``It is with pain in my heart that I must tell you that as of Thursday, General Halftrack will quit leering at Miss Buxley,'' writes a columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer. A scribe at the Orlando Sentinel declares it ``a sad day for dirty old men everywhere . . . and for Americans with a sense of humor.''
They have a point. It's true that this is only a comic strip, and that the people who wrote in to complain about General Halftrack probably do have a little too much time on their hands. An artist's forum is not a democracy that should be subject to change every time someone gets offended. And anyway, I doubt that Halftrack posed any great threat to the American woman's self-esteem.
(However, I'm getting a little weary of this idea that only liberals practice political correctness. I doubt we'll be seeing any new comic strips about a lovable guy who takes drugs or a sweet-natured gal who enjoys casual sex. After all, such characters would upset people; they would go against their moral codes.)
So while I agree that cartoonists shouldn't have to change their strips to please other people's sensibilities, I can't say I'm crying myself to sleep on Mort Walker's behalf. Recently, I saw a television discussion panel lamenting the plight of the poor, beleaguered Mort. Come on - this is the best thing that's happened to the 73-year-old cartoonist in decades. I mean, people are paying attention to him. People are talking about ``Beetle Bailey.'' Walker has been profiled in People magazine and featured on CNN. His syndicate has been promoting the new storyline - hell, I'll bet they're even returning his calls!
I'm also having trouble seeing how sending the good general to sensitivity classes is such a blow to the culture. Wasn't the greater crime that the strip wasn't funny - and that he'd been using the same dumb joke for 47 years? If anything, Halftrack's newfound enlightenment has breathed some much-needed life into what was a very tired strip. Consider the July 9 offering:
Miss Buxley: How's your sensitivity training going, sir?
General Halftrack: Good! I've decided to no longer view any woman as a sex object, but just as a friend.
Miss Buxley: That's great, sir. I'm excited for you.
General Halftrack: Well, my wife isn't totally thrilled.
OK, maybe you didn't bust a gut. But tell me you didn't chuckle.
Sara Eckel is a Newspaper Enterprise Assn. columnist.