Doonesbury was the voice of my generation. Joanie Caucus and I started law school the same year. As the Doonesbury characters were getting married and having children, and surviving the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, my friends and I were, too. Vietnam, Watergate, AIDS, the women’s movement, yuppies, gay rights, oil, scandals, dictators, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, love, loss, families, from the personal to political and back again — all were reflected, mocked, and illuminated in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip, in some papers placed on the editorial page instead of the comic page. His insightful and sympathetic portrayal of wounded veterans has been exceptionally moving.
And now, with the wedding of Mike’s daughter Alex to the Iraqi war veteran Toggle, the strip is shifting to make her and her generation the focus. Alyssa Rosenberg has a lovely and touching tribute to this generational shift on Think Progress.
Daily cartoon strips may not get as much credit as they ought to for shaping the cultural zeitgeist, but throughout her life, and mine, Alex Doonesbury’s been one of the best female characters, of any age, in any medium. She’s a child of divorced parents with a complicated relationship with her mother that made her mature and self-protective rather than the victim of cliche trauma, and loving, collaborative tie to her stepmother, a Vietnamese refugee adopted by American Jews. In addition to both of these women, Alex has a father who spars with her on politics, works with her on business projects, and treats her like a mature person with worthy ideas. She’s been a full member of the cast almost from her birth because she was that important in Mike’s life, and she became so in ours. Alex is a computer genius without falling into sexy hacker tropes, and her skills brought her closer to her parents and all the way to MIT, a point of pride so fierce that MIT students rigged the voting to win her as a fictional fellow student. And her love story with Toggle, a disabled veteran with less education and a decidedly different family background from Alex’s own, has been part of Doonesbury’s transition into a more expansive portrait of American life.
In walking her down the aisle to Toggle at her June wedding, Mike ceded pride of place in her heart to a new man, and informally deeded the strip to a new generation of characters.
Once again, Trudeau’s timing is impeccable, and I look forward to following Alex and Toggle — and watching how the original characters continue their own adventures as elder statesmen and emereti.