As a comic book fan, I often underestimate the importance of the political cartoon. Often placed in the most sophisticated sections of the paper, like "Business" or "Opinion," the political cartoon takes the comic dynamic of word and image interplay and presents to the most general audience ever, and presumably those smart enough to keep up with current events and relevant social dialogue. So, I shouldn't be surprised that a political cartoon has sparked such a fervent debate today.
Consider this piece that appeared in The New York Times.
Yes. I've already showed the piece to a few different people, and they all react the same way. "Oh, it's calling Obama a monkey." I usually don't cry racism in a crowded theater, but, man, this political cartoon is racist! Now, political cartoonists only get one panel a day, and in this twenty-four news cycle world, I know they often try to kill a few birds with one gag. Still, likening the monkey shot in Connecticut for mauling a woman with the President's attempt to stimulate the economy . . . I can't even think of a just comparison that isn't racist!
The Times editor is defending the strip and claiming that outraged parties like Reverend Al Sharpton are merely seeking publicity, which he is, but if the point isn't racism, what is it? That Obama's stimulus package is so stupid, monkeys helped him work on it? Even if the President weren't black, a trait that carries the historical racist comparison to monkeys, this punchline would be weak at best. The cartoonist should've realized that his connection between these stories would pale to the negative impression his strip might have, even unintended. This isn't a grand leap; it's simple algebra. If Monkey = Stimulus Package, and Stimulus Package = President Obama, then Monkey = President Obama. This is common sense.
In a world where Don Imus is fired for say the word "nappy-headed," pop culture's opinion makers and proclaimers need to choose their words wisely. When those words are tied to an image, as in the beloved nature of the comic, the responsibility is doubled. Yeah, yeah -- they just have to live with that monkey on their backs.