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The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week

1. DaimlerChrysler's Jeep Tricks

It was a nice gesture by Jeep manufacturer DaimlerChrysler (DCX) this week to mourn the death of cartoonist Bill Mauldin. But we at the lab object to how the company rewrote history in the process. Or, more precisely, redrew it.

Some words of explanation for all of you tykes out there. Back during World War II, Sgt. Mauldin became a folk hero among his fellow soldiers, thanks to the series of cartoons he drew for the armed forces newspaper Stars and Stripes. Revolving around two beaten-down infantrymen, Willie and Joe, the cartoons depicted war on the European front from the ground level -- not heroic clashes, but a perpetual quest for a decent night's sleep and a dry pair of socks. Mauldin's cartoons were popular enough to incur the wrath of Gen. George Patton, who Mauldin said accused him of lowering the Army's morale.

And somewhere in the middle of it all, Mauldin won a Pulitzer Prize for his cartoons, with the Pulitzer's board calling special attention to his ironically illustrated panel titled "Fresh, spirited American troops, flushed with victory, are bringing in thousands of hungry, ragged, battle-weary prisoners. (News item)."

In short, here was a guy who achieved greatness by drawing life as he saw it, not as the sanitized version others may have wanted him to see. Check out his portfolio on Stars and Stripes' Web site and judge for yourself.

Anyway, let's skip ahead to this past Monday, five days after Mauldin died at the age of 81.

There in The New York Times we see a full-page advertisement paying tribute to Mauldin -- an ad placed by DaimlerChrysler, whose Jeeps played supporting and even starring roles in many of Mauldin's wartime cartoons. (Well, the semi-Stuttgart-based manufacturer didn't own Jeep during WWII, but that's not relevant to this story.)

"With great sadness, the Jeep brand says goodbye to the great cartoonist who immortalized the heroic enlisted men of WWII," reads the ad. And above that farewell to Mauldin, the ad reproduces a classic Mauldin Jeep-centric cartoon: a GI, shielding his eyes with sadness, reaching for a box of tissues sitting on the hood of a Jeep.




Artistic Driver's License
From shoot to sanitized

Oops. There's a little problem here. That cartoon, which DaimlerChrysler duplicated in loving tribute, is not, in fact, Mauldin's original cartoon.

In the original version, you see, the soldier isn't reaching for a box of tissues. There's no box on the hood. Instead, the soldier's outstretched hand holds a pistol pointed at the hood of the Jeep. Reluctantly, the soldier is about to shoot his vehicle in the hood.

See, that's the joke. The left front wheel of the Jeep has collapsed, you might notice. It's the WWII equivalent of a horse that has broken its leg. The heartbroken rider must shoot the horse in the head and put him out of its misery.

So, there you have it. In paying tribute to Mauldin, DaimlerChrysler has completely glossed over the dark humor that was an essential part of his appeal. They're preserving his memory by changing his work. And we don't like it.

Admittedly, we're alone on this issue right now. A spokeswoman for Stars and Stripes, which owns the copyright on the cartoon, says that the publication has no problem with the revised cartoon.

And DaimlerChrysler is proud of the changes it made especially for the ad. "We thought it was a pretty clever way to pay our respects to a great cartoonist," says a spokesman. "I really think it's a bit more eyecatching when you make that slight change and convey that emotion about his work, and how he characterized the Jeep vehicle and its role in the war, and how we feel about his passing. ... I don't think it denigrates his work at all. It really pays homage to his life."

We at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab disagree. We don't want Mauldin to be like a box of tissues, sanitized for our protection.

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