That Time “Beetle Bailey” Taught Us About Sexism

Cartoonist Mort Walker died last week at the age of 94, and Beetle Bailey, his most famous creation, has in all likelihood run in newspapers for longer than you’ve been alive. If you think of it at all, it’s probably as a bland, inoffensive legacy newspaper strip, like Hi and Lois (another Walker co-creation), but in the Army. You probably don’t think of it as anything that would make anybody angry.

You’d be wrong, though. The first institution that soured on the strip was the U.S. military itself, which banned the strip from Stars and Stripes, the armed forces’ in-house newspaper, in 1954. The reasons are obvious: Beetle is a slacker, his commanding officers incompetents or brutes, and the military he serves a bureaucratic mess. To find the origins of this attitude, look no further than Walker’s own surreal World War II service in Italy, where he guarded confiscated enemy watches and binoculars to make sure nobody stole them before they could be destroyed, and oversaw a P.O.W. camp where the Germans escaped at night and returned during the day, Hogan’s Heroes in reverse. “I’ve always thought that I would like [Beetle Bailey] to be a representative of somebody who’s caught in the system that they have to resist in order to exist,” he told the Comics Journal in 2009.

This has been the inevitable part of an obituary where I try to convince you that the deceased was more complex than you ever imagined. But despite all that, Beetle Bailey isn’t particularly subversive, and while Walker may have been a contemporary of Joseph Heller, Beetle Bailey is no Catch-22. Beetle, originally the star of a campus humor strip, joined the Army only because he ducked into a recruiting office in an attempt to avoid running into the women he was two-timing. It was 1951, but Beetle wasn’t sent to Korea, just as he hasn’t seen action in any of the other wars the U.S. military has fought since; instead, he’s remained at home in a perpetually shambolic peacetime army.

“Being controversial has never appealed to me,” Walker wrote in Backstage at the Strips. By the Nineties, much of the strip’s humor would be indistinguishable from office-based strips, and Walker admitted to taking inspiration from Dilbert, another strip that throws punches at people in power without trying to examine how power structures work. Beetle Bailey may be anti-authority, but its message is less “fight back against the man” than the classic American “get a load of these idiots, they’ve got a lot of nerve telling me what to do.”

One of the things the idiots who were actually in charge of Walker tried to make him do was keep even the barest hint of sex out of Beetle Bailey. In a 1984 interview with the Atlantic, Walker told Cullen Murphy (himself a writer for Prince Valiant — comics are a small and interconnected business) about his ongoing battles with newspapers over the depiction of belly buttons, male and female, which were routinely excised with a razor blade. Behind the scenes, he drew much more racy Beetle Bailey strips, featuring full-on nudity — which ended up being sent to Sweden, where they found a more receptive audience. (Scandinavia, where most countries until recently had compulsory universal military service but haven’t fought a war in decades, is perhaps understandably receptive to Beetle Bailey‘s charms.)

Walker told Murphy that people complained about the violence, too — a classic Beetle Bailey “joke” involves Sarge pounding Beetle into a puddle of goo for some minor transgression. But much of the pushback went beyond mere prudery or squeamishness to focus on a particular pairing in the strip: General Halftrack, Camp Swampy’s doddering commanding officer, and his chesty, miniskirt-wearing civilian secretary, Miss Buxley. (All the names in Beetle Bailey, from the music-loving Rocky to the tech specialist Chip Gizmo, are extremely on the nose.) The central joke here is that Halftrack lusts after Buxley, mostly keeping it to himself, though strips where he would, say, have her get files out of the bottom drawer so he could watch her bend over were certainly par for the course. Buxley was introduced in 1971, and by the Eighties public criticism had largely shifted from her depiction being too sexy to its being too sexist. Walker insisted that the joke was on Halftrack for being a dirty old man, not on Buxley for, as he put it to Murphy, “wear[ing] these little dresses because she feels good in them.” But watching a young woman being treated as a sex object by her boss once a week, every week, was too much for some people, who campaigned to get the strip pulled from papers.

In the Eighties, Walker leaned in to the controversy in a way that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched a less-than-woke comedy pro caught up in the modern outrage cycle. He briefly introduced Rolf, a sexy tennis pro that the strip’s women openly lusted after, presumably to show that “both sides do it” when it comes to being horny. He cashed in with a book called Miss Buxley: Sexism in Beetle Bailey? that featured the most controversial published strips. He even (in a sequence described in his Comics Journal obit but sadly not to be found anywhere on YouTube) appeared on an episode of The Phil Donahue Show, where, in classic Phil Donahue Show style, he was ambushed on set by an angry feminist.

But a funny thing happened over the next decade or so: The General got enlightened. Even in the midst of the pushback, that 1984 Atlantic interview was part of a campaign to rub some of the edges off the controversy: Miss Buxley, who had to that point been depicted as a clueless airhead, was going to become a more competent secretary, and show less cleavage to boot. But the big news came in 1997, when Halftrack was sent by the Army to sensitivity training and apologized for his behavior to Miss Buxley and her flat-chested co-worker, Private Blips. And when I say big news, I mean it literally, with reports appearing everywhere from the New York Daily News to CNN. The Quad-City Times even reported breathlessly that it got the strips faxed over in advance. After apologizing, the General declared that “I’ve decided to no longer view any woman as a sex object, just as a friend,” and when congratulated on his change in attitude, he added, “Well, my wife isn’t totally thrilled.” (This checks out, as the Halftracks’ mutual loathing is now accepted strip canon.)

At the time, Walker was upfront about his motivation. “I read about the military rape cases,” he told the Daily News. “They sickened me. And I decided these jokes didn’t belong in the strip any more.… I was looking recently at turn-of-the-century comics, and all the humor was ethnic Irish, German, Italian, Jewish with everyone speaking in dialect. That was funny then. You could never do it today. Nor, I think, should you.”

In retrospect, the decision might’ve been more of a collective one. Walker’s New York Times obituary quotes his son Greg saying that the storyline arose from the syndicate’s pressure to retire Halftrack altogether. Rather than jettison a character who was integral to the strip’s rhythms, Walker changed course and mined the course change for laughs: “That became a whole theme that we could use,” said Greg. The “we” there is important, because, for years now, Walker’s sons, as well as the son of his Hi and Lois co-creator, Dik Browne, and an army of paid artists and gag writers that on my comics blog I jokingly refer to as Walker-Browne Amalgamated Humor Industries LLC, have churned out a widely syndicated and presumably highly profitable stable of strips for syndication.

Brilliant auteurs like Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) might be remembered the most fondly by comics aficionados, but both of them stepped away after just over a decade or so in business. Beetle Bailey, by contrast, will presumably keep being produced until the newspaper industry collapses completely, or the Earth is swallowed up by the sun. Nobody is going to mistake the strip for being progressive — it still features occasional appearances by Corporal Yo, an Asian soldier with literal slants for eyes. It’s even hard to single out Miss Buxley’s original incarnation for special condemnation, arising as she did from a culture where, as comics artist Shaenon Garrity points out, Private “Killer” Diller could make cruel, misogynist jokes in American newspapers, but the depiction of a woman consensually enjoying his oral sex skills had to be banished to those perverts in Sweden.

But it’s strangely telling that a corporate product like Beetle Bailey offers a good model for gracefully climbing down from a defensive crouch and recognizing the difference between defending free speech and defending terrible ideas. “Readers are customers,” Walker told the Daily News in 1997. “I’m the storekeeper. If I don’t stock what they want, I don’t stay in business.” Say what you will about hacks who are only in it for the money, but unlike some supposed geniuses, they know how to read a room.


Nom on Nordic Food, Dance With Kiwis, and Grab Cheap Meatballs This Week

Brooklyn Brewery and the Craft Beer Revolution, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, Monday, 7 p.m.

If you’re looking to turn your extracurricular hobby into a booming business, do so by learning the history of local suds with Brooklyn Brewery, courtesy of brewmaster Garret Oliver and owner Steve Hindy. The duo will cover their transition into brewing (Hindy is a former war correspondent) as well as share a few secrets of the trade. The event includes a beer tasting as well as the chance to purchase signed copies of the pair’s tome, The Craft Beer Revolution. Tickets are $32 and can be reserved in advance here.

Nordic Food Festival, Multiple Locations, Wednesday through September 28

The cuisines of Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland are a few of the inspirations you’ll find at the annual Nordic Food Festival, which kicks off this Wednesday in the West Village. A few activities designed to release your inner Anna and Elsa include chocolate-making classes, daily street food tastings, and chef talks featuring Mads Refslund of ACME and Fredrik Berselius. A full lineup of scheduled events can be viewed on the festival website.

Save the Rhino Benefit Dinner, Madiba, 195 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Dine out for a cause this week as Madiba hosts a three-course dinner with wine pairings, with proceeds going to help wildlife conservation efforts. A few lucky guests will also be chosen to receive complimentary artwork, with live entertainment for everyone throughout the evening. Reservations are $65; secure them here.

Anniversary Party, Kiwiana, 847 Union Street, Brooklyn, Thursday, 6 p.m. until closing

Practice your Down Under dance moves with a New Zealand–themed Seventies party. Celebrating its fourth anniversary, Kiwiana is offering guests an open bar, passed appetizers, and, most importantly, the chance to break out your disco attire to win prizes. Tickets are $45 at the door and can be purchased here.

25 Cent Meatballs, Carmine’s, 200 West 44th Street/2450 Broadway, Friday

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, both locations of Carmine’s are toasting to restaurant eternity with 25-cent meatballs during lunchtime. Guests can visit the theater district location from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or the Upper West Side digs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m to enjoy the deal.


First Aid Kit

Is there anything Sweden can’t do? Folk duo First Aid Kit have been around for almost a decade now and in that time have only released two full-length records. Basically their art is meticulous and slow moving, shaved down until intimate enough to share with the world. The pair will play at Rough Trade June 9th, the day before the release of their third album Stay Gold. It was produced by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis and is the band’s first on a major label so basically, expect bigger sounds and all the feels.

Tue., June 10, 7 p.m., 2014



Sweden has provided some of pop’s finest talent, and Lykke Li is no exception. What she has offered us over the course of three LPs are gorgeous, intricate sonic tapestries made all the more compelling by her biting soprano voice. Since the release of her debut single, “Little Bit,” a uniquely minimal love song, Li has demonstrated a malleable sound that appeals to music fans across the board as well as a variety of artists. She’s had that initial single remixed by the likes of Drake and AutoErotique, while some of her other songs have passed through the hands of Tyler, the Creator; Beck; Friendly Fires; A$AP Rocky; and even Glee. Lykke Li brings all the soul on her own at the storied Apollo Theater as she celebrates her latest album, I Never Learn.

Thu., May 15, 8 p.m., 2014


Take Your Warming Cues from the Scandinavians: Drink Glögg

As we really settle into the cold months (accept it; winter is almost here), we begin to look for ways to stay warm. Break out the electric blankets and fuzzy slippers, the cups of hot chocolate, and the pots of tea — avoiding the bitter frost should be your focus.

This year, consider trying something new, especially if you’re throwing a holiday party or looking for a warm evening dram. Leave the hot toddies aside, and take a tip from our friends in Scandinavia, who are well-versed in surviving the dark, cold months: Make a batch of glögg.

What’s glögg, you ask? Well, besides a word that’s fun to say (the “o” is pronounced more like “oo”), glögg is a mulled wine made with fruits, spices, and, more often than not, port and brandy. Sometimes spelled as gløgg or glögi, the drink is a staple in homes around Scandinavia.

Sounds great, right? It is.

“Traditionally in Sweden we drink glögg as an aperitif during the holiday season,” chef Marcus Jernmark of Aquavit told us. “We have very cold winters, and between the alcohol levels and the heat of the drink, it will warm you right up when you arrive at a home for a celebration.” To his point, the name glögg comes from the term “glödgad vin,” which means “glowing wine.” The combination of heat and alcohol warms the body and often makes the drinker blush.

The mulled wine has a history that dates back hundreds of years, traveling from the Greeks and Romans — who believed it had medicinal qualities — to King Gustav I Vasa of Sweden in the 1500s and 1600s. Glögg as we know it — strong and spicy — showed up at the very end of the 19th century and has maintained its presence at Christmas gatherings and winter rendezvous ever since.

Lucky for us New Yorkers, there are plenty of places around the city to find a cup of glögg: Scandinavian chefs prepare their own versions, often based on family classics. Norweigan-born Morten Sohlberg of Smörgas Chef will be serving a twist on his family’s glögg during the month of December. Aamanns-Copenhagen will be offering up the Danish version of the drink with red wine, port, and rum; Aquavit will share the Swedish rendition, brewed with figs, cardamom, and bourbon. Taste them all, or make them at home for yourself with the recipes provided on the next page.

Morten Sohlberg's winter warmer
Morten Sohlberg’s winter warmer

Smörgas Chef’s Glögg
by Morten Sohlberg

4 cups water
1 cup brandy or spiced rum
Peel from 1 large orange, cut into large strips
2 tablespoon whole cloves
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 cardamom pods
½ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and crushed slightly with the back of a spoon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 sticks cinnamon
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine
1 cup vodka
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
Garnish: sliced blanched almonds and raisins

Heat the water, brandy and spices to boil; reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add wine, vodka, and sugar, and simmer for one minute. Strain out cloves and orange peel, and decant the glögg, leaving other spices behind. Add raisins and almonds to each glass upon serving.

Aamanns-Copenhagen Danish Gløgg
by Carl Kristian Frederiksen
Serves 10

2 bottles spicy red zinfandel wine
¼ cup port wine
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon (save the lemon)
1 pod cardamom
2 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
10 black peppercorns
10 fennel seeds
2 star anise
1 vanilla bean, hollowed out (use both the bean and seeds)
1 tablespoon honey
6 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup dark rum
10 tablespoons chopped almonds
10 tablespoons raisins

Pour the wine into a large pot and add orange zest, lemon zest, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorn, fennel seeds, star anise, and vanilla bean. Heat to a simmer.

Add the honey and brown sugar, and whisk the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rum. Add the juice from the lemon to taste, and strain the gløgg.

To serve, place a tablespoon of almonds and a tablespoon of raisins into each cup, and pour the strained gløgg evenly between the cups.



Aquavit Glögg
by Marcus Jernmark

Serves 4

2 cups dry red wine
½ cup golden raisins, additional for serving
12 cardamom pods
5 dried figs, sliced
12 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
3 star anise
1 orange, zest and juice
½ heaping cup sugar
½ cup vodka
¼ cup bourbon
blanched almonds, for serving
pepparkakor (ginger snaps), for serving

Place red wine, golden raisins, orange zest and juice, cardamom pods, figs, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and star anise in a large pot; bring to a simmer, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat, add sugar, and stir until fully dissolved. Heat vodka and bourbon; add to red wine mixture, stir and strain.

For serving: place a small handful of raisins in each glass, pour glögg evenly between the glasses, and serve with blanched almonds, raisins, and pepparkakor (ginger snaps) on the side.


Cronut Hole Concretes, Harvest in the Square, Swedish Chef Talk, Fast Times at Ridgemont High Beer Dinner: The Week Ahead

If football kept you on the couch this past weekend, you missed out on some ridiculously tasty events. Not to worry, this is New York, and there’s something going on at all times if you know where to look. Here’s what’s happening this week.

Cronut Hole Concrete, Shack Shack, Madison Square Park, Tuesday, 10 a.m.

New York’s most infamous line gets a bit longer for this limited edition concrete courtesy of Dominique Ansel. The inventor of the cronut (and all-around dessert magician) will be around from 4 to 5 p.m. to chat with customers while they wait for the treat, which is a combination of caramel frozen custard blended with cinnamon sugar cronut holes. There is a two-concrete-per-person limit, and only 1,000 concretes will be served for the event, which starts at 10 a.m. Proceeds from sales will go to help support the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) Widows and Children’s Fund along with the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

18th Annual Harvest in the Square, Union Square, Union Square West at 16th Street, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

This celebration of local food and wine sees an all-star lineup of chefs taking over Union Square for an evening. Restaurants like Alison 18 and Blue Smoke will offer a sampling of their signature dishes; a selection of New York vineyards will also be featured. Tickets are $125 and include access to all food and wine offerings.

The Brooklyn Phenomenon, Colonie, 127 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, Tuesday, 6 p.m.

Brooklyn’s significance as a food city may be up for debate in America, but over in Sweden, there’s no question as to the borough’s place on the culinary map. Presented by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, this event will cover the appeal of King’s County for food and beverage entrepreneurs. Fredrik Berselius of Aska, Emil Jättne of Brooklyn Gin, and Colonie’s Emelie Kihlström will share their stories of success. Tickets are $40 for non-members.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High Beer Dinner And A Movie, Nitehawk Cinema, 136 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, Wednesday, 7:15 p.m.

All Jeff Spiccoli needs is a cool buzz and some tasty waves, and fans of this 80’s cult hit can get that (via the movie, at least) plus a four-course meal and beer pairings from California’s Lagunitas Brewing at Nitehawk this Wednesday. Corn dogs, a “100% guaranteed breakfast,” and a pizza delivered right to your desk appear alongside various brews during pivotal scenes throughout the movie. Reserve your spot in home room and get ready to say “Aloha Mr. Hand.”




When Anna von Hausswolff makes her North America debut tonight, she probably won’t be accompanied by the mighty and majestic pipe organ of Gothenburg, Sweden’s Annedals church, which she plays throughout her deeply moving second album, Ceremony. A beautiful, elegiac song cycle inspired by the death of her grandfather, Ceremony alternates long instrumental interludes, sometimes evoking Pink Floyd and Ennio Morricone, with vocals reminiscent of Kate Bush and PJ Harvey. She studies architecture at Copenhagen’s Royal Academy of Art, and there’s an architectonic quality to tracks like “Liturgy of Light” and “Epitaph of Theodor.” The daughter of conceptual artist and sonic experimentalist Carl Michael von Hausswolff, she bends the borders of Nordic pop throughout.

Wed., July 10, 8:30 p.m., 2013


Shout Out Louds

Stockholm-bred indie pop band Shout Out Louds got their start in 2001, when bands like the Strokes were dominating alt-rock radio and winning over the hearts of young adults everywhere. Churning out songs with instantly likeable melodies and heart-on-sleeve earnestness, the fivesome quickly joined their indie band peers on tour and soundtracks to teen dramas like The OC throughout the early aughts. With two guitarists and vocal participation from all but one band member, SOL create richly textured songs that are at once relentlessly upbeat and shimmering with pure pleasantness.

Mon., March 11, 9 p.m., 2013

Calendar Datebook Events FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NYC ARCHIVES

Bon! Asian Spice Cafe Opens in Bushwick and IHOP Opens in West Village

Bushwick got an Asian fusion restaurant, Bon! Asian Spice Cafe. The menu features gyoza, yakisoba ramen noodles, pork belly buns, and other dishes that blend ingredients from all over Asia. They also offer Asian style brunch with entrees like bulgogi omelets and waffles with Japanese-style fried chicken. 140 St. Nicholas Ave., Brooklyn

The Lower East Side got a new pizza place on Ludlow Street. La Margarita Pizza opened in the storefront that used to house various boutique shops in the past few years. Bowery Boogie reported John Junkovic owns the place and is the man behind Stanton Pizza and East Broadway Pizza. 151 Ludlow St.

Jonathan Morr, owner of Bondst and Republic, will open Cherry in the space below the Dream Downtown on Wednesday. Grub Street reported that the menu is “French-inspired Japanese” and Morr collaborated with executive chef Andy Choi from Le Cirque and Ma Peche. 355 W. 16th St.

The West Village got its first IHOP on New Year’s Day. The new location will stay open 24 hours a day so the drunken masses can get a funny face pancake whenever their hearts desire. 80 Carmine St.

Brooklyn Brewery hops across the pond and is about to take over Sweden. The craft brewery will open a $5 million brewery in Stockholm, said Diners Journal. It will become the only craft brewery in Sweden and is expected to be fully functional by the end of 2013. For now, the Williamsburg location will just have to satisfy European tourists.


Simon and the Oaks

Lisa Ohlin’s Simon and the Oaks has all the superficial elements of compelling drama but none of the interiority; it looks like a good movie without ever actually feeling like one. Try to imagine low-rent Spielberg set in Sweden: whimsical children with intertwined fates, Nazis looming on the horizon, and even the slightest hint of the fantastical amid the soft-focus ’40s milieu. In a way, it’s not unlike The Intouchables: Another country’s version of middlebrow awards bait, after doing well domestically, gets exported to America despite already being Hollywood-inflected to begin with. (Indeed, the film received a record-setting 13 nominations at Sweden’s equivalent to the Oscars.) In expending so much energy on aping the conventions of prestige pictures, though, it never gets around to simply telling a good story. Simon‘s is a familiar tune and one we’ve heard performed better before—which is a shame, given its opportunity to fill the cinematic void that is Scandinavia’s comparatively overlooked involvement in World War II. Ohlin’s film tends to relegate its most interesting aspects to the background, its mind always elsewhere (most often a forced authenticity in capturing its period setting) when it comes time to imbue its characters and incidents with the import their appearances imply.