Brian Duffy, the former staff editorial cartoonist for the Des Moines Register, helped me fall in love with irony while growing up in Des Moines.
In grade school, Amelia Bedelia, a fictitious maid for a well-to-do family, introduced me to the power of word-play through her literal interpretations of idioms. (It wasn’t until later that I learned that some folks who read certain texts literally can be very dangerous when unleashed on the campaign trail: “Woof, woof. Who let the literalists out?”)
The evil Mrs. Dann introduced me to irony the hard way in junior high when she confiscated my personal copy of Jim Morrison’s biography, “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” in the middle of our “Fahrenheit 451” unit. She seized the book in front of the entire class, noting that it was pure filth because of an explicit masturbation scene early on in the book. (Thank Mr. Mojo Risin she didn’t skim ahead any further.) Needless to say I failed the exam, because I couldn’t quite grasp the underlying mixed-messages of censorship. That, or a hormonal malotav cocktail exploded in my brain during the exam. (Hmmm…if only I had learned of an alternative outlet beforehand.)
My tough-love initiation into the world in irony was all it took. I had become an irony addict at age 15 and it was editorial cartoonists, namely Duffy, who helped stoke my addiction. I couldn’t go 24 hours without an irony fix , and I knew I could depend on Duffy’s daily cartoon in the Register to keep me from jonesin’. Believe me you, irony withdrawals are not a pretty sight.
Duffy is synonymous with the Register, and now, after 25 years of creating cartoons for the Gannett-owned corporate news dispensary, the Register fired Duffy, along with 70 other employees.
I realize the economy is on the verge of bottoming out and the newsprint industry is facing possible extinction with the recent boon of online news, but this does not excuse flushing one’s sense of dignity down with it.
It’s bad enough that Duffy was fired, but what is worse is how he was fired, which Duffy laments upon in an interview with WHO-TV:
Brian Duffy on WHO-TV
I’ve been told that this is the modus operandi regarding protocol for firing people in some corporations. I find this disturbing and reminiscent of Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” who, after 34 years of sales service was stripped of his salary, reduced to working on commission only and inevitably fired for “lack of profit.”
Upon his firing, Willy says, “You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away, a man is not a piece of fruit.”
Unfortunately, in the corporate takeover of the Register, Gannett had no qualms with squeezing the juice out of the orange before tossing the peel aside – or at least escorting it out of the building to preempt any possible pen-wielding altercations.
Fortunately for Duffy, he is a top-notch cartoonist and the Register cannot take that away from him He is syndicated in 400 newspapers and should have no problem peddling his artistic wares elsewhere.
I, for one, will always remember Duffy’s satiric insight, his influence on me during my irony formative years and hope all the best for him.
In the meantime, Duffy left us with his final cartoon under the Register’s corporate thumb, which pretty much says it all – without saying it all of course.
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