I Hate “Zits” and So Should You
Most people know that newspaper comics, by and large, SUCK. But if you were to ask people which was the worst of them all, a few names would likely come up more frequently: “Momma,” with its crudely drafted scenarios that don’t even pretend to be funny; “B.C.,” which operates on the premise that a preachy, Christian-themed comic about cavemen with a sub “Flinstones” level of wit is the pinnacle of entertainment; or perhaps that cancerous turd “Funky Winkerbean,” which among comics has made the dubious accomplishment over the decades of ruining more people’s mornings with its hangdog characters and their depressing, boring lives than any other strip to defile newsprint.
There’s also “Family Circus”:
A name you won’t often encounter in the list of worst comics, however, is Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s “Zits.”
But it totally fucking should. Never has there been a comic as shitty, lazy and downright irritating as this rectangular asylum of sequential inanity that nonetheless has the gall to masquerade as a good strip. Oh, I know, the art is nice, but faithful attention to the visual aspect doesn’t make a comic good, anymore than the insane detail and creativity of the Star Wars prequels made any of them good movies – or even mediocre movies.
Still not convinced that “Zits” is cartoon diarrhea? Allow me, then, to pick apart what “Zits” actually is.
Since newspaper cartoonists and the syndicates that pimp out their work are making what is, essentially, a commission based off of the number of papers that carry one strip or another, it behooves the ambitious, money-minded cartoonist to employ one of two strategies.
The first strategy is the sort that results in crap like “The Wizard of Id,” or “Garfield.” Knowing that millions of people read newspapers, from all ages and different backgrounds, and sometimes even from different cultures, these cartoonists choose to appeal to as many people as possible using the broadest topics and jokes imaginable. Of course, what actually happens with cartoons pursuing this strategy is that they end up catering to the lowest common denominator. These strips are bland, unfunny and even outright offensive in how deeply and widely they fail to spark even the slightest bit of mirth in the reader, BUT, the really smart cartoonists who go this route know they can make up for it by making simple observations (“I hate Mondays!”) with cute mascots. Hence Garfield Spaghetti-O’s, t-shirts, towels, and…and…
The other way requires a bit more perceptiveness and planning, but it’s a plan that’s been widely imitated across the industry; a plan consisting of: Step 1) identifying a narrow, specific demographic that doesn’t have a comic strip devoted to it yet, and Step 2), creating a generic cast of characters fitting that mould, in order to have mouthpieces for your incredibly obvious, unoriginal jokes that said narrow demographic will be able to understand. It’s all the same idiot-proof marketing strategy “Dilbert” popularized in the 90’s with countless hacks who could never in a Carl Sagan billion years hope to come close to imitating Scott Adams’ satirical genius.
It also happens to be the same exact strategy informing the creative origins of “Zits.”
Think about it: Who does “Elderberries” cater to, other than the 60+ crowd who might find nonstop “jokes” about constipation and cars from the 1950’s funny? “Pluggers,” with its banal observational humor its cartoonist outsources from the same lower-middle class white retirees who read his crappy comic, much the same. And that’s to say nothing of “Cathy” (women in the workforce), “Mallard Filmore” (low-IQ conservative political junkies), or “In the Bleachers” (aging jocks).
The demographic “Zits” cynically targets is not, of course, teenagers themselves, as one might mistakenly perceive, but the parents of teenagers. Oh, those teenagers! What, with their big appetites, their big feet, and those weird sleeping schedules! Every “Zits” strip recycles one of six or seven jokes the writer worked out twenty years ago, churning out the same shit year after year because, after all, the parents who related to the strip a few years ago aren’t the parents who relate to the strip today, so who’s going to notice?
Joke #1: Teenagers sure eat a lot!
LOL!! Somebody’s grocery bill must be through the roof!
Joke #2: Teenagers sure sleep a lot!
Haha! He’s tired because society refuses to adjust school schedules to accommodate the changes in melatonin levels human beings experience during puberty!
Joke #3: Teenagers sure are messy!
That sure is a messy room! Teenagers are messy!
Joke #4: Teenagers today and that technology stuff!
I can’t wait for another fucking joke about text messaging. Truly, this is the apex of comedy.
Joke #5: Boys and girls are different LOL!
Girls like to talk about feelings, and guys are horny! The freshness of this insight has sent a chill up my spine.
Joke #6: Teenagers and driving! Whew!
Ultimately, the message of “Zits” is that all young people, everywhere, are a homogenous lump of brainless, unmotivated burdens on society, sucking up money, food and resources without a thought as to their future, or any interests beyond mindless entertainment, physical gratification, or sponging off their parents (Now do you see how this strip isn’t actually for teenagers?). This offensive message paints millions of people from different communities, religions and economic classes with a broad brush, hurting society in the long run by perpetuating harmful stereotypes about what young people are like, and what they’re capable of.
And it’s complete bullshit.
250 years ago, Thomas Jefferson was running an entire plantation of over two hundred employees and slaves across hundreds of acres, by himself (his parents had both passed away), at the age of 13.
200 years ago, David Farragut was given command of his own warship by the United States Navy, putting him on the track to becoming America’s first admiral. He was 12.
150 years ago, Thomas Edison was running several successful businesses on his own, most notably a newspaper service that ran Civil War news ahead of the major press. He was 10.
Perhaps these examples are too extraordinary to apply to all young people everywhere, but clearly, youth is not an implacable barrier to doing something serious. Something meaningful.
Our school system, our laws, and our culture as it presently exists, deliberately infantilize kids and teens, and then laughs at them for adopting the learned helplessness that was forced upon them. Laws exist to prevent people below the age of 16 from taking on paid work or apprenticeships, and then we whine about how young people never do anything worthwhile with their time. And cultural fecal matter like “Zits” reinforces the idea that this is exactly the way things are everywhere – no, that this is exactly the way things should be.
Is this rant really out of proportion to a silly comic strip? It would be, if “Zits” weren’t so damn popular. Wikipedia tells us that this offensive garbage is printed in over 1,500 newspapers, and adding insult to injury, it’s won multiple awards for serving up the same, dull, unoriginal gags it’s used week after week, year after year. And that’s to say nothing of the small fortune its creators have reaped from countless books and other merchandising. It’s almost as if the excellent illustration work distracts readers from its dull, uninspired content, and fools them into seeing more than what there is.
Thank goodness for webcomics, where real laughs happen.