A war of Letters to the Editor has broken out in the pages of a small Massachusetts newspaper over the content of Mort Walker’s long-running comic Beetle Bailey, with one reader labeling the strip “totally outdated and loaded with unhealthy behavior” and another responding that the initial complainants should “get a life.”
The tiff began on April 5 with a letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette from Rachael Naismith of Florence, MA, who failed to find the humor in the previous day’s Beetle Bailey, shown above. “Ha ha,” she wrote, “they could blow themselves up and half the countryside.” Naismith had more general complaints about the venerable strip as well, opining:
Is there any reader who finds Beetle Bailey amusing? Week after week there are panels that make jokes about beating people up, ogling gorgeous blondes and berating middle-aged wives, and laughs about stupidity and weight and slacking soldiers. Not a week goes by without a panel that features violence.
Anticipating the argument that she could simply not read Beetle Bailey, Naismith said her concern actually is for the Gazette’s younger readers and that the paper should “do better in choosing which comics to feature.” The following Monday, April 10, the strip gained a defender in the person of John Rejniak of Southampton, who succinctly retorted that Naismith should “get a life.
The battle was not over yet, as the following day Naismith’s cause was joined by Rick McNeil of Easthampton, who agreed that it is “time to 86” the strip due to the characters’ “unhealthy behavior.” Finally, this past Wednesday saw a letter from Graham Gal of Amherst, who shared an anecdote about trying to send an e-book link to a colleague in Tehran, only to find the content is blocked there. With a flourish, Gal dubbed Naismith, McNeil and their ilk “the ayatollahs of the granola valley” and sarcastically suggested that “perhaps a better approach would be to burn copies of the Gazette that contain this offensive material.”
The Gazette, for its part, has taken no position on the Beetle Bailey question and presumably intends to keep running the strip for the foreseeable future. Unlike so-called “zombie strips” including Peanuts and Family Circus, which have been criticized for choking out potential new talent on the funny pages, Beetle Bailey is still overseen by its original creator, the now 93-year-old Walker. The strip has had occasional run-ins with censorship over the decades, including very early on when it was dropped from the Tokyo edition of the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes “because it allegedly encouraged disrespect for officers.”
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.