Feb 19
Racist?  Us?

Racist? Us?

It’s hardly shocking that the New York Post is again making news with anything but its journalism (it’s well known no one puts the “blo” in tabloid quite like the Post), but I have to admit that this one is a doozy even for them. I’m not going to repost the cartoon (I don’t think the thing needs even more exposure), but in case you haven’t heard about this dust-up: the Post published an editorial cartoon on Wednesday showing two white cops, one holding a gun, standing over the bullet-ridden body of a chimpanzee. One of the cops, looking rather befuddled, says “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

Hilarious, right?

But it gets better. Confronted with the utterly predictable backlash–from people who suggested that the cartoon might seem, you know, a bit racist and all, given the historical stereotype of African-Americans being represented as monkeys, and, you know, a bit illegal and all, given that the real force behind the stimulus bill was President Obama, himself an African-American, and so the implied threat is pretty obvious, and, you know, a bit ethically horrendous and all, given the history of African-American abuse at the hands of white police–the Post didn’t issue a typically weak apology, making bland references to the First Amendment before sneaking away to hide under a rock. No, confronted with the firestorm of controversy, the Post instead decided to double down:

“The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.”

Offensiveness this, bitches!

Now I’ll fully concede that Al Sharpton is probably not the ideal person to be issuing statements about, well, anything, and particularly considering his own shaky record on telling the truth when it comes to racial matters he probably would have been well served to lay low on this one. But who chooses to criticize something really doesn’t have anything to do with the legitimacy of the criticism, and so I don’t really think this is much of a defense. More important are the first two sentences, which tries to link the cartoon to the recent chimpanzee attack in Connecticut and financial crisis and skirts the racial question altogether. I say “skirts” the question, because it actually doesn’t repudiate the criticism directly. In fact, it doesn’t have anything to say about the racial elements at all. Whether it’s a “parody” of a current news event (and by the way, what exactly is there that’s subject for parody in the chimp attack? Did it qualify as a Stupid Pet Trick in the cartoonist’s mind?) or is “broadly mocking” the stimulus package, these things have nothing to do with whether or not the cartoon was racist. The silence on this point is deafening.

But fine, let’s assume the cartoon was racist–again, hardly shocking coming from the cartoonist Delonas, who’s been reflecting his boss’s views for a long time now. The guy’s a no-talent bastard and should be fired, the newspaper should be (if possible) even more ignored than it is now, and on we go, right? But the real problem is the implied defense of the cartoon–it’s satire, stupid, don’t you get it?

Uh, no. No, I don’t, actually.

First of all, parody isn’t satire. Certainly there are parodic elements within a satirical work. But satire is intended to be subtle and clever, not stupid and obvious. Quite apart from the racial overtones (and a political cartoonist would have to be utterly tone-deaf not to recognize them in his work, even if he somehow wasn’t intending them to begin with), the cartoon takes two utterly disconnected events and ties them together in an entirely meaningless way. Is the point that white people hate stimulus package makers? Or that a monkey could have written something better than the lawmakers in Washington? It might be mocking something–racist cops, crazy chimps, stimulus package writers–but God knows what.

Second, and this is probably the most important issue, satire is intended to instruct through its example. What precisely is being taught here? What’s the lesson? Watch out if you create a stimulus package, or a couple of white cops will gun you down in the street?

Look, I’m all for good satire. And there isn’t any figure too important to be mocked. But when you produce something neither funny nor tasteful, which doesn’t make sense in any but the most offensive context and even at that is absurdly stupid, hiding behind the shield of “it’s obviously just parody” and “Al Sharpton is a publicity hound” is about as obnoxious as it gets. But given the fact that a public apology seems unlikely, I’d accept bankruptcy from the Post.

Now that would be funny.