Bil Browning

When milquetoast offends

Filed By Bil Browning | April 27, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: boring toons, comic strip, offensive cartoons, offensive comics, Pickels, Pickles comic strip, sexist cartoons

Quite a few readers have sent in this Pickles comic strip and flagged it as offensive. I've seen the same topic float around a few mailing lists. Personally, I can see it as sexist but I don't know that it quite rises to the level of offensive. Pickles is so milquetoast bland that it's hard to get worked up over; even the strip characters themselves don't seem excited over anything and bored with the whole routine.


Your thoughts? Offensive or dull?

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I'm amazed that people admit to reading pickles.

That was my first thought too, piggy.

It plays a bit to the old stereotypes about boys and girls, but it is not offensive to me. I found it slightly amusing.

The situation of the parent worrying about such things is very real unfortunately but I think it was handled well with the wife taking things so calmly and suggesting that he ask the boy why. I could see my parents doing just the same sort of thing. It might be generational that I take less offense to it than say a younger person, but that is to be expected.

My thoughts:

Likely the thing that upset folks is the proffered reasoning for wanting a unicorn.

The grandfather (I'm a fan of Pickles) is wondering why it is that a boy would want something that he perceives as all sparkly and pink an so forth -- things that he does not think are masculine, not befitting the boy's gender role in society. He's aware that not fitting into one's gender role in society creates hardship, so he expresses that as concern, blithely unaware that that people generally see LGBT people as not fitting their particular gender roles.

The grandmother, well versed in feminism, of course, suggests that rather than leap to some conclusion that the boy is focusing on what the grandfather perceives as feminine aspects of liking unicorns, he ask the boy.

So he does.

And the boy provides an answer based on the perceived role of aggression and violence in masculine gender roles.

Since the boy has now acted in a manner consistent with expectations of conformity, he is rewarded with praise and love.

(long ago, in a city called Mesa, in a school called Mountain View, there was a teacher who taught a class called Mass Communications who had, as homework, the assignment to bring in an article or clipping from a newspaper each day, due at the start of class, with something written to explain it.

I always used clippings from the funnies like this one. Aced that course...)

I liked the symbolism of Grandmother stirring the pot as she posed her question.

What really makes this amusing is a bit of trivia about late medieval England. Namely, some sources give the livery colours of Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset (c.1455--1501) as white and pink (although others list a darker shade of red), and his badge (as well as the crest in the Grey arms) was a unicorn.

Funny how the symbolism changes over time.

I like Antonia's analysis, but all in all I think the cartoon is ho hum.

It's about par for Pickles, lol. Nothing really fancy there, and the overall comic generally is all about making fun of Grampa Pickles, who's pretty silly at times and made the smart move of marrying a woman who's smarter than he is.

If anything, I'd say there's a strong ageism underlying it, but eh.

Chitown Kev | April 27, 2010 2:55 PM

This isn't offensive at all.

Nor is it milquetoast.

Although, perhaps why it strikes me as such is that these are the boys grandparents and not his parents or siblings?

My take is that the punchline, the joke, is the typical gender expectations. I suppose you could see it the other way, but this seems to be roasting traditional gender roles rather than reinforcing them.

This is offensive? Really? Perhaps a few people need to reset their "perception of bias in the media" radar. Hmmm? The only thing offensive about this strip is the utterly banal writing.

Judas Peckerwood | April 27, 2010 7:34 PM

"Quite a few readers have sent in this Pickles comic strip and flagged it as offensive."

Might I respectfully suggest that said readers get a life?

Excellent suggestion IMHO.

Lynn Miller | April 28, 2010 7:22 AM

I've seen this basic joke in the Sunday comics before (Rose is Rose, perhaps?) The basic premise of the father (figure) being worried that his son might be attracted to stereotypical female toys, triggering whatever anxieties lurk in Dad's psyche, seems pretty common in real life.

The pay-off of the joke is the revelation that the boy actually wants to use the toy to wreak pretend violence and thus he conforms to stereotypical gender roles and Dad expresses great relief. My concern is that this strip, and the one I dimly remember, both end with the boy being rewarded with a hug and praise. Instead of the Dad's anxieties being shown as somewhat silly, if understandable, they are presented as reasonable. And the message, I think, is that the boy (perhaps all boys) deserves praise and reward for conforming to gender expectations.

Something about this seemed very familiar to me. Suddenly today I remembered what it was:

That's a much funnier cartoon, Tobi. Saying that Pickles reminded you of it is almost like saying, "I ate some trash off the street yesterday, Mom, and it reminded me how much I love your cooking." :)

I'm with Tobi - I definitely read this, not as "celebrating" the fact that Junior wants to be a Stereotypical Aggressive Male, but as making ~fun~ of Grandpa's reaction to it. In other words, Grandpa and his antiquated gender concepts are the butt of the joke.

I'm not a fan of the strip, but I have seen it often enough to know that most of the humor centers around a sort of "Aren't people funny?" theme, and that the grandfather character is often the butt of the joke. So my interpretation here isn't a stretch at all.

Think about it: if that isn't the joke... what is? If we're not SUPPOSED to be laughing at how foolish the old man's reaction is... then where's the punch line??

What gets to me is that this kind of thing happens so often; we're so over-sensitive on these issues that we get mad before we "get" what's going on. (Remember all those infuriated people protesting the "Harry Potter converts kids to witchcraft" article that turned out to be a joke by the writers of The Onion? Yeah, like that!)

I agree that we need to keep an eye out for the way our issues are portrayed in popular culture, but we also need to double-check that our reading of the situation is reasonable before we expend all this energy on it.

Just my two cents' worth.

i don't happen to see the comic strip at all locally, so this is, i suppose, my first view of it. i didn't find it offensive, nor puerile, nor milquetoast. it just struck me as pretty typical of what comic strips bring to us in this country - rather meaningless and somewhat bland renditions of life. are there messages in every comic strip? of course...doonesbury wouldn't be as big as it is without messages...nor mary worth for that matter.

i found it a little funny as well - worth a smirk and a chuckle, maybe...and i agree that we all need to calm down rather than attack the mundane.