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April 14,2010

I love Shmoo
Commentary by Bob Lassahn

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Al Capp's Shmoo

I'm a great fan of comic strips...and specifically those that are a metaphor for our penchant to become embroiled in political foibles. Laughable unto themselves, the cartoons lampoon both sides of political debate with fervor. Being “in on the joke” adds to the enjoyment. I recall fondly the musings of “Pogo,” the swamp dwelling possum and his lament, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” But some of my favorites came from the imagination of Al Capp and appeared in his “Li’l Abner” cartoons. Who can forget General Bullmoose?

One all-time favorite of mine, the lovable Shmoo (plural Shmoon), first appeared in "Li'l Abner" on August 31, 1948 and became a postwar craze in the U.S. The Shmoon were a seeming miracle. They laid eggs, gave milk and died of sheer ecstasy when someone simply looked at them with hunger in their eyes. Anything that delighted people delighted a Shmoo.

The Shmoon loved to be eaten by humans and tasted like any food one desired. Fry a Shmoo and it became chicken. Broil it and it became steak. Shmoon eyes made perfect suspender buttons. The hide of a Shmoo when cut thin made fine leather and if cut thick made the best lumber. Even a Shmoo's whiskers made splendid toothpicks. A Shmoo believed that the only way to happiness was to bring happiness to others.

The Shmoon seemed to satisfy all of the world's needs. And you could never run out of Shmoon because they reproduced at an unbelievable rate. Li'l Abner discovered the creatures when he ventured into the Forbidden Valley of the Shmoon. Another Al Capp character, Ol' Man Mose, protested worriedly when Li’l Abner dared to enter the place in a classic and paradoxical exchange:

Mose: "Shmoos is the greatest menace to hoomanity th' world has evah known."
Li’l Abner: "Thass becuz they is so bad, huh?"
Mose: "No, stupid! It's because they're so good!"

In the end the lovable and selfless Shmoon brought misery to humans. People, when endowed with a limitless supply of Shmoon, stopped working and society began to erode. First viewed as a boon, the Shmoon were eventually seen as a threat to society that must be hunted down and exterminated by the government.

But the story of the Shmoon would continue in Capp’s imagination beyond their seeming extermination. It seems Li’l Abner managed to save two of the creatures from extermination. The two Shmoon are eventually united in matrimony by Marryin’ Sam (after a Sadie Hawkins Day race) and they returned to their Forbidden Valley of the Shmoon.

So where am I going with this? The idea of providing for all of mankind’s wants and needs, as some political types currently appear bent upon doing, isn’t anything new. The concept of a Utopian society, an ideal and perfect place where everyone lives in harmony, all needs are provided for and everything is for the best, has been around for a long time. It just doesn’t seem to work. Mankind appears to be at its best when challenged and the individual’s struggle to rise above the status quo is a driving force to progress. True contentment doesn’t come from merely having something, but from the struggle to achieve it.

Given their bent to provide for everything from cradle to grave, I tend to think some of the extreme liberals out there actually believe in the Forbidden Valley of the Shmoon. That an endless supply of resources exists to hand out and make everybody content. The problem is, unlike Shmoon, somebody has to actually be achieving to provide those resources. It’s only in the imagination that there are always enough resources, or Shmoon for everybody.

History and even current events should provide sufficient evidence that the pit has a bottom…but some bureaucrats seem bent upon finding that out for themselves. Sooner or later those still willing to engage in the struggle to achieve and contribute to those who don’t, might decide there is no longer a benefit…and will ask for some Shmoon of their own. What happens then?

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Uploaded: 4/15/2010