Sunday, October 17, 2010

Opus, Where Have You Gone?

Is it me, or are people becoming nastier?  Less patient, more paranoid.   Where is their lust for life?  Doesn't anyone remember the kumbaya of "Our Time in Eden" by Mother Earth herself, Natalie Merchant?  Or the little books urging us to not sweat the small stuff, to learn from our Kindergarten experiences and embrace the Eckhart Tolle that is supposed to reside in all of us??

When you go through a cycle of surreal circus news like we've had the last few weeks- celibate, creationist witches for Congress, bullying teens turn suicide tragedy, modern-day Red Scare politics, gay-bashing, and a general paranoia among people- you long for an island of sanity to escape to.  (Although I confess a little grumpiness of my own; e.g. I can't even enjoy my Phillies in the playoffs because FOX and TBS manage to turn the great Fall Classic into a gimicky, dumbed down, American League-leading Yank-fest, with vapid commentary.)  It all calls for a steady and consistent IV drip of common sense, sarcasm, irony and wisdom. A tonic to help the masses look less like asses.  For me, the daily and Sunday comic, Bloom County used to be that bromide.  No- religion.  Opus, where have you gone?

This isn't your ordinary pine-for-the-days-of-old kind of post.  I don't need the "that was then this is now speech".  Bloom County was timeless- like the Beatles or Roald Dahl books.  

Each delicately crafted character held a collection of human hopes, dreams, frailties, and flaws.  And, yes- anxieties!  Who can forget Michael Binkley's closet?  Spawned from normal kid fears of things that go bump in the night, Binkley's closet became a hilarious stage for the freakiest of pop culture icons to strut and fret upon.  Tammy Faye Baker, Jesse Helms, Richard Simmons and Milton Friedman were some of the more memorable fodder to hit the strip.  Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov (how long did he live as president?) and Cuban Leader Fidel Castro showed up one night to haunt Binkley, but it turned out they had the wrong closet- it was supposed to be Ronald Reagan's. 

Bloom County held a cast of mini-eggheads (both human and woodsy animal-type) who knew more about philosophy, politics, etiquette, love and hardship than their adult counterparts.  The womanizing Steve Dallas was getting dumped on more regularly than a daisy in a cow pasture, that is, until he was captured by aliens and turned into a feminist.  Binkley's single dad showed all the hardships and frustrations of being a single parent during toddlerhood.  Cutter John, the soft-hearted but passionate wheelchair bound friend of the Bloomies led high-speed excursions on his wheel chair through the meadow on the USS Enterpoop.  Any reference or connection to Star Trek, it seems, is guaranteed acceptance among the general comic reading public (see: Comicon for proof). Because we can all laugh.

We all understood the constantly frazzled Bill the Cat: we've been there.  It is uncertain whether he was left that way by some drug experiment (or experimental drug!) or whether he was simply toting an extra chromosome around.  He's been a televangelist, a cult leader, a presidential candidate and a rock star, all supporting the theory that crazy is as crazy does.  Just look at the aforementioned week of news topics.  Either way, his trademark "ACK!" has many a day summed up my feelings of life as a cat in an adult world. 

But perhaps the one we could all fondly relate to was the neurotic, bowtie wearing penguin, Opus.  Often mistaken for an iguana, he was given to fits of shouting loud declarations calling for fairness, common sense and acceptance of the absurd.  His late night habit of ordering from infomercials and an addiction to herring showed the imperfect side of us all.  His frequent chats with "the sky", from the safe haven of Bloom Meadow, mirrored American existentialist feelings in a rapidly developing world of technology and rapidly declining morals.  Searching for something he couldn't have or long lost (in his case, his mother) was the common thread through the strips' years, though he did achieve satisfaction in the end.  Opus was more than the underdog.  He was "someone" we could lean on in uncertain times (which seemed to be ever present).  He was a panacea. 

Just like other rebirths, spin-offs and imitations (even if by the original creator), Bloom County was more than the sum of its parts.  And, now more than ever, we could use a daily dose or two of the silliness.  Quoted in the late 70s about his newly minted comic, creator Berkely Breathed said, "As I see it, the world is getting more dangerous. But of course it's getting funnier proportionately, hence a mixed blessing. Clearly this decade is in need of some serious analysis on the comic pages."  

Timeless, I say.  Timeless.


Anonymous said...

You break my heart with laughter!
remember the Sandinista cockroach in Opus' fridge? "one more step and I like the pot roast"...I peed a little every time.
(ps - sorry TV is ruining the Phil's for you. Too bad you can't find a way to fight back!)

Anonymous said...

ah...that was LICK, not LIKE (hehehe) typing in bed under the covers!


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