Everybody Is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations
by Peter Bagge
Fantagraphics Books, 120 pages, $16.99.
Peter Bagge’s seminal work in the 1980s and 90s (Hate, Neat Stuff) always featured characters going off on extended rants about one subject or another, so it’s no real surprise to find that the author has managed to transition himself into something of a reporter/editorial pundit.
Nor is it any real surprise that the pieces collected in awesomely-named Everyone Is Stupid Except for Me — all of which were done for Reason magazine over the past nine years or so — are wonderfully entertaining and often fall-on-the-floor funny, even when you find yourself at odds with Bagge’s viewpoint.
A self-proclaimed libertarian, Bagge general tone throughout the book is one of perplexed and sardonic annoyance. He savages both the left and the right for anything that smacks of greed, hypocrisy or some sanctimonious claptrap that involves people sticking their noses where they don’t belong. His venom those who pushed for the Iraq war is almost matched in invective by his irate feelings for those who would use his tax dollars to, say, build a new sports stadium, fund a conceptual art exhibit or keep Amtrak in business.
Yet Bagge is no Bill O’Reilly (thank goodness) so full of self-righteousness and pomposity that he’s unwilling to listen to anywone other than himself. On the contrary, he’s more than willing to admit when a social problem, like the war on drugs, has him stumped. He even elicits quite a bit of sympathy in a few pieces, like his one on the chronically homeless. More to the point, he portrays himself as such an average, family man that it’s hard not to like the guy, even when you think he’s off base.
Bagge is at his best here when he’s either focusing on issues from a personal perspective (like his essay in favor of mall culture, which is surprisingly persuasive) or plays cub reporter, going out and interviewing lawyers, victims or just those with a vested interest in the issue at hand (i.e. the Amtrak piece, a look at Christian rock, his coverage of the New Hampshire primaries). The shorter pieces tend to favor swinging at straw men, though I should note that this doesn’t keep the from frequently being hilarious (the bit on how nerd culture has consumed America is a hoot).
Less successful are those where you feel Bagge just generally has a chip on his shoulder. His piece on the horror that is modern art makes the occasional good point, but smacks of a reverse eltism all the same (some people actually do still like Shakespeare you know). Likewise his What We Believe, seems all over the place in its attempts to show how liberals believe in just as many nonsensical things as right-wingers. (am I a loon simply because I don’t want high-fructose corn syrup in my bread Peter?)
But so what? Regardless of whether I agree with him or not, or whether I feel like one of his targets or not, Bagge remains an extremly entertaining and gifted raconteur. It’s hard to get angry at him when faced with his rubbery, limbs akimbo and eyes agog art style — a style which continues to delight me and makes even the driest treatise palatable. While his focus may have changed, his work remains as delightful as it did in the alt-comix hey day. Stupid just confirms what many of us already knew: he’s still one of the funniest cartoonists in America today.