the dominant culture" certainly limits the usual sales options. Patreon is the ideal platform for a producer of "dangerous" art such as Mr. Fish's, where his fans can step up to the plate and directly support his efforts. 

With each cartoon Mr. Fish challenges the insanity of the dominant culture and slams Neoliberalism's limp dick in the door while simultaneously opening a perceptual window of freedom in the the corporate state's prison wall of perpetual war, ecocide and economic domination that confines the human spirit in late-stage capitalism's death spiral. What Mr. Fish said in his interview with The Realist editor Paul Krassner in Nobody Left applies to his own work as well. "As the No. 1 progenitor of all the alternative an underground publications that followed it," said Mr. Fish, "The Realist taught us that the best way to rescue a panicked society from drowning is not to throw it a life preserver, but to teach it how to swim." 

There's a lot to learn from Mr. Fish as he unveils his curriculum, casting his line about in the delusional, conspiratorial stream of American political consciousness, lampooning lie after egregious social lie with his satirical graphic lures and reeling in the hooked whoppers for the edification of the truth-starved brains of those willing to take a look. A case in point is the image from Nobody Left of the insane, narcissistic Trump with a selfie stick in hand, shooting a phone shot whilst taking shit on the world. The method to Mr. Fish's madness is satire, which according to the dictionary, involves "the use of humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues." More precisely, as Mr. fish defines the term, satire is "about revealing a truth that, for one reason or another, has been camouflaged by either power or polite society and {doing so} in a creative way instead of a journalistic way, or a lawyerly way." Although he says he does not wish to make art or entertainment per se, Mr. Fish nevertheless succeeds in delivering a great deal of savage humor in the bargain, defying the view of the Ancient Greek philosophers that humor is "mostly corrosive and anti-intellectual to sound reasoning." 

"Nearly 2,500 years later and with several hundred decades of evidence to support an opposing point of view," Mr. Fish retorts, "it is now undeniable that Plato and Aristotle were wrong. There is no greater exemplar of sound reasoning--and no greater filter of politics, religion and mammonism--than humor." Mr. Fish proves his point and accomplishes his mission as a cartoonist to "surprise and delight" with uncompromising integrity." 

                                                 

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Mr. Fish hanging out in Strawberry Fields wearing the same army jacket he used to wear when he cut classes at Rutgers to head into New York to buy books and bootleg records and sit in Central Park wishing that John Lennon had never been shot.