I normally don't like to weigh in on the drawings of other cartoonists, but the outrage sparked by the deranged chimp cartoon by Sean Delonas of the New York Post begs a comment. The cartoon in question shows two policemen and the body of chimpanzee full of bullet holes. One of the cops is saying, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
First off, I don't know Mr. Delonas. He may be a perfectly wonderful fellow; I generally enjoy the company of cartoonists, regardless of their political bent. I'm good buddies with Mike Ramirez and Scott Stantis, and get along famously with Mike Lester, three of the most rabidly conservative cartoonists in the land. So, trust that what I say isn't colored by any political bias.
How can I put this politely? I've never thought of Delonas as a particularly skillful cartoonist. I've never been partial to his drawings, and I've never seen one of his ideas that I'd wished I'd thought of, the second highest compliment one cartoonist can pay another (the highest is stealing the idea and redrawing it with just enough differences that it can't be called plagiarism). The chimp cartoon is a real puzzler. The story of a crazed monkey being shot by police after attacking a woman isn't the kind of thing I'd gravitate to as an apt metaphor for much of anything, much less for the stimulus package. I generally like my metaphors to have some kind of resonance with the subject at hand, or at least to be in the same solar system. The chimp thing is what we call in the business "a reach." In this case, a very, very long reach.
As I said, I don't know Delonas, so I have no way of gauging if his cartoon was meant to have the racial overtones that have been attributed to it. Many readers came to the obvious conclusion that Delonas was comparing Obama, our first Black president, to a monkey, in the grand tradition of American racism. It may well be that the cartoon was just another one of his awkward attempts at being funny, but if a racial taunt wasn't his intent, then he should have known better than to come up with this turkey (to inject another species into the mix). It's not as though it's a big secret that our sad racial record includes a long history of comparing Black people to apes. Even if he didn't know what he was doing, some editor at the paper should have saved him from himself.
I suspect that the Delonas flap led to the AP story we ran in this morning's paper, about cartoonists treading lightly on Obama caricatures.
Well, of COURSE we're being cautious. We're in uncharted territory here. We cartoonists are always walking a fine line between good caricature and racial stereotyping when it comes to drawing ethnic minorities. We live in an extremely race-conscious society. A good caricature by definition exaggerates a person's most prominent features, and tries to reveal something innate about his/her personality. Knowing when to make lips or noses or ears bigger and how to shade the complexion gets a lot harder when you're dealing with an Arab, a Mexican, an Asian or a Black person.
In time, my caricature of Obama, and those of other editorial cartoonists, will evolve, just as our depictions of Reagan, Clinton and Bush changed as their presidencies took shape and their personalities were revealed. It's just going to be a little harder to get it right with the new guy. There will be plenty to ridicule--there always is--but it won't be his race.