In a time when every day seems to bring new news of another political cartoonist being laid off, asked to accept a buy out or simply being dropped from newspapers, I suppose it’s somewhat heartening to see people getting worked up over the occasional political cartoon, whether it’s a cartoonist comparing Obama to Jim Jones or a mugger/murderer, or simply someone drawing a tasteless picture of a dead chimpanzee.
These cartoons aren’t all well drawn, and I don’t think any of them are funny or, you know, good, but still—they provoked a reaction, and that in and of itself is something, isn’t it? At least they demonstrate that political cartoons are not just part of the white noise of newspapers that everyone ignores, you know?
Of the three, the Sean Delonas dead chimpanzee picture is the one that received the most attention, perhaps in large part because of who was expressing outrage over it, and the fact that he was presuming to be expressing outrage on the behalf of the president of the United States.
As is often the case, Tom “Comicsreporter.com” Spurgeon has a very thorough round-up of various pieces on the story, but to recap: Delonas drew a cartoon depicting two police officers standing over a dead chimpanzee they had apparently just shot and killed, a reference to the story of a pet chimpanzee in Connecticut mauling a woman and attacking police officers before being shot to death. One of them says to the other, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
In Delonas’ defense (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d type), it seems pretty clear that this unfunny political cartoon was using a recent news story (the chimpanzee attack) to make a point about another (stimulus bill). The latter, the logic goes, was such a bad piece of legislation that it was apparently written by an insane chimpanzee. (Ha…?)
To take umbrage at the interpretation of it as a racist gag aimed at President Barack Obama at all, as some have, seems a little racist in itself to me.
I mean, can’t a crappy political cartoonist say a piece of legislation seems like it was written by an insane chimpanzee in one of his crappy political cartoons without people wondering if he’s talking about the new president, who is black, and, since racists have compared black folks to apes for centuries in this country, then obviously this particular cartoonist must be saying the same thing…? (Personally, I thought making a joke about a dead animal was pretty tasteless, and making a joke about a police shooting of any kind in New York a rather dicey proposition—you better have a damn funny punchline if you’re going out on that limb).
Certainly everyone is free to get as offended as they want about whatever they want, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that readers not blame the cartoonist for their own readings of his or her work. We’re still only in the first few weeks of Obama’s presidency; we’ve got another four to eight years to get through, so perhaps we should save some of the outrage for condemning things that are truly outrageous.
Of course, Delonas has a reputation for making “jokes” that are basically just slurs against large segments of society, so perhaps many people feel less generous about giving him the benefit of the doubt here than they might have given a different political cartoonist. Gawker, for example, has compiled some of his more loathsome cartoons here.
Given how up front he is about making fun of gay folks or overweight people in those, I think it’s safe to assume that if he really had any desire to call black people apes, he would have been more direct about it.
The Post ran an apology today, targeted specifically at “those who were offended by the image,” but drawing a line at apologizing to those “in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past” who “see the incident as an opportunity for payback.”
That is, hopefully, the end of this particular cartoontroversy. Any takers on how long until the next one? Three days? Six? A whole fortnight?