Cartoons, Chimps, and Scared White People
Yesterday, in a surprisingly foolish move, New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas attempted to somehow use the story of the Unfortunate Chimpanzee Incident in Connecticut as a visual segue to some sort of commentary on politics. Although, I’m not entirely sure what point was being made.
The reference to writing the next stimulus bill seems to me to be a clear reference to Pres. Obama. He is, after all the guy the guy who’s been out pushing for the thing since day one. They guy who tried to get Republicans and Democrats together to vote for it a bipartisan fashion. The number one cheerleader. He is inextricably linked in the public’s mind with the stimulus bill. We even call it the Obama Stimulus Bill. So, who, then are we supposed to think this cartoon is referring to? Who else could we reasonably infer it refers to?
Now, Obama isn’t the first president who’s been the butt of Chimp references.
He is, however, the first president whose racial heritage includes centuries of invidious comparisons to the great apes.
Which is a shame, actually, because for reasons entirely unrelated to his race, Pres. Obama has a physical feature that is perfect for comparison to a chimp. His ears.
I mean, have you seen them? They are Ferengi-class ears. Lyndon Johnson’s soundhorns were practically unnoticeable by comparison. Sarah Palin may be able to see Russia from her place in Alaska, but with those satellite dishes Mr. Obama carts around on his skull, I bet he hears the occasional Da, and Khorosho! from the bowels of the Kremlin while sitting in the Oval Office. I don’t think Mr Obama is Jesus, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that he does hear it every time a sparrow falls.
But, irrespective of the comedy gold that could be mined from Pres. Obama’s unfortunate auricular appendages, and unlike Mr. Bush, who had some relatively chimp-like expressions, a major newspaper can’t make those same references to any African-American, much less the president of the United States, and expect to elide past the deserved criticism for it.
How then could the cartoonist possibly be blind to the possible inferences that would be drawn? And for that matter, what of the vaunted “layers of editors” the mainstream media employs? The cartoon didn’t raise any red flags in the mind of the Page 6 Editor? the Op/Ed Editor? The Managing Editor?
I simply can’t believe that the staff of a major newspaper were blissfully unaware that even an oblique Obama/chimpanzee reference would be…troublesome. And even if they did, you’d think the dead president reference might raise a red flag or two in the publisher’s suite, wouldn’t you?
Combining that into the dead chimpanzee president has to be almost the apex of bad judgment by a major media outlet.
But, once the cat was out of the bag, the Right couldn’t leave it alone. Instead, the defenders of the cartoon jumped in with their explanations. Her, for example, is John Hinderaker at Powerline:
Readers of the Huffington Post and–who else?–Al Sharpton construe the cartoon as a possibly racist attack on President Obama…There are several problems with this critique. Most obviously, Obama didn’t write the “stimulus” bill. If anyone is being called a chimp, it is Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
And yet, we don’t call it the Pelosi-Reid Stimulus Bill, do we? How terribly odd. This defense of the cartoon is little short of obtuse.
And Post Editor-n Chief Col Allen isn’t any more convincing.
“The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut,” Allan said in a statement. “It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.”
I yield to no man in my contempt for Rev. Sharpton, but this is terribly lame. How, in fact, does this broadly mock the stimulus effort. It can’t be a reference to the bill itself. that bill, unfortunately, is not only not dead, it is now the law of the land. From a political point of view, the passage effort was successful. And why the reference to the person who “wrote” the stimulus bill? That person–if not the actual writer, the primary cheerleader for it–is comfortably ensconced in the Oval Office, savoring his victory on this issue, and moving on to mortgage relief.
The only part of Mr. Allen’s statement with which I agree is that it is, in fact, “is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee”. But to what end? If we assume that it is not a reference to the president, then what, exactly is it about? And why do so many people seem to think it is a reference to the president? Why is there no label on the dead ape so that we can know what it is supposed to represent?
You see, the thing about one-panel political cartooning is that it takes an extraordinary amount of talent to provoke a complicated train of thought from a single, hand-drawn picture. You have to be clear, concise, and often humorous, and make a clear, polemical point in one panel. Somehow, the average person thinks the point is entirely different from what Mr. Allen says it is. And that is, as our Soviet friends used to say, “no coincidence.”
Yesterday morning, before this thing had blown into a full-scale brou-ha-ha, The guys at the Opie and Anthony Show had seen it, and they had their producers out on the street, showing the cartoon to the morning commuters on 57th Street in NYC, and asking them, “What do think this cartoon means?”
What they got was a collection of nervous mumbles that amounted to, “Uh, I don’t really know.” “I can’t say.” “Er, uh, I can’t talk right now”. Oh the passersby had time to read it, but when given the chance to express an opinion about it publicly, all of the sudden it was to dense for them to take in, or they had pressing engagements elsewhere.
Which is an interesting reaction, considering Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech on race, coincidentally given yesterday.
“Though the nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said.
“Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we average Americans simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”
The funniest response to that came from a Jeff Emanuel piece at RedState, which was titled, “Hi There, Eric. I Can’t Help But Notice You’re Black. Let’s Talk About How Black You Are.”
Well, we probably don’t talk enough about race. We don’t have those frank exchanges of racial views. Indeed, we don’t even have humorous public statements about race, even tangentially. Because all it takes is for Dom Imus to say something on the radio like, “That’s some nappy-headed hos right there,” and he’s done. Al Sharpton comes around with a group of lusty, gusty fellows to demand your firing, as soon as he hears about it. And you lose your livelihood, because he’ll get it.
If you’re white, there’s no upside to having a talk about race. You run the risk of accidentally or unknowingly saying something insensitive, at which point the best thing that can happen to you is that you’ll be publicly reviled as some sort of bigoted troll. Why take the risk?
Is that cowardice, or simply the result of a prudent calculation of risks and benefits?
No, the only time we talk about race, is when some buffoon like Sean Delonas makes a public faux pas that can’t be ignored. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.