We live in a very weird world full of very weird people. America is filled with gun nuts, political opportunists, polyamorists filled with smug righteousness, multibillion dollar boondoggles, aggressive homeless people, and Indian casinos that have as their only ambition the separation of money from the hands of stupid white people and back to the casinos.
Peter Bagge surveys that world in this collection of short stories collected from the pages and website of Reason magazine – and it’s fair to say he’s outraged by the idiocy, shortsightedness, arrogance and stupidity of everything around him. Yeah, as you might have guessed, the title of this book basically says it all – America in the millennium is filled with rank, dull and senseless people with idiotic agendas that they never think through.
Bagge’s comics are like those thoughts in your head that you sometimes keep quiet, those exasperated feelings of arrogant annoyance at the mindbogglingly banal folks that we’re forced to share our existence with. All drawn in Bagge’s customary exaggerated, balloon style, everyone with exaggeratedly giant heads and tiny bodies, emotions on full display in every well-considered line on the page, this book presents a virtual cesspool of stupidity that leaves the reader appalled at the same time he giggles arrogantly to himself.
For instance, in “The Right to Bear a Bazooka”, the libertarian Bagge explores the limits of both sides of the gun control argument before declaring that everyone are idiots and that there should be no limits to the guns that should be owned. By drawing both gun-lovers and gun-haters in ridiculous caricature, Bagge presents both sides as a group of idiots who drive him crazy.
His four-page piece “Shenanigans” shows the ridiculously short-sighted and self-serving attitudes of a group of North Seattle Republicans, ending in a weird moment that’s both blindly positive and thoroughly cynical.
And “Beware the Brown Peril” explores the problem of illegal immigrants in America with smartly chosen straw man arguments and exaggerated artwork influenced by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.
The best pieces in the book draw real blood. Bagge’s two-part “Observations from a Reluctant Anti-Warrior” and “Confessions of a Lazy Anti-Warrior” show his reluctant annoyance with the opportunism of the peace movement that protested the beginning of the Iraq War. Bagge wants to empathize with the anti-war protesters and in fact feels bad for not supporting their efforts, self-serving as some of those efforts may have been. The pair of pieces bring up good questions that cross the mind of any middle-aged person who isn’t actively involved in the anti-war movement: when we’re legitimately angry about the stupid decisions that our leaders make, how do we protest them without debasing ourselves?
Another standout piece is the powerful “A Menace to Society”, which profiles the sad story of Roger Spohn, a loser who smokes marijuana to help him after a series of car crashes and sees his life tumble into ruins all around him because of his drug use. It’s a deeply moving story because “there by the grace of God” but also because through Spohn we see the destructive absurdity of America’s drug laws, which smash poor Roger Spohn’s existence to smithereens for no good reason at all.
One hidden side of reading so many of Bagge’s comics in one place is that it acts as kind of a biography of him, acting like a kind of journal chronicling the cranky way he sees his surroundings and his libertarian viewpoint. It’s fun to look at the world through the eyes of this smart artist and feel his righteous anger at the stupid place in which we live. Don’t we all feel sometimes that everybody is stupid except for us?