February 18, 2009

Also, "Offensive Delonas Cartoon" is more of a Dog Bites Man story than Chimp Bites Woman

My mother and I jumped back with a start and saw a big, hairy creature with a small, flat head and long, menacing arms drop onto a low branch.

"A monkey!" I shouted.

"An ape," my mother corrected.

—Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father, p. 33

chimpcartoon460.jpg Egged on by Al Sharpton, numerous media outlets today — including Gawker, Editor & Publisher, the Chicago Tribune, Portfolio, Huffington Post, and TMZ — are stating or suggesting that New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas is racist because he drew a cartoon equating Barack Obama with a monkey.

This is flatly untrue. The cartoon depicts a chimpanzee, which is an ape. Apes are not monkeys. In related news, zebras are not horses. Also, Curious George is not a monkey. If you remember only one thing about this controversy, let it be this: monkeys have tails, apes do not.

As for the controversy itself, I have to say that I've been reading Sean Delonas for many, many years, and his offensive cartoons are not usually nearly this subtle. The fact that people even have to ask, "Did he mean to convey...?" suggests to me that he probably didn't. My gut feeling is that Delonas saw a story about a monkey (as he would likely have thought) and his hack brain leapt right to "a monkey could have..." after which he plugged in the default "THING DEMOCRATS HAVE RECENTLY DONE" parameter. Several people have pointed out that Obama didn't even write the stimulus bill, but to me that's less relevant than the belief that Delonas' hack circuits trump his racist ones (though not his homophobic ones, obviously). Maybe he did intend the racist overtones, or at least notice them later. Maybe he didn't. Either way, the deeper fault here lies with the editor who failed to realize that regardless of Delonas' intent, people would take it that way, with some justification, and that it shouldn't have run.

I would hope that it's not necessary to point out that such a decision would clearly constitute editing, rather than censorship. What I will point out is that as far as I can tell, every media outlet that has expressed outrage over this inexcusably offensive cartoon is, nonetheless, reprinting it for their own readers to see and evaluate. That's as it should be -- and as it wasn't when the cartoons were only offensive to Islamic fundamentalists.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Everybody's got something to hide, except me and my open disregard for zoology in the name of stupid puns.

This comic would be much funnier if the cop were saying something like, "They'll have to find someone else to edit the Weekly Standard," or "Oh shit, I thought that was Amadou Diallo."

When I first saw it I totally didn't make the chimp-bite story connection and thought there had been another cop shooting of a black man. THAT would have been in keeping with SD's usual level of subtlety.

Before you go off teaching biology, Bertrand Russel...

Apes never have tails.

Curious George doesn't have a tail.

Is Curious George an Ape?

Or... is it possible he's a Macaque or Rhesus Monkey?

I think to make a final pronouncement we'd have to open his mouth and count his molars.

(Truth be told he looks a lot more like a Chimpanzee than a Macaque)

Finally, a Sean Delonas cartoon I can relate to.

"Is it possible macaque is a Curious George?" is my signature pick-up line.

What really offends me is Delonas comparing Congress to that chimp. That's just mean. At least the chimp knew how to turn on a computer.

I'm surprised no one's mentioned that the ape (very well then) is being displayed as having been violently killed. Whether it's meant to be Obama or an anonymous economist/legislative analyst that drafted the bill (and of course I'm sure that even the first draft was the product of many individuals), that alone should have been enough to merit pulling the cartoon.

Also, the incident this was based on was, um, really really not funny.

I liked this post the first time I read it...

Oh but wait! Clearly they're not the same, because I forgot to add the false equivalence of a hack tabloid cartoonist's unwittingly exposing his own racism with an explicit project to stir hatred by intentionally violating specific pictorial taboos. My bad.

Yes, yes, Vance can have the hat-tip. But allow me to spell out AGAIN that the other issue I'm concerned with is not the original publication of either the Delonas or the Muhammed cartoons but the decision of publications covering the controversy to reprint the cartoon or not.

Reprinting the Delonas cartoon -- especially while condemning it as hateful -- but not reprinting the others is essentially an acknowledgment that the more insane and prone to violence a group is, the more we will cede editorial control to them.

Actually, zebras are equids, members of the horse family.

I wish I could take a more rational, measured approach to this, but damn are my buttons getting the hell pressed out of them. I agree, the editor should consider the likely career trajectory before him or her as one that oversees the obituaries. However, the POST has allowed so much 'talent' to ride roughshod for so long that we may have to wait for something truly vicious to see print before appropriate action can be taken.

What would it take, a presidential portrait with pronounced protruding lips to get this guy sacked?

well put, Radosh

What's truly insulting to the President, and perhaps to black people in general, is the assumption that he is a special case and needs to be protected from the types of political cartoons that have always been directed at American politicians. The true insult is the implication that Obama can't handle it, and we need to shelter his fragile self-esteem by cesnsoring (or "editing" if you will) a political cartoonist.

@Wayne. While I agree that Obama doesn't need and shouldn't get protection from satirists, I think you're missing a pretty crucial point: if a cartoonist were to depict him as a monkey it would *mean* something different than depicting Bush as a monkey -- something that would make the target of the cartoon not just Obama, but black people in general. It would be, you know, racist. Not because attacking Obama is racist but because the history of racist depictions of black people doesn't just go away now that we have a black president.

You can draw Bush as a monkey and the conveyed message is "Bush is dumb." But as much as someone might like to pretend otherwise, that would NOT be the only conveyed message of depicting Obama as such. It wouldn't even be the primary message. If a cartoonist did want to depict Obama as dumb by drawing him as a monkey, he would actually be undermining his own cartoon, since no one would read it that way.

Draw Obama as a greedy octopus or a blood-sucking vampire or any other cartoon cliché and no one will complain.

And if your argument is actually that newspapers *should* print racist cartoons because black people are tough enough to take it... well, good luck with that.

FWIW, I recently argued with an editor that it was appropriate to depict Obama as a basketball player having his shot blocked by Congressional Republicans. It was a good metaphor, Obama famously does play basketball, we'd depicted Bush playing football and boxing and so on. The editor ruled against me because there's a stereotype about blacks playing basketball. I still think that's overly-sensitive, but its the editor's job to make such calls. Since readers were in no way harmed by not printing the image, that too is editing rather than censorship.

"that newspapers *should* print racist cartoons because black people are tough enough to take it"...of course that is not my argument. but point taken. ultimately I think the cartoon wasn't thought out very well. but I don't think the guy was trying to be racist. I just think he was succeeding at being stupid.

your point about editing's not being the same as censorship is the best thing I've come across in re this story.

you write: "Draw Obama as a greedy octopus or a blood-sucking vampire or any other cartoon cliché and no one will complain."

good luck with that, indeed.

That's a good analysis, Daniel, but it leaves out something Obama's administration can't help but bring to the fore: Cartooning is a language, with established meanings and associations for both terms and icons, and it is absolutely a racist and sexist language.

Draw a simple, unmarked human, and that person is, by default, a white male. You need to "mark" it with, say, a bow in the hair or colored-in skin to make it otherwise. Thus editorial cartoonists need to consciously work against this if they don't want to prepetuate the prejudice that was ubiquitous back when the language got established.

When I was drawing my political cartoon for an alternative weekly I constantly asked myself, does this character need to be a white male, or can I insert some diversity here? Very often the answer was "no," because the character was doing something negative, and "marking" them as a particular race or gender would tacitly make an association between a class of people and a behavior.

Obviously, Delonas doesn't work quite that way. But it's not just him. As your basketball story shows, there's no clear road map on how to proceed here and maintain cartooning's right to vilify, mock and exaggerate. This is going to be an interesting era to watch.

(I disagree, BTW, with that editor, and will parse it thus: Depicting Obama shooting a basket while wearing a basketball outfit would be more racist than political. Showing him shooting the basket while dressed in presidential attire would be more political than - if at all - racist.)

celebrate your inner chimp

What is shocking about Delonas' cartoons is their sheer, consistent witlessness. I could laugh at one of my own blatantly stereotyped (in fact I have) when there is actually a joke and a punch line, and some effort at accurate observation and wicked exaggeration.

My take on Delonas? He is barely a mediocrity, an unwitting dupe, encouraged by his masters to indulge his narrow-minded sensibilities. Rupert Murdoch's New York Post has always preached to the choir with garden variety racism as if its readers live in a 1953 suburban fantasy.

Fuck them all.

My husband and I have spent the last day or two scratching our heads about the way that media outlets have handled this cartoon (and the New Yorker cover awhile ago) by reprinting the cartoon over and over again, as opposed to how it took us HOURS to track down the images involved in the Islamic cartoon fiasco a few years ago. I'm glad somebody else has thought the same thing!! (And I'm glad somebody else remembers the incident lol).

Well said. Hear, hear!

i feel sorry for the president's children having to see a negative, racist article that was "unintentionally-intentionally" meant to be their father shot on the lawn. for those 2 girls, that is a possible, fearful reality that this cartoon is not only bringing out to the forefront but it maybe the catalyst that triggers this behavior off in someone's head and it should be discussed out in the open so america CAN SEE AMERICA and not hide.

i don't understand racists people. when a black person does bad, they complain that black people are no good...
when a black person does good, they want to kill them for doing good...i don't understand...

Interesting hypothetical question: If you drew Rod Blagojevic as a vampire, would it be seen as a negative characterization of Eastern European Americans?

You could draw him as an octopus, with his greedy tentacles into everything.

Tabula, baby:

Safe to say, Eastern European Americans have a history distinct from the African American experience. (See: Parks, Rosa; Till, Emmett, Carter, Rubin...et. al.)

Jass Sayin:

You are absolutely right. The Delonas cartoon is offensive in a way that a cartoon depicting Blagojevic as a vampire would not be.

When I saw the cartoon, I was amazed that it was ever published. It's like the Posts's editors were asleep at their desks when that one went through.

Maybe the real problem is that we all spend way too much time worrying about whether or not something is racist, which usually is what makes it racist in the first place. The cartoon is a cop who shot an ape. Maybe it is double blow to cops and congressman?
Preemptive editing in the name of protecting those who may be offended is offensive to me. Yet somehow I am not allowed to be offended, being a white guy and all. Seriously, take preemptive editing out to its logical conclusion and anyone publishing anything, anywhere, is in for some hard times.
Since the Mohamed cartoon was mentioned in the comments, it's worth pointing out that South Park (the cartoon) depicted Mohamed a couple years before the infamous cartoon, as part of the Super Friends, along with Jesus. Seems that flew well under the radar. Guess no one really does watch Comedy Central...

Julius Streicher was hung at Nuremburg. Never personally killed one Jew, but oh, those cartoons! Dehumanization through propaganda, convincing the majority it is not just allowed, but necessary to persecute the minority "other." Delonas of course is no Streicher. Streicher actually had talent and cognitive ability.

Post a comment

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2