Garfield and Papua New Guinea

Editorial, Normal

The National- Friday, February 4, 2011

 COMIC strips usually express important messages or provide brief humorous glances at events, people and places. 

Some of the key elements of a comic strip include character, setting and a plot which are all conveyed in a few frames through pictures, caption and dialogue.

The messages are often indirect or subtle, although many readers tend to look at them at face value. 

Sometimes, it would be enlightening to read in-between the lines for suggestions for a higher level of meaning.

For instance, in Wednesday’s comic page, the opening frame on the strip on Garfield had the feline slouching and thinking: “Boredom is a strange thing. 

“It affects people’s minds,” he adds in the next.

Of course, when there is nothing to do, the mind wanders and prompts some sort of action – rational or not.

So, when his owner John Arbuckle, arrives dangling a fishing rod, with a doughnut attached to the end of the line, saying: “Here, fishy, fishy …,” Garfield, somberly, sees his master’s action as an inept bid to trap him.

It certainly does not seem that Arbuckle was trying to lift Garfield’s perennially low spirit. He thinks Arbuckle is taking “unnecessary risks”.

So, what is the risk Arbuckle was taking? 

For them to go fishing, Arbuckle would have had to be a good fisherman. Then, again, they would have to go to the right place to catch any fish. And, if they did, the fish would have to be big ones in order to satisfy Garfield’s large appetite. 

Garfield was being skeptical, perhaps, because he must have seen some danger or ruse.

He must have thought that there was better use for the doughnut in his mouth rather than in water as bait for fish.

Garfield probably presumed that if any fish were ever lured, it certainly would not be the big ones. A big fish probably would not swoop onto a starchy item. It would probably take a nibble and turn away.

There was a better use for the doughnut to Garfield.

Perhaps, Garfield saw that all Arbuckle wanted him to do was have him pounce on the doughnut and swallow it, along with the hook, line and, perhaps, sinker.

Now that would have been a real nasty joke on Garfield. 

Garfield, always wanting the best for himself out of any situation, always viewed any new move to improve his lot with some cynicism.

So, he saw Arbuckle’s move as a ploy to trap him. He wanted the doughnut on a plate and not at the end of a fishing rod.

But, is that what Arbuckle intended? 

Arbuckle probably thought that it would be better to go fishing and catch fish, however small. Even if they did not catch any fish, they would have had an outing. 

There are parallels to be drawn from the efforts of NGOs and charity organisations in PNG and the Garfield strip dissected above.

Many organisations are formed to help people.

The organisers, sponsors and trainers dangle, like Arbuckle, training opportunities like a doughnut in front of people (Garfield).

The people, like Garfield, see the training as if it is a ruse or a trick to get something out of them and view it with skepticism and suspicion. Best to get the money ( doughnut) for the training rather than go through the training might be immediate in the people’s thoughts.

And, so, after each training session, which is prepared at great expense, the people still do not improve their lot after the course or workshop.

It seems they attend a workshop for the fun of being in a group for its novelty.

Often times, they plead for more money to help them implement their new knowledge and skills.

It is like giving Garfield a doughnut on a plate. Garfield would need to be taught to change his attitude. 

Since learning starts with the senses, and is rationally weighed by the head before action is taken, then the thinking has to be changed.

That is the problem, according to a good medical doctor and a charitable businesswoman in Lae who are members of an NGO that is trying to make changes in the lives of people in settlements.

He said the minds and attitudes of the people have to be changed for any individual to make a change for the better.

And she paraphrased for emphasis that the change had to be from within each individual and it had to be a mental change.

While organisations like theirs were doing everything they could with the best of intentions, to try to lift the waning mood of youths, the onus was on the participants.