Pynchon’s cartoons

200px-Thomas_Pynchon One of the things I enjoy about Thomas Pynchon is the space he gives to cartoons and comic strips in his books. His last novel, Bleeding Edge, (2013) is a zany celebration of television culture – sit-coms, made-for-tv-movies and series, cartoons, the lot. For those of us who grew up in the 70s, one of the characters is addicted to the  Brady Bunch. For the cable tv and satellite generations, there are references to the Game Boy spinoff Pokémon and manga cult series Dragonball Z. Just to test us, he throws in some fake stuff, like Scooby goes Latin (1990).

Shaggy, somehow allowed to drive the van, has become confused and made some navigational errors, landing the adventurous quintet eventually in Medellin, Colombia, home at the time to a notorious cocaine cartel, where they stumble onto a scheme by a rogue DEA agent to gain control of the cartel by pretending to be a ghost -what else- of an assassinated drug kingpin. With the help of a pack of local street urchins, however, Scooby and his pals foil the plan. The cartoon comes back on, the villain is brought to justice.  “And I would’ve got away with it, too, “, he complains, ” if it hadn’t been for those Medellin kids ! “

Comics and tv cartoon shows are defended as spaces where we can indulge in some make-believe, spaces that the guardians of the new post- 9-11 order want to suppress in favour of the reality principle, or, rather, reality tv. The kids in the story feel guilty watching Rugrats and ask their mother not to tell their teacher, who’s on a crusade against the world of make-believe. But just when Pynchon makes us laugh remembering those dire Scooby punchlines, and we’re wallowing in nostalgia, he points to the dark underside of a media culture so embedded in  our consciousness that we almost take it for granted. Thus, when the heroine Maxine is having an argument with her father, Ernie, an old-style left-wing militant who is not enthusiastic about the internet, she says :

The Cold War ended, right ? the Internet kept evolving, away from military, into civilian – nowadays it’s chat rooms, the World Wide Web, shopping online, the worst you can say is it’s maybe getting a little commercialized. And look how it’s empowering all these billions of people, the promise, the freedom. Ernie begins channel surfing, as if in annoyance. ” Call it freedom, it’s based on control. Everybody connected together, impossible anybody should get lost, ever again. Take the next step, connect it to these cell phones, you’ve got a total Web of surveillance, inescapable. You remember the comics in the Daily News ? Dick Tracy’s wrist radio ? it’ll be everywhere, the rubes’ll all be begging to wear one, handcuffs of the future. Terrific. What they dream about at the Pentagon, worldwide martial law.

Pynchon is one of the few writers who insists that the culture that is part of our everyday world, and the channels that bring that culture to us, are part of the global system that is Late Capitalism. We can’t separate the fun from the fear, however much we might like to.

– Catherine Vigier, Zeteo Contributing Writer  

References: Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge, The Penguin Press, New York, 2013.

Image: Thomas Pynchon in The Simpsons. Source: simpsonswiki.com

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