Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Making a Monkey of Obama!: The Power of the Political Cartoon

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.


Anonymous said...

I love how ppl always made bush look like a monkey and no one said a word about it but now that its the saint obama, how dare they. its not racist, its funny and obama supporters cant handle criticism.

KaraokeFanboy said...

I hear you, but two quick points:

1. Cartoonists made Bush look like a monkey, but this strip makes Obama THE monkey. Further . . .

2. Black people have been called porch monkeys and jungle bunnies by racists for DECADES. The cartoonist could've avoided the parallel and should've known that this historical racism would've overshadowed any legitimate criticism he had.

How about a pic with a monkey on Obama's back, the police ready to fire, and the Prez holding up his hands, saying, "Don't shoot!" Go so far as to label the monkey "the economy," as political comics label their metaphors all the time. Or maybe, "Don't shoot, I need his help!" That combines the two news stories with the same message and dodges the implication that Obama IS a monkey.

How hard is that?

Nick Marino said...

i think the saddest thing about this comic isn't even it's potentially bigoted reference -- it's that there's no joke, just name calling. if there is a joke in there somewhere in even the slightest manner, i don't get it. all i see is an insult in comic form, and it's not even a clever insult. maybe the idea is that Obama's a "dangerous pet" of the Democratic party? does that even make sense as an analogy?

Anonymous said...

I don't see any racism in this comic. I had heard about it, but after looking at it I see that it's in reference to the people writing the bill. We all know that Obama isn't the one writing the bill. We all have also heard the monkey punching keys on a typewriter joke. It's this monkey that is writing the bill, not Obama.

Anonymous said...

This comic just goes to show that some things have nevr changed, we are just more polite!!

Its racest garbage!!

Anonymous said...

Remember the controversial situation a few months ago where the Spanish Basketball team made slanty-eyed impressions of Asians?

If you're unfamiliar with the event, you can read it here:

The OCA (representing Asians) stated disappointment, but almost everyone in voting polls said it wasn't a big deal.

Some say the Asians were being too sensitive and that the Spaniards weren't mocking them. But the very fact that the Spaniards were seen laughing as they did such impressions, implied that they found such looks 'funny' or 'entertaining'. We've all been to elementary school, and such impressions were almost always made to insult or tease the poor Asian kid.

Now a similar situation happens to the African-American community (a much larger than the Asian community in the US), and it immediately causes an uproar. Because as we know, there are strength in numbers. And minorities don't have that strength, so if we choose to mock them, there's nothing they can do about it.

This very example proves the discrimination against minorities.

Darkness U.S.A said...

the cartoon is more stupid than racist, stupid on the part that the creator did not think it through. it is a giant leap to think that everyone knows that Obama did not write the stimulus bill because he and he alone is being shown as the architect of it recently and he will get the blame for its failure. any other words would have resulted in no controversy (the word congress on the monkeys chest,the word stimulus bill on its chest coupled with the officer saying "i guess they will have to come up with a new bill")taken at face value the cartoon says what it says Obama is the dead chimp but worse no attempts have been made to explain the meaning of the cartoon only a half hearted apology by the editor.