The old Miss Buxley was a lissome airhead. In one strip Amos Halftrack described her as "just my receptionist, an ordinary, sweet, young, personable, nice-looking, long-haired, dark-eyed, well-built, soft-skinned, bouncy little ... "—the General slobbered into incoherence before he could complete the résumé. If called upon to take dictation, Miss Buxley would typically forget her notebook. "Oops. I'm just not all here today," she once apologized. General Halftrack, watching her wiggle out the door, confided to an aide: "If there was any more of her here I don't think I could take it." This episode was the first to be yanked by the offended editors of the Tribune.
The new Miss Buxley, as Mort Walker describes her, "wears clothing appropriate for the office." He says that she's still a dish, "but she's a covered dish, and beneath that beautiful body there's a brain." No more pouty insouciance. No more blithe acceptance of General Halftrack's salacious glances. Miss Buxley will be taking courses to improve her secretarial skills, and when asked by the General about what she has learned, will reply with a line like "How to file a sexual-harassment complaint." Walker's daughter Margie, to ensure that her father's commitment to heightened awareness continues, will review any episode of Beetle Bailey in which Miss Buxley—perhaps soon to be Ms. Buxley—appears. The cartoonist's fondest wish at this point is for "the feminists to get off my back." As it stands right now, he says, "they want me off the face of the earth."
Maybe feminists should get off Walker's back and, perhaps more to the point, maybe they actually will. But let's be frank: by the standards being applied, Mort Walker has a lot more than Miss Buxley to answer for. Beetle Bailey, after all, did not poke fun solely at old goats and buxom office workers. It also made light—and still does—of being overweight, dumb, plain, drunk, and lazy, which may at times offend some people, like me, in three or four different ways at once. Beetle Bailey ridicules bureaucrats and brown-nosers, losers and lotharios, bulldogs and bald people. It mocks, with relish, both authority and resistance, duty and irresponsibility, intelligence and witlessness. It treats America's men in uniform with disrespect.
Where, pray, shall we draw the line? It would be best, I think, to leave the drawing (of both the line and the comic strip) up to the cartoonist, and to recognize his role for what it is. Lord Byron wrote, "And if I laugh at any mortal thing/'Tis that I may not weep." In a perfect world comic strips would not be very funny. But such a world, to my mind, would thus be far from perfect.