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successful mediocrity

Typing the swear words for the title to my last entry -- $*&%#! -- takes me back to the character of the Sarge from Mort Walker's Beetle Bailey, who swore almost every week at his poor incompetent troop. Other comic strips used the same form of periphrasis, but Beetle Bailey is the one I recall most clearly.

Can mediocrity be an absolute? I think so. There must be one mark in the dead middle of the bell curve, one ranking perfectly equidistant from top and bottom of the scale. In which case Beetle Bailey might be the absolutely mediocre comic of my weekend youth. There were lamer strips, to be sure: Family Circus and Blondie come to mind right away. There were certainly funnier ones: from the brilliant The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes on down to Broom Hilda and Tank McNamara. I used to read the comics in strict sequence, beginning with the ones I liked least and ending with my favorites, and I'd come to Beetle Bailey about halfway through. On the same delayed gratification principle, I ate my carrots first, then my potatoes, and finished with my meat. (Ah, childhood, when I had time to discriminate. These days I grab whatever I can. I mean, I could have a stroke in the middle of my vegetables.)

If you think about it, you can find a Beetle Bailey equivalent anywhere. Hogan's Heroes, say, or Friends. Dave Matthews or Sheryl Crow. Chipper Jones. Take it further: most mediocre Prime Minister (St Laurent) or President (Reagan, Eisenhower) or ... well, whatever category you like.

It just occurs to me now that I actually read Beetle Bailey every weekend for years. I did not watch every episode of Hogan's Heroes, or buy all (or come to think of it, any) Dave Matthews albums. I have never followed the Atlanta Braves. What is it about comics? I think there may be more to say here. More later.


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