21 July 2008

Cartoons in the News: Liberal Hypocrisy?

The Nation magazine has bravely published cartoons recently while enduring hostile reactions from easily-offended readers. You'll recall that letter writers complained about one that appeared to mock Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston's affliction with Alzheimer's disease, and a more recent cartoon, also deplored by correspondents, that showed Senator Clinton singing, "Oh Obama! Won't you die for me?" to the tune of "Oh, Susanna!" I defended the magazine on both occasions, but the weekly's newest cartoon, in its August 4 issue, suggests that on certain topics, its editors can dish it out, but can't take it.

The new cartoon is a parody of The New Yorker's now infamous "Politics of Fear" cover from last week. Pretending to be a New Yorker cover itself, Stephff's cartoon also portrays Senator and Mrs. Obama in the Oval Office. The presumptive president has apparently just pumped his fist into the face of Eustace Tilley, the fictional 19th century English dandy who serves as the New Yorker's mascot and graces its anniversary issue.Tilley is on his rear, his hat crumpled, his monocle broken, his eye blackened, his nose dripping blood, his neck in a brace. A tooth lies on the Oval Office floor. Osama bin Laden's portrait remains in place, but has been turned upside down in a gesture the significance of which eludes me. President Obama, in white shirt and blue tie, casts last week's New Yorker into the fireplace. Mrs. Obama wears a red dress with pearls. Playing a sort of ring girl, she holds a card reading, "Round 2."

I take this to be Stephff's way of saying "Taint funny, McGee" to Barry Blitt and the New Yorker editors. Since I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that Stephff is aware of the satirical intention of Blitt's "Politics of Fear" cover, I'll assume that the cartoonist is one of those who believes that the only correct responses to the apparently unkillable "Obama is a secret Muslim" rumor are complete denial or stony silence. The idea must not even be made fun of. I don't really need to assume what Stephff makes explicit on paper -- he believes that someone at The New Yorker needs an ass-whupping because of that cover, and that it would be cool if Obama administered the punishment himself. He offers us the edifying image of a magazine being consigned to the flames.

Now I'm offended. Not to the point of cancelling my subscription to an admirable magazine, but obviously to the point of expressing my disapproval here of what looks pretty plainly like hypocrisy in Obama's interest. The Nation had no problem, nor should it have, with publishing a cartoon portraying Hillary Clinton wishing for Obama's death. That cartoon was more offensive to the person portrayed than "The Politics of Fear" could ever be to Barack Obama. But by publishing "Round Two" this week (and thus implying that last week's New Yorker was "Round One" of what, exactly?) the same editors have clearly signed on to the idea that no cartoonist should show Obama as a secret Muslim, even if the point was plainly to mock the fears of the rumormongers. The "Oh Obama" cartoon and "Round Two" provide pretty strong evidence of a pro-Obama bias on The Nation's part, which can just as easily be read by those so inclined as an anti-Clinton bias. It's not an extreme or uncritical bias, since the weekly has joined the many voices criticizing Obama's tack toward the "center" in recent weeks, but it is a bias that dictates that certain ways of looking at him, such as Barry Blitt's, are off-limits. Perhaps that's only gone into effect as of Obama's attainment of the Democratic nomination, since The Nation, as a rule, is an organ of the American Bipolarchy. But however it's come about, the consequence is a cartoon arguing, albeit symbolically, that another cartoonist ought to be beaten up. That's real hypocrisy, and that's why I'm offended.

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