Archives For Cartoons

blimp 01The literary careers of C.S. Lewis and George Orwell overlapped in some interesting ways.* Today we will consider a rather odd British personality mentioned by each of them in wartime essays, Colonel Blimp.

Colonel Blimp was a cartoon figure, inspired by a conversation between two military officers who were arguing that “cavalry” officers should continue to wear spurs even when they migrated into tanks.**

At one time the cartoon was so popular that Lewis wrote:

It may well be that the future historian, asked to point to the most characteristic expression of the English temper in the period between the two wars, will reply without hesitation, “Colonel Blimp.” (“Blimpophobia”).

The good colonel echoes similar foolish notions as he blusters about in a caricature of pompous military commanders. Blimp is retired, but harangues all within earshot about the wisest course for the nation.

Orwell wrote derisively of the military and imperialistic middle class, that he called “the Blimps.” He drew the label from the “colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain, like a dinosaur.” (“The Lion and the Unicorn”).***

blimp 02The cartoon above illustrates how Colonel Blimp is certain he has the solution to winning the arms race. The frame to the right shows that he believes his wisdom extends beyond the military to politics in general.

Timely Advice from C.S. Lewis

In “Blimpophobia,” Lewis offers advice which proves apropos for our modern age. Today, as fanatical barbarians seek to destroy civilization, enlightened nations and individuals must be vigilant.

One dimension of that vigilance involves walking the fine line between unbridled nationalism and self-absorbed pacifism. When he wrote, Lewis was worried about the anti-war sentiment that threatened to undermine Britain’s response to the Nazis.

Lewis, a wounded combat veteran of the Great War, recognized the truth of the Colonel Blimp caricature. He said something veterans recognize even more clearly than civilians. There is an overabundance of preening and stupidity in the military.

The infection of a whole people with Blimpophobia would have been impossible but for one fact—the fact that seven out of every ten men who served in the last war, emerged from it hating the regular army much more than they hated the Germans. How mild and intermittent was our dislike of “Jerry” compared with our settled detestation of the Brass Hat, the Adjutant, the Sergeant-Major, the regular Sister, and the hospital Matron!

Now that I know more (both about hatred and about the army) I look back with horror on my own state of mind at the moment when I was demobilized. I am afraid I regarded a Brass Hat and a Military Policeman as creatures quite outside the human family.

Still, he said we cannot allow that sad truth to cause us to deny the requirement to maintain a strong defense. “A nation convulsed with Blimpophobia will refuse to take necessary precautions and will therefore encourage her enemies to attack her.”

C.S. Lewis warned his countrymen of the dangers military-phobia during the Second World War. And—among the war-weary nations of the free world battling jihadism—we are wise to heed his wise words today.

The future of civilization depends on the answer to the question, “Can a democracy be persuaded to remain armed in peacetime?” If the answer to that question is No, then democracy will be destroyed in the end. But “to remain armed” here means “to remain effectively armed”. A strong navy, a strong air force, and a reasonable army are the essentials. If they cannot be had without conscription, then conscription must be endured. (C.S. Lewis, “Blimpophobia”).

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* In “A Literary Phobia,” I compared some advice they offered to writers. The counsel in question sounds similar on the surface, but actually differs. In “Orwellian Advice,” I contrast the two authors in much greater detail.

** Blimp’s creator, David Low, resided in London but was actually a New Zealander.

*** You can read Orwell’s 1941 essay, “The Lion and the Unicorn,” here.

Dislike emoticonEmoticons. Some people love them. Others find them irritating. I’m in the latter camp. That’s why I enjoyed a comic in the paper this week.* A fifty-something husband and wife are talking as she’s typing on her desktop.

Jeannie: I wish I was a little more computer-literate.

Charlie: I don’t really care for that term.

Jeannie: Why not?

Charlie: I don’t like ascribing literacy to people who think emoticons are a part of speech.

I am forced to respond with a wholehearted “ditto!”

I find the evolution of alphabets fascinating. Primitive pictographs amaze me. Emoticons, not so much.

I have to admit that I occasionally use the primitive :) to indicate that something is intended to be humorous, rather than serious. It has served as useful shorthand for written speech, conveying what would be evident in the intonations of oral communication.

However, this nouveau-punctuation has mutated into an abomination. Today there are innumerable graphic variations of that once modest “smile.” And some of them are truly bizarre.

Emoticons run amuck are an evidence of humanity’s demand for novelty. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis shows how an incessant demand for something new saps the joy out of the present moment. As the senior demonic tempter declares:

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. . . . Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up. This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire.

I realize it’s a bit of a stretch to apply this passage to the subject at hand, but the principle remains the same. When is enough enough? When it comes to emoticons, apparently, that level has yet to be reached. 

I am not seriously suggesting that there is a conspiracy going on here, but one never knows.

Please forgive me if I have offended any Mere Inkling readers who may suffer from emoticonaddiction or some other disorder. It is not my desire to upset you. Feel free to continue your unbridled (ab)use of these tiny monstrosities.

Simply include me (and C.S. Lewis) alongside Charlie in saying, “I don’t like ascribing literacy to people who think emoticons are a part of speech.”

Postscript: I must confess to finding one set of emoticons rather amusing. If you are familiar with Spock from Star Trek, you too may enjoy these Vulcan emoticons that exhibit the full range of Vulcan expression.

vulcan

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* You can see the strip I am referring to here.

 

Irradiated Once Again

January 25, 2013 — 2 Comments

alfredhitchcock_bw_bI had to make a whirlwind trip to San Diego this weekend. Yes, I know . . . San Diego in January—I don’t expect any sympathy.

I don’t expect any empathy related to my destination, but I do know others who share my concern about the “full-body scanners” used at many terminals, such as my own SeaTac Airport.

Naturally, as an older retired military officer, I’m always a prime candidate for being directed to pass through the scanner. And that’s the part that I don’t mind. I want the Transportation Security Administration to be thorough. I enjoy the prospect of landing safely at the end of an uneventful flight. And, because of my desire to be protected from terrorists, I don’t mind having to submit to an additional search.

What I am concerned about is my health. I’m not greatly comforted by claims that these “extremely high frequency radio waves” emitted by millimeter wave scanners are not harmful. And the sister technology, “backscatter x-ray” doesn’t sound any healthier. I’m no scientist, but I recall having heard that many types of radiation are cumulative, and when you add traveling to medical and dental x-rays, cell phones, law enforcement radar guns, and the radon that permeated the military housing my wife and I shared for two years in Illinois . . . well, I am slightly concerned.

Health matters aside, the concern which elicits most criticism relates to the scanners as a violation of “privacy.” Truth is, the images they produce leave little to the imagination. However, there’s no possible way for that “faceless” person to actually be associated with you. Regulations, in fact, do not allow for the images to be preserved at all. So, while inspectors in a shielded room may make some passing ribald remark about the “naked” image on their screen, they have no idea what the person’s face even looks like. Thus, I’m not bothered at all by the so-called privacy concern.

Not that privacy is unimportant. It is crucial to life in a free society. We experience precious little privacy in our lives. C.S. Lewis talked about how our lives are enmeshed in a world of crowds and clamor. The following comes from The Four Loves.

Our imitation of God in this life—that is, our willed imitation as distinct from any of the likenesses which He has impressed upon our natures or states—must be an imitation of God incarnate: our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the Divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the Divine life operating under human conditions.

The Irony about Privacy in the Modern Age

This fact makes our willingness to reveal ourselves so openly in social media rather ironic. We need privacy—and the less we experience, the more valuable it becomes. Yet, we also desire to be known by others—for in some twisted way this has become synonymous in the modern world with “important.” Yes, the more hits my Facebook page has, the more likes my post receives, the more followers my blog has, the more important I am. And, the more important I am, the less lonely and forgotten I feel.

Loneliness feels terrible. Human beings were created to be in relationships. First with our Father in heaven. And then with our family, friends and neighbors. There is nothing quite so comforting as having someone who knows our imperfections and shortcomings and still loves us. God loves us that way. And, if we are fortunate, we find others willing to overlook our failings and still love us. We can’t find that kind of deep affection in shallow channels like the internet. When we cast wide the net in social media, so to speak, if we are fortunate we’ll catch a rare treasure in the form of a genuine relationship that enriches our life.

Back to the Status of the Invasive Scanners

Apparently, the complaints of those who feel violated by scanners producing a naked image of the travelers passing through them, have been heard. Apparently the TSA intends to replace them with “less invasive” models. In fact, the generic images the new machines produce have been likened to stick figures or cartoons. Presumably they’ll still be able to detect the foreign objects secreted in or on a criminal’s body.

In the meantime, we don’t have to worry about having our naked likeness published on the internet. Instead we’ll all look like cartoons or, perhaps, famous personages. That’s what inspired me to use the Alfred Hitchcock image above. I can visualize my next visit to the airport and almost overhear the hidden inspectors saying, “nothing to ogle here, just another Hitchcock passing through the scanner.”