The undisputed best editorial cartoon of 2009 is Jay Bevenour’s cover for the Stranger, a weekly altie in Seattle. Bevenour’s effort capped a week awash with obit cartoons commemorating the departures of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Gale Storm (star of tv’s “My Little Margie,” a popular 1950s series), pitchman Billy Mays, and, the ultimate dead man with face to match, Michael Jackson. MJ’s surprise departure a few hours after Farrah left us on June 25 quickly eclipsed all the others. On cable tv, a 24/7 loop began that Thursday and didn’t stop for four days. Then it went on for another three with only intermittent breaks between eulogistic spasms. All the while, MJ remained dead. The news, in other words, stayed the same. Unchanging for a change. And therefore no longer “news.” The best editorial cartoon commentary on the grief-besotted week was the Bevenour’s cover drawing.

Layers of meaning can be peeled away from the picture. Stupendously, outrageously grotesque, the picture combines and compounds so many of the nauseating aspects of the extraordinary fortnight that began with Fawcett’s death. Farrah When I first saw it, I thought the face was Farrah’s, disease-wracked to the point of death — thus, a kind of death mask. Then I realized the mask was MJ’s face, still deathlike. Just as his death supplanted Farrah’s —scoming only a day after she died, Jackson’s death shoved hers off the front pages of popular culture — so does his morbid likeness take over her body in the drawing. The silly pointlessness of his accidental demise thus consigns the heroic struggle of her last days to limbo.
The satire cuts many ways. Combining the plastic mask of Michael’s visage with Fawcett’s famed poster image, the picture alludes to MJ’s dubious sexuality and seems to convert Farrah’s celebrated toothy grin into death’s rictus, a frozen lifeless grimace rather than a bonding expression of human warmth. Moreover, Farrah’s MJ death mask on the classic nippled pin-up body mocks our preoccupation with so transient a thing as young female beauty.

But Bevenour is also commenting upon our celebrity-obsessed culture. Michael’s face superimposed upon Farrah’s celebrated picture enacts the very evolution of the week’s events: the media’s excessive treatment of the singer’s death overshadowed the actress’s death, overwhelming one tragedy with another until Farrah’s death — and McMahon’s and Storm’s — receded into a dim and forgotten past, a merely momentary blip on the screen of our cable-tv culture. Bevenour’s picture is thus the ultimate emblem of our infantile irresponsibility and grotesque preoccupation with things that do not matter much.

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