February 9, 2006

Frankly, radical Islamists are the only people who could get me to side with editorial cartoonists

dario.jpg In the discussion following my recent post on the Cartoon Wars I mentioned my belief that 90 percent of editorial cartoonists are unforgivable hacks. Rare indeed is the editorial cartoon that makes me laugh, much less Think. Maybe it's the form. Any joke that requires big labels to explain itself is pretty much doomed from the start. It's become de rigeur when either attacking the Danish cartoons or defending them in principle to add that as cartoons they are insipid, unfunny, and thuddingly obvious. Well, what editorial cartoons aren't?

Daryl Cagle has a 20-page collection of editorial cartoonists' response to the cartoon wars. I found two (reprinted here) that I liked. One (from Mexico) is incisive in its simplicity, the other funny for daring, as none of the others do, to actually risk a little blasphemy. Very little, to be sure, but remember, we're living through a moment in which the ombudsman for the Chicago Tribune can defend the paper's decision not to run the Muhammad cartoons by saying that it also wouldn't quote somebody saying Jesus Christ as an interjection. The other hundred or so cartoons tread the familiar A-B emotional and satirical terrain of all editorial cartoons, and only a small handful actually risk a depiction of Muhammad. As with any topic, certain ideas are repeated over and over again. Fucking hacks. (OK, maybe there are more good ones that I missed. I didn't force myself to look at all 20 pages. I'll take some risks for my blogging, but I do have a family to think of).

I don't know how many of these will run in US papers. But if any do, it will be that much harder for the media to use quality as one of its excuses not to reprint the Danish cartoons.


Posted by Daniel Radosh


That wasn’t a random comparison for Don Wycliff. In September, he wrote a column opposing a story that quoted a man saying “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation. I wrote Don after that first column ran, arguing that a journalist’s role is to make sure readers have enough information to fully understand a story, not to worry if readers will be offended by a story. He wrote back, “Thanks....dw”

I suspect I didn’t get the point across.

Yeah, I never understood why anyone thinks cartoons are effective from of political commentary. But the Hagar the Horrible one did make me laugh.

It's hard to believe now -- I forgot when I first wrote this post -- but ten years ago I nearly persuaded Frank Rich that he had an obligation to use the phrase "fucking us blue" in the Times after it appeared in some memo from the Clinton White House. He was very open to my argument, which was the same as Jason's. He didn't actually follow through, but can you imagine it even being considered today?

Even that Jesus cartoon isn't very original, since South Park did an episode last year that took place partly in heaven, and all the angels kept saying "Goddammit" or "Jesus Christ" whenever anything bad happened.

Of course you're right, Jesse. I included it because people who read editorial cartoons don't watch South Park or engage in any other form of post 19th-century culture, except Sudoku.

I think the cartoons are based on anti-semite tropes and are pretty damn offensive. Papers have the right to print offensive, racist cartoons, but usually they don't. The fact that they excercised their right to be jackasses doesn't make it a good editorial decision, or mean that they're not racist.

These cartoons first came out in September 05, and there were months of peaceful demonstrations and requests for formal apologies from the newspapers involved.

The 'arab street' gave many opportunities for the free press and western governments to resolve this issue peacefully. Iran's competing offensive cartoon contest is a perfect tit-for-tat. Give credit where credit is due.

Dunno if you got all the way to page 9, but I'll stand up for this one from our Philly treasure, Signe Wilkinson:


I think it makes much the same point as the toilet one without introducing an unnecessary performance-art element ("look how 'disrespectful' I can be, too!").

Mimi - your implication that "Western governments" should have stepped in when "the free press" declined to apologize makes me suspect that you don't really believe in the concept of a free press at all. And just so we're clear, what's the exact number of months of hurt feelings that have go by before you're allowed to torch buildings and commit murder? Four, five? I think that would be a good thing to get into the legal code at the very least. You say you find the cartoons pretty damn offensive. That's your perfect right, and it's your perfect right to express it verball here or anywhere else. But have you burned anything or killed anyone? Would you? No matter how offended you were? I doubt it, and I think that your characterization of the 'arab street' as a seething mob that can only be restrained for so long before they go wild is, well, racist.

As for why Iran's contest is in no way a perfect reposite, read Kinsley today:

"The other problem with his little joke about double standards, and with the whole supposedly mordant comparison between denying the Holocaust and portraying the prophet, is that the offended Muslims do not want a world where people are free to do both. They don't even want a world where people are not free to do either, which would at least be consistent. They want a world where you may not portray the Prophet Mohammed (even flatteringly, slaying infidels or whatnot) but you may deny the Holocaust all day long."

In response to the news that an Iranian newspaper would be running cartoons denying the Holocaust, Jews all over the world shrugged and went about their day. Meanwhile, in Iran, the people continued to long for freedom.

If that was what Iran was going for, Mimi, then I agree it was a well-played response.


Maybe you can answer this question for me because it's been puzzling me all week.

How exactly is "Iran's competing offensive cartoon contest" offering a prize for the best anti-semitic cartoon "a perfect tit-for-tat?"

Last time I checked, Denmark was inhabited and run mainly by white, Christian people, many with blonde hair. The offending Muhammad cartoons weren't published in Ha'aretz or the Forward. Sure, OK, I know, the Jews run the media. But even in Denmark?

It seems to me that an anti-Danish cartoon contest would really be the most fitting "tit-for-tat" here. If a cartoonist wanted to spread out a little bit creatively and submit some anti-Scandinavian cartoons, I think that would be fair. But explain to me how an anti-Jewish cartoon contest is the equal and opposite response to this Danish cartoon contest? Really, I thought the Jews were in the clear on this one. I couldn't believe it when I heard that this one was our fault too.

Instead of "Jesus," is it okay to say "Kanye"?

The Iran Holocaust-cartoon contest is stupid -- of course. But the larger point is that the West has iconography that goes beyond the pale, too. As M. Kimmelman wrote in the NYT, certain images have a talismanic quality, to either make people humble, joyful, appalled, etc.

Put aside the Iran contest -- a swastika gives me, at least, a visceral reaction of disgust. I generally don't like to see them. And if they're being flaunted about to make a political point -- regardless of whether that point is pro-Israel or anti-Israel, pro- or anti-America -- I hate it, and think it's really irresponsible.

Of course it's true: I won't go burn a building down to show my response. That's an inane, irresponsible protest. But I also haven't believed myself to have been repressed by the hypothetical group bandying about the swastika. Sadly, this episode has become a surrogate for larger claims of mistreatment -- regardless of whether you accept those claims.

As for the retards who want to want to attack all of Denmark, or the West for that matter, blow shit up, hurt people and shut-down all free-speech on the matter, I have no defense of them. But I suspect a large number of others simply don't want their traditions to be the object people throw about to demonstrate their own, separate principles -- without much consideration as to whether that's annoying to another community. So you have a functionalist purpose, that's it -- whether it's painful to you is secondary. Your tradition is bandied about to make a point. Is to be annoyed by that so wrong?

John K,

It's good that you are capable of being so empathetic and understanding of the forces of anti-comic. This sort of empathy is clearly what is more needed in the world today. Rest assured, however, that the folks who are inciting the burning of down embassies over these cartoons have absolutely no empathy or understanding for you and infidels like you. Whereas your world can accomodate these people, their world has absolutely no place for you.

Would it have been funnier for the pencil to have been holding a "no erasers" sign?

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