Doonesbury Icons


Doonesbury Icons

In the comic strip Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau, famous politicians are generally represented not as themselves, but as icons that represent some aspect of their personalities.

Icons

Ronald Reagan: Reagan himself was never illustrated in the strip aside from an occasional silhouette in profile (e.g., 23 April 1988), but Ron Headrest was. He was an computer-generated cross between Reagan and the television character Max Headroom, created by the White House to represent the president in the media 24/7; they eventually lost control of him and he started invading people's televisions on his own. Unlike the icons below, Headrest was always portrayed as a distinct character from Reagan, albeit one very like him.

George H.W. Bush: The first president Bush was represented as being invisible throughout his tenure in the strip. This was due to his relatively low profile when he was vice-president to Reagan, and his reputation for simply agreeing with the President rather than supporting his own views. Once he seemed about to disagree with the president and began to materialize as an outline while excited journalists announced “He’s becoming his own man!” Sadly, it didn’t last as he changed his mind and lapsed back into invisibility by the end of the strip. Bush also had an evil twin, “Skippy Bush” who looked exactly the same, and periodically appeared to cause trouble during Bush’s own presidency. Most recently, Bush reappeared in a Sunday strip so that Mark Slackmeyer could apologize for being so hard on him, seeing as he had been moderate and reasonable, in contrast to his son, the current president. Mark even offered George a new icon on the house.

Dan Quayle: Due to his perceived flightiness and lack of intelligence, Vice President Quayle has represented as a small white quail feather, which floated in mid-air. In his most famous appearance he purchased an obscene wooden doll named Pedro in Mexico and showed it off to anyone he could find. In order to further exaggerate his simplicity, Trudeau gave him a childlike way of talking, and his speech bubbles frequently contained spelling errors. For instance, when contemplating running for president in 2000, he exclaimed “I’m reddy! I’m reddy!”

Bill Clinton: When Clinton was elected in 1992, Trudeau gave his readers the chance to vote on what his presidential Icon would be. The choices both reflected Clinton’s reputation for being wishy-washy: a flipping coin or a large waffle. The waffle got the most votes and became Clinton’s official avatar. However, the waffle appeared infrequently after a while when Clinton’s “waffling” became less of a hot-button issue and fewer people got the joke. Thus Clinton was most often portrayed by the “White House Dialog” (see below).

Newt Gingrich: Because of his seemingly volatile nature, Newt was represented by a small cartoon bomb floating in midair with the fuse lit. Thus, the Speaker of the House was always on the verge of exploding. He actually detonated once when Mark said “A few of us have noticed that your eyebrows point down even when you smile. Are you Satan?” (This was in itself an odd line which blurred the question of how other Doonesbury characters “see” the politicians represented by icons.) Gingrich turned up again intact shortly afterward. Lacey Davenport also succeeded in angering him enough to explode once. When Gingrich retired the bomb was finally detonated for good and exploded into shards, although Mike Doonesbury noticed that they were reforming, and Mark desperately tried to stomp them.

Michael Dukakis: Late in the 1988 Presidential race, Dukakis appeared as, or covered in, a shapeless mass of mud, indicating the extensive "mud-slinging" against him in the race.

Michael Huffington: During the 1994 US Senate race, Huffington first appeared as a shadow, usually in profile. Soon after, he was represented by an “empty suit.”

David Duke: Only appeared in a single series of strips in February 1992, and was represented by a floating swastika.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Since his campaign for Governor of California, Arnold is represented by a giant hand and forearm due to his reputation for “groping” women. Because of this he is also given a new name: Herr Gropenführer.

George W. Bush: Bush was initially represented like his father as being invisible. As Governor of Texas, he also wore a cowboy hat (which appeared to be floating several inches above him) to represent his folksy attitude, as well as him being “all hat and no cattle.” Upon his presidential inauguration, the "point of light" was replaced with an asterisk (à la Roger Maris), alluding to the contested results of the 2000 election. When the Iraq War began, the cowboy hat was replaced with a Roman military helmet to represent imperialism (April 13, 2003). As the war has gone on and its popularity has dropped considerably, the helmet has become increasingly battered, losing clumps of bristles and giltwork continually. Because Bush has made so many unintentionally humorous Bushisms, Trudeau is also fond of having his quotes framed and hung up in a gallery in the strip to be admired.

Dick Cheney: Dick Cheney is represented as a Grim Reaper-like figure in a hooded cloak, and carrying an eagle-tipped staff. He is addressed as "Lord Cheney".

White House Dialogue

The tradition of icons to represent people didn’t begin until the 1980s. However, every president since Richard Nixon has been portrayed by “White House dialogue” in which we see speech bubbles emerging from the White House itself to represent the president speaking. This has led to a large amount of “foreground humor” to make the visuals more interesting; humorously appropriate things take place in front of the White House as the dialog goes on. Some presidents have even had running gags take place there; Carter had a mailbox, Reagan had a saddle on a fence and Nixon once had an actual brick wall appear while quotes regarding his “stonewalling” during the Watergate Scandal appeared in the background. This strip won Trudeau a Pulitzer Prize. Frequent “camera angle” changes are also used to make the strip appear less stationary.


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