Drawing in Oil

Posted by on June 11th, 2010 at 8:19 AM

The petroleum crisis in the Gulf of Mexico (see? it’s not even entirely ours) prompted a gusher of editorial cartoons about the oily mess down there. They fall, roughly, into two categories: those that point fingers and try to fix blame, and those that grieve over the ecological disaster. Here’s one in the former category from Jim Morin at the Miami Herald.

Morin’s point is that those who loudly proclaim the need for Big Government to evaporate are also those who are trying to blame O’Bama and the federal government for failing to resolve this crisis. Tinged with raging inconsistency if not flaming hypocrisy, such pontifications reveal the wholesale absence of thought amongst the loud-mouths. But my reason for hauling out Morin’s cartoon (apart from its giving me a chance to agree with it) is to compare it to Tom Toles’ cartoon on approximately the same subject.

The difference between the two cartoons is not so much in the nuances of their messages as it is in the methods of sending the message. Morin does it all with words; his pictures do little more than identify the speakers, which, of course, is crucial to the meaning of the cartoon, but the essence of his message is sent verbally. 

Toles achieves somewhat the same goal by blending words and pictures. In the second, wordless panel, he shows O’Bama personally plugging the hole in the BP pipe. Toles’ pictures in this cartoon play a more prominent part in conveying the message than Morin’s do in his.

Which may—or may not—amuse you.

In our next visual aid, Clay Bennett makes a poignant comment on the ecological implications of the oil gusher. (It’s an old-fashioned gusher, kimo sabe—not a “spill.”)

Done without a word, yet it speaks volumes.

And I don’t want to leave the subject without giving Pat Oliphant a moment to needle the government in that exuberant way he has of exaggerating until the ridiculous extreme is reached—and his victim is thereby ridiculed.

Here are the usual Oliphant suspects—the feckless lazy bureaucrats, the fat, oily entrepreneur, and his accomplice, accomplished at pillow talk and other pro-suasions—all drawn to a ludicrous extreme. The pictures may make us laugh, but when we grasp their implications, we must gasp in alarm.

By the way (although not at all incidentally), British Petroleum played a major if seldom remarked upon role in another historic disaster, this time political not petrolical. BP began, Time tells us (June 14), as Anglo-Persian Oil Company, formed when a British mining magnet discovered oil in Persia (now known as Iran) in 1908. The British government took possession of much of the company just before World War I and enjoyed the ensuing profits.

But in 1951, Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the company’s holdings, “plunging the world into an 18-month crisis” that didn’t end until the CIA and British intelligence “toppled Mossadegh in a 1953 coup,” installing the autocratic Shah in the democratically elected Mossadegh’s stead. The Shah proved a bit too dictatorial for the Iranians, who overthrew him in 1979, took hostages at the American embassy, and established the present theocratic regime with a raving maniac as its figurehead. What might have the history of this country been without BP’s interest in its oil fields?

I’m not saying the fate of Iran would have been better (or worse); but it most assuredly would have been different without BP’s involvement in exploiting the country’s oil resources.

No big deal. Mostly, I just thought it was interesting in a perverse sort of way that BP should lie at the bottom of the Iranian revolution which has created such a mess on the other side of the globe from the mess BP has created on this side.

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