We white males have had a good run. I’ll admit for a long time I was clinging to something that I didn’t notice hadn’t even been there for a while, and once I noticed I didn’t even remember what it was I was clinging to, so I stopped caring. At one time I may have said “You just don’t get it” or “you don’t have a sense of humor”. What people really mean when they say that is “you don’t see things the way I see them”. Rather than be afraid to say things or try to convince people to see things my way I have instead decided the better solution is twofold. Instead of going for easy targets it’s better to figure out a way to do things different and do them in such a way that they won’t be misinterpreted. If you have to [insert prefix here]-splain it you haven’t done your job.
In trying to be offensive without hurting anyone I haven’t always been perfect. I don’t care if I offend people the right way for the right reasons but feel bad when I don’t pull it off and it comes out the wrong way. What I will attempt to do here now is show some examples of recent controversial jokes and whether they work or not. Whether they’re funny or not is in the eye of the beholder. I’m just trying to figure out if they do what they’re supposed to.
When Obama first ran for President his detractors, knowing they did not have to criticize him for his public policy, chose the easier route of preying upon public fear of a “scary black man” in power. They used all kind of slams against him, implying he was a Muslim militant who hated white people (some people still believe this). The New Yorker, known for their satirical covers, in showing the absurdity of some anti-Obama rhetoric, portrayed Barack and Michele Obama exactly as they would be if the racist mudslinging against them were true. This cover was considered controversial for… who knows what the real reason was? Would it influence public opinion and thus the outcome of the election? Could readers falsely think it was taking the wrong side?
Verdict: WIN- If it were some other magazine a reader might not know the point of view right away, but no New Yorker reader could possibly interpret this any other way than facetious. The cover of the magazine would not be casually seen by somebody walking by, as newsstand copies have an outer cover and most copies are distributed through subscriptions.
Here the joke is about a joke. Bart Simpson often crank calls the local tavern and makes a fool of the bartender by having him unwittingly shout out an obvious pun. Stewie is impressed by this and wants to try but it’s clear he doesn’t get the reason for the humor. The joke is not about rape but about how Stewie is tone deaf.
Verdict: FAIL. There are many ways the joke could have been executed while still being mean-spirited. Stewie could have said “Your family’s been kidnapped” or “We burned your house down”. Both of those would also have offended some viewers but would not be taking any sides.
The Washington Redskins owner changed the subject of his own racism by setting up “The Original Americans Foundation”. Colbert, in pointing out the hypocrisy, responded in kind telling his audience he was starting “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” sponsored by a ‘beloved character’ that was the broadest Asian stereotype you could possibly imagine and nobody would ever take seriously.
Complicating matters was the fact that The Colbert Report‘s Twitter feed posted about the Ching-Chong Foundation without mentioning it was part of a bit parodying something else. That night, the #CancelColbert campaign went viral and was picked up by the news media.
Verdict: WIN. It blew over that weekend when it turned out many who were outraged had not seen the whole context, and many of the others were right-wing pundits looking for an excuse to avenge Stephen Colbert for making a career of making fun of things like Fox News and climate change skepticism and generally saying things they didn’t like to hear.
The Magic Whistle
Somewhat difficult to analyze myself. But I’ll do it anyway.
It was a big scandal when it came to light recently that Bill Cosby had raped not one, not two, but dozens of women, all the same way. With those odds, how can it not be true. While he may never be found guilty in a court of law, he’s unanimously guilty in the court of public opinion.
At the same time there were also stories about college students being taken advantage of in the same way. While such a thing is very real to victims, it’s hard to not see the humor in a man in show business for six decades, most of it in family entertainment, serially putting roofies in womens’ drinks. At least for me anyway. The obstacle I had was that I didn’t want to be seen as the entitled white man joking about date-rape.
Verdict: WIN. Tragedy+Time=Comedy. The fact that I thought of doing something two weeks after it made national news was a big help. I didn’t show him or any actions, but rather what his creations might do if they found the drugs he was associated with. Further, I made the joke about myself as well, how nothing more needed to be said. As a bonus, fans get to see what a drawing of mine looks like half-finished.
Girls is known for the way it portrays sexuality candidly and goes further than other television shows before it. Its writer/director/star Lena Dunham is unafraid to show herself and her co-stars warts and all.
Verdict: DRAW. The joke here is the absurdity of how far one would go on television. Where the author misfires is that as uncomfortable as much of the material is and as similar it is to some porn, it is not for shock value. But the real question is one of double standards. It is a predominantly female show and what we must ask is if the auteur was male would the same article be written? If no, then this article is misogynistic, and therefore a FAIL. But if yes… well, we’ll never know, because there is no such show to compare it to.
The Onion again Article here
No subject is off-limits for humor. It just depends on how you do it. That’s been the modus operandi of The Onion since they started, and they nail it almost every time. In a rare case they had to apologize. Last year while covering the Academy Awards, they tweeted, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that [nine-year-old Oscar nominee] Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?” You don’t call a child a cunt though, especially one from a third-world country. But that was the point. Had the comment been made of any of the other Oscar nominees, there would be no joke, because a gossip column would actually say that. What The Onion was satirizing was not her, but the way gossip reporters say snarky things like that about celebrities.
Verdict: FAIL. The fact that I had to explain it that means the joke doesn’t work. It might…I emphasize might… be amusing if a friend said it at a party, and only in an “oh, that’s just them” context. Published nationally it brings it to a national spotlight and puts it in an even bigger picture. The way women and children are commodified by the media is ripe for satire but this isn’t the way.
CASE 7, 8 and 9
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Animal House (1978)
Verdict: When they came out:WIN Now:DRAW
Now we’re going back forty years. Though these movies are all classics, use of the n-word, date-rape, and abusing a woman are somewhat problematic. Not to mention additional things I couldn’t find clips of. They may have worked at one time in the context of the whole movie and after seeing the real targets, but with others having an equal say in the matter these themes would never even occur to anyone to think of today.
There’s something about being a cartoonist that makes people think you’re the foremost authority on anything cartoon-related. It’s assumed you know how much any particular comic book is worth or any trivia related to anything in the medium, anything a friend or relative sees a news item about, as if everything with words and pictures exists in one big lump. Thankfully superheroes have become more the domain of movies in the past ten years since I know next to nothing of the genre after my birth.
Now that the biggest story so far this year involves the profession of cartooning, suddenly people are asking my opinion. The past few months have seen issues equally newsworthy, but apparently I know nothing about those, only cartooning. I’ve done a couple cartoons on the subject on this page as well as for print, but I suppose I can say more, though my opinion changes day to day the more I know.
There are those making it a quality control issue, though nobody seems to believe anyone should have been assassinated. Except religious fundamentalists. But they don’t count. Fuck ‘em. Yeah, the way Islam as interpreted by some says there can’t be images of Mohammed, but by that logic they have to bomb the Louvre too. The Ten Commandments have a similar law. Where are the Christians and Jews enforcing the Old Testament? How can your God be so powerful if you have to carry out his rules for him anyway? It’s been said religion is like a penis. If you have one by all means be proud of it and share it with those who are interested, just don’t wave it around and force it down everyone’s throat. If you feel the Koran or Bible is a historical document and feel the information in it applies to everyone else you’re an idiot. If you don’t believe in drawing the prophet then just don’t do it and shut the fuck up. End of story.
I have seen a few—not many but a few—saying the staff was provoking terrorists. Such an argument is akin to saying a rape victim was “asking for it” by the way they dressed.
Then there’s the argument that they were a hate rag. Editors cherry pick the most controversial covers as if they’re representative of the magazine’s content leaving those unfamiliar with it under the impression they’re like the Nazi party’s Der Stürmer because of one or two cartoons they don’t like. Looking at the past year of covers, only one is specifically about religion, and only because the magazine covers current events. Most of what they do is alien to these American eyes, similar to if the typical French person saw a magazine satirizing Sarah Palin.
Some say you need to see them in context. Others have countered by saying the images are offensive regardless of the context. I say BOTH. The French have always been an imperial, colonialist power but at the same time everything besides that is different as well. The men have wives and mistresses. The government approves what names people can have. Most of their energy is nuclear power. They smoke in supermarkets. The fact that the staff of Charlie Hebdo was mostly white doesn’t help, though. “But they make fun of everyone” is the usual cop-out. You might as well say “I have a black friend”.
Do I think using racism to criticize racism is still racism? No. But that’s easy for me to say being a beneficiary of white male privilege. I may never be able to own a home and I rely on Medicaid but could still never experience the likelihood of being stopped by cops when you’re just going on about your business.
I will not go on too much about how as white liberals we’re at worst misguided but not evil. I’ll just say if people think they’re offended by some material now it’s a good thing they didn’t live in the past. The type of thing typical of Charlie Hebdo wouldn’t be out of place in mainstream American entertainment forty years ago. Even though then you could never imagine there’d be fart jokes and talking penises on TV today, at the same time you could never have anything as incendiary as All In The Family now. It’s somewhat dated by today’s standards and remembered now mostly as being about a guy who called his son-in-law a meathead, but it was mainly a show about a white guy who hated black people. Sometimes on the show they even said the n-word. And it was the most popular show on television. It was all in the service of showing the evils of prejudice but if I experienced prejudice in earnest it’s probably patronizing to have it be libsplained to me.
“There are worse things happening”. Yes, there are. Whether it’s Boko Haram, police brutality, the NAACP bombings, ISIS, someone might even include the Sony hackings if they’re personally affected. No two people would prioritize everything the same way, though. It comes down to apples and oranges. A doesn’t nullify B. The reductio ad absurdum of this argument is that nobody should ever be allowed to enjoy themselves when something is going on somewhere in the world.
What should one make of the situation? What does it all come down to? If there’s one thing we can all agree on, regardless of race or taste, it’s not to shoot people. Don’t do it. It’s not nice. If you do you’re just a big poopyhead.
Now that the new year’s started, I can now say some things we’ve been sitting on for a while:
-My publisher, Alternative Comics is now being distributed by Consortium Books, which should give more presence in bookstores.
-Magic Whistle will re-relaunch this summer as an anthology. It will still have at least 20 pages by me like usual, but now with an expanded page count and work from other contributors.
This year should also see the re-release of Oh That Monroe, a book I did in 1991. It will also have additional material, since I’ve made it very clear I don’t want to keep coasting on things I did half my life ago when I keep doing new stuff.
Plus appearances and signings like I’ve always been doing, to be announced as they happen.
In 2008, I did illustrations for a book called Well-Defined: Vocabulary In Rhyme by Michael Salinger. He is a poet and teacher who does speaking engagements at schools and libraries performing his work. The book was a series of poems about SAT words, and as with most books it went nowhere. The publisher, Wordsong Press, went out of business a few months after the book was published and I get royalty statements every few months with a negative balance. Sounds like a sob story but it’s actually typical for most books. This actually won awards and for a couple years I went to the publisher’s annual illustrators’ retreat in Honesdale, PA (They were a subsidiary of Highlights magazine).
Recently Mr. Salinger asked if I still had the originals since he was reprinting the book himself. I found I still did, though I wasn’t happy with a lot of them. Here are the ones that include the newer versions.
CIRCUITOUS (was also used for cover)
I’m really surprised by the response I’ve gotten for the previous essay assessing myself. But it did result in my sitting down with Tim O’Shea for this interview over at Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6.
Actually, I didn’t sit down with him. I’ve never even met him. It was done through the mail with my answering some questions of his. But I recommend reading it especially for those who like to see someone talk about talking about themselves.