Of Cartoons, Chimps , and Context
When reading a story about police in Stamford, Connecticut having to kill an escaped chimpanzee who mauled and disfigured a womanand left her in critical condition, what's your first reaction?
In the case of New York Post cartoonist Sean Delonas, it was to draw this:
Upon seeing the cartoon above, my first thought was the same as many people's:
"How the fuck did this thing ever see print?"
Even if Mr. Delonas was either too clueless to see the offensiveness of his cartoon or too malicious to care, doesn't the Post have editors? Surely, somebody could have seen the problems with the cartoon and stepped in.
Delonas and those same editors claim the original intent of the cartoon was to use the chimpanzee incident to state that the stimulus bill was so bad, a monkey could have written it. Here's an essential rule of comedy: With very few exceptions, if you have to explain the joke, the joke failed.
The only aspect of this story that initially gave me pause was the apparent comparison, intentional or otherwise, between President Obama and a chimpanzee.
The idea of comparing a sitting President to a chimpanzee is unheard of.
That is, if you missed the previous 8 years.
Over that period I've visited several liberal blogs like Huffington Post, Democratic Underground, and the like, and without fail I've seen those message board posters give George W. Bush such colorful nicknames as "Chimpy", "Smirking Chimp", and "Commander-in-Chimp". In fact, entire websites have been dedicated to this comparison. So what makes this Post cartoon so different?
A few things:
1. The New York Post is a major metropolitan newspaper for one of the largest and most influential cities in the world. That's a hell of a difference between that and some schmuck on a message board or his/her own blog. For one thing, the Post staff is getting paid for their work.
2. Context! Context! Context!
Sure, Mr. Bush has endured several chimp comparisons. But has he or any of his recent ancestors been legally regarded as subhuman without even the most basic civil rights until a few decades ago? Has he or any of his family ever been pulled over for "Driving While White"? Has he ever had to endure police brutality based solely on the color of his skin?
Doubtful. But many African-Americans have over the years. And that's just 100+ years after slavery ended.
In short, there's a lot more baggage behind the imagery in Obama's case, not to mention African-Americans in general. And if Delonas couldn't see that, his editors should have.