Thursday, February 19, 2009
Should we silence the insensitive?
So for three days running, a top story on all the news sites was the chimpanzee who ran amok and tore off somebody's face, and was then shot for his trouble. It was eclipsed only by the ongoing story about the federal stimulus package and its myriad shortcomings. So you'd think that when a cartoonist attempted to play off both headlines, the result would be polite yuks at best, bored shrugs at worst.
Then again, this is America, where Al Sharpton remains at large and the only thing we have more of than bad debt is sweet, sweet outrage. Sharpton was among the professionally aggrieved who looked at the cartoon Wednesday and perceived in it the specter of racism. The president of the National Association of Black Journalists, evidently unaware of the 24/7 coverage of the rogue chimp, saw a direct racial caricature of President Obama. A New York state senator saw a tacit endorsement of assassination and fond nod to the days of lynching. And those were the more moderate interpretations.
Look, I know I'm not black and therefore my opinion on this worth exactly nothing. But here's what I see: a cartoonist suggesting, none too subtly, that the stimulus bill is so imperfect it might as well have been authored by a crazed lesser primate. I don't need to point out that the authors include both houses of Congress as well as the president. As political criticism and satire, it's perfectly legitimate. Other presidents have fared much worse, and Obama probably will too.
Remember those Dutch cartoons about Muhammad, and how so many Muslims the world over went so laughably berserk? By rampaging over a caricature, they became caricatures themselves. It's probably too late for Sharpton, but the others tearing out their hair over a dumb cartoon should give that some thought.