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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Goofus and Gallant break the bad-good binary

My sister and I shared a subscription to Highlights Magazine. I always checked out the two-panel comic strip to marvel at Goofus' boorishness and mock Gallant's perfection.

Goofus and Gallant, born in 1948, are still modeling boorish and goody-goody behavior, writes Julie Beck in The Atlantic. The panels "chart the shifting freedoms and boundaries of childhood, and illustrate how how adults' expectations of kids have changed over the decades."

Some things don't change, she writes. Goofus makes a mess. Gallant cleans up. Every December, Goofus will be greedy, while "Gallant rhapsodizes about the pleasures of giving to others."

Others have evolved. Once Goofus was noisy during Mom's nap. Now he disrupts a parent's Zoom meeting. Gallant is, of course, quiet.

In Highlights’ early days. Goofus and Gallant had little parental supervision, she writes. "They completed errands on their own in 1955; they stayed out until the streetlights came on in 1965." In 1990, Gallant left a note for his mother saying he'd gone to a friend's house. He didn't ask permission.

Now the boys are much less independent, writes Beck.

The early strips expected boys to be tough. Goofus "cries like a baby" when he falls down, while "Gallant gets up smiling, even if blood is seeping from his knees."

Now, repressing emotions is a Goofus thing, writes Beck. In 2021, "Goofus is the one telling another kid to stop crying while Gallant affirms that it’s okay to cry, and asks a sad friend if he wants to talk about what’s bothering him."

Editor Christine French Cully says Highlights is trying to break the good-bad binary. We try to "be clear that Goofus is not all bad, and Gallant is not all good,” she said. Goofus "is just often making choices that aren’t thoughtful or safe.”

A line at the top of each strip reads: “There’s some of Goofus and Gallant in us all. When the Gallant shines through, we show our best self.”

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Jul 03, 2023

G&G was the first thing *everyone* read in Highlights :-)

I'm pretty sure I prefer the old G&G to the new, if what you've shown here is any indication.


Jul 02, 2023

If our culture promoted morals, all sorts of institutions would look bad. Instead, we promote the idea that there is no real right or wrong, just opposing viewpoints. Thus, mirabile dictu, no one looks bad (well, except those nasty conservatives, who are just beyond redemption).

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