Get Fuzzy and the Government Control of Information
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© 2003 Brian F. Schreurs
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Garfield vs. the Establishment: Analysis of Popular Culture for the Seeds of Revolution
Government control of information is a tricky business in a free republic. How is the government to get its voice heard above the din of dissenters, evangelists, and conspiracists who seek to shout it down? It is a very delicate dance where the government must tailor its message exactly for its chosen audience, but by very selectively targeting the people and the press for spin and disinformation, politicians may retain some measure of control over the flow of information.

Darby Conley's comic strip Get Fuzzy, thinly veiled as a humor piece about neurotic talking animals, serves as a harsh wake-up call to citizen patriots and members of the fourth estate alike. His cutting satire of the government stranglehold on the free flow of information, yet always with the hope of upsetting the balance of power, effectively documents the struggle of a nation while simultaneously serving as its rallying cry.

The Struggle Personified

Get Fuzzy revolves around the events of three main characters: Rob, Satchel, and Bucky. Two other characters, Rob's dad and Joe, appear periodically. Each is analogous to a facet of the modern struggle over government information control.

Rob represents the politicians. He is projected as a leader, albeit one with only grudging respect from Satchel and hardly any respect at all from Bucky. Rob seeks to control the experiences of Satchel and Bucky, ostensibly to protect them. He is willing to use heavyhanded techniques if he thinks he can get away with it. He controls the flow of information to Satchel and Bucky and gains their acquiescence with vague promises of improvements to their quality of life.

Satchel represents the people. Generally speaking, Satchel likes Rob, though sometimes suspects Rob's judgment is not all it could be. Satchel himself is often blind to the obvious as he is easily distracted. He usually goes along with Rob on issues, though he does have a line that he won't cross. He also stoicly accepts the presence of Bucky  -- he recognizes the goodness he sees within, even as he is chagrined by Bucky's confrontational and outrageous behavior.

Bucky represents the press. He is a loose cannon. He only grudgingly accepts Satchel as comrade-in-arms and does not accept the governance of Rob at all. He regularly attempts to undermine Rob's authority, seeking mischief wherever possible and creating it when it cannot be found. Bucky is the first to cry "foul" at others but last to accept blame for his own shortcomings.

Rob's dad represents the international community. He occasionally finds himself thrust into the conflict but extricates himself as quickly as he can; always there, but at a distance as much as possible. Joe represents the friendly foreign governments -- willing to dive in and mix it up a little, exchange advice, offer insights; but ultimately Joe is not a critical player to the process.

Climax of the Struggle

Darby Conley has carefully crafted a Sunday strip that illustrates the full cycle of government control over information. This strip opens with Rob, Satchel, and Bucky watching television together.

Television is obviously a metaphor for free-flowing information. What is more free than signals sent through the air, available to anyone with a receiver to view? Note also how the three characters sit together on a couch: the couch representing unity of purpose, but with Rob (the politicians) definitively separating Satchel (the people) from Bucky (the press).

Immediately, Rob blocks the view of the television from Satchel over Satchel's objections; he claims to take this drastic action for Satchel's own benefit, forbidding Satchel from making his own evaluation of what is or isn't appropriate information. In fact, this information is characterized as a "fight scene" that will give Satchel "nighmares" -- clearly indicating the preference of the government to deny the people access to news that might cause instability, news such as civil unrest, war, or economic upheaval. Satchel accepts this explanation, for the time being.

Shortly thereafter, Rob repeats the performance with even more vigor -- perhaps even a little guilty pleasure -- when he ruthlessly clamps down on the eyes and ears of Bucky. Bucky objects most strenuously, but again, Rob insists that it is for Bucky's own good. He suggests a scene with "kissing" and declares that Rob would "hate this". Again, the material itself suggests strongly of the motives behind Rob's actions: kissing is easily construed as the advancement of multi-departmental or even multi-governmental surveillance and monitoring programs, something that Rob suspects -- and not without cause -- that Bucky would reject on principle, and then attempt to align Satchel in opposition to Rob.

Peace reigns briefly but by this stage all parties are tense. It is no accident that Rob's dad and Joe are nowhere to be seen -- they seek no role in this power play.

Then -- rebellion! Satchel and Bucky rise up against Rob. Rob protests with the implication that the others are unreasonable, but Bucky reminds Rob that they are playing by the rules Rob himself set forth. Rob, desperate to not lose total control, quietly accepts this setback, assuming that Satchel and Bucky will soon lose interest in controlling their own future and will return to the status quo.

It is particularly telling that this scene uses a "personal injury attorney" as the modus operandi for the coup. A free republic is a nationed governed by law, and an attorney is a master of this law. His role as a personal injury attorney only underscores the injury felt by Satchel and Bucky over the imperialistic treatment; Satchel and Bucky seek to shelter Rob from the very unrest that he has caused, so that they may continue their vigilance unfettered by the watchful eye of Rob.

Forturnately, as the strip concludes Satchel and Bucky remain strong in their convictions and meet Rob's couched threats of punitive action with their own assertions of soverignty. Though their motives may differ, through the unity of action Rob is no longer capable of effectively controlling the flow of information.

Behind the Screen

Some may suggest that Get Fuzzy as a metaphor for the struggle of the government's control of information may stretch credibility. However, evidence clearly supports this interpretation of the comic strip. Consider that Darby Conley is an anagram for "Land Obey Cry" -- land, that is, in the traditional use of the word: a people tied through community; and a cry for freedom from information tyrrany. A clear cry for the community, the people, to retake the flow of information, to navigate their own waters, to control their own destiny.

We owe this message, we owe this mission, to Darby Conley and his comic strip Get Fuzzy.