Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
Newspapers constitute a dying industry these days.
Even more notable ones, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, dwell in the shadows of network and cable news, not to mention various blogs, along with whatever gets thrown around on social media -- those last two bearing paramount significance for Millennials. Talk radio should not be overlooked insofar as their parents are concerned.
So, one might expect that an editorial cartoonist hardly enjoys much significance these days. Aside from a diminishing pool of middle-aged, middle-to-upper income adults and those older than them, who really cares about what gets printed? The only exception is if a story gets picked up by television personalities, shock jocks, or somehow gains traction on Facebook and the like.
Despite daunting odds, Ben Garrison has become a formidable presence in political commentary. His cartoons, representing a libertarian perspective with great respect for the nation-state, have developed a life of their own.
In a certain context, this works in Garrison's favor -- a cartoon, for instance, depicting Britain's departure from the European Union's sinking ship (in the process of being hijacked by Islamists) was received with widespread acclaim. Not only was Garrison's work entertaining, but it described a contentious, complicated situation with simple clarity.
His high profile does come with costs, however. About seven years ago, neo-Hitlerites took issue with Garrison after he found a Nazified version of one of his cartoons and requested it be taken down. While Garrison's wish was granted, a cadre of keyboard warriors proceeded to publish doctored cartoons which twist a limited government message into one Der Fuhrer would support.
As Garrison's signature remained on each altered cartoon, an untold number of folks came to believe he was an advocate for Nazi ideology.
"Garrison is .... the victim of one the most extraordinary and longest-running smear campaigns on the internet," Breitbart explained last year, later mentioning that he "has more to worry about than just remixed comics. The trolls are more dedicated to their craft than that. They have spent years spreading the myth of Ben Garrison the white supremacist" which includes a "painstakingly crafted fake profile of Garrison".
Through it all, even as his business suffered, Garrison remained steadfast in his commitment to personal liberty.
"We are trying to do our part by means of artwork to help raise awareness of the drift toward tyranny," his cartoon-related website, GrrGraphics, says. "We as private citizens need to reclaim and fight for our rights as enumerated in our Constitution. It's time to speak out and express our outrage at the growing tyranny of Big Government."
Joseph Ford Cotto: The social justice warrior left and the alt-right have found success in spreading their ideas via Internet memes. Why has this method of politicking proven so effective?
Ben Garrison: I worked at newspapers for nearly 20 years. I witnessed their decline. The one I had worked for shut down print production in 2008. Before that, I produced a weekly newspaper page them and it was aimed at garnering young readers. The page featured high schoolers in order to attract young readers. We failed. Old people wrote and said they loved the pages, but we never heard a peep from young readers. During photo shoots I began asking the youngsters if they read newspapers. None did. They got their news from the Internet and cell phones.
What I’m getting at is this: Young people no longer watch the mainstream media on TV. They don’t read the dying dinosaur newspapers. They don’t even read newspapers on the Internet. Alternative media and their ‘memes’ have more influence and their influence on young minds has been effective. Hillary realized this perhaps too late when she went after them—calling the alternative media personalities the ‘deplorables.’ It was a huge mistake on her part. It was a big mistake for her to attack “Pepe” the frog. She was in touch with big money and the elite, but she was completely out of touch with the new reality. That is, public opinion being fashioned by the alternative media on the Internet.
Cotto: Memes, by their very definition, are simplistic and emotional in nature. Untold millions of Americans, presumably Millennials in large part, appear more influenced by memes rather than longer, more reasonable arguments. Has the Internet dumbed down the political acumen of our country's young adults?
Garrison: Memes are not just emotional. They are a combination of the rational and irrational. This is what makes them powerful. “Memes” tie together ideologies with images to produce meanings that are memorable. This is key. I try to do this with my cartoons, too. Instead of some cheap joke, I want to draw images that are memorable. Many memes today are emblematic of deeper issues that concern us all, but young people in particular.
Cotto: The neo-Nazi movement has a contingent of keyboard warriors who delight in not only sharing their views, but making life hellish for certain individuals -- yourself notoriously being one of them. Why are American neo-Nazis so aggressive in using Internet memes to spread their political ideas?
Garrison: I don’t think there’s much of a neo-Nazi movement. Sure, they and the KKK are handy for the legacy media to hold up as scary boogeymen, but they don’t have much sway in terms of public opinion. The FBI has probably infiltrated both ‘movements’ and there isn’t much of a possibility that they will gain any real foothold. If anything, the few Nazis and KKK members that are out there are useful to the left in order to smear opponents such as Donald Trump.
There are cartoon Nazis like Andrew Anglin, but he uses that junk to troll people. He’s an admitted troll and it’s his life’s passion. He knows the Nazi motif scares people and he uses it has an effective trolling tool. He makes his living at what he enjoys the most—trolling.
Cotto: What do you anticipate the primary legacy of Trump's election will be; specifically as far as American conservatism is concerned?
Garrison: Trump may not be all that much of a conservative per se, but neither were the neocons that he defeated. He has played both sides of the fence and is very savvy when it comes to media. What he became was a populist candidate. He knew if he put America first he would win. And he did. Now let’s see if he can make good some of his promises. If he doesn’t, I’ll be the first to hold his feet to the fire.