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November 07, 2005

John McPherson's racist cartoon

What year is this again? Not that something like this cartoon was ever acceptable, but I mean sweet Jesus in a cracker, guys. I saw this first thing this morning and I still can't believe it made it out of McPherson's mind and past all those editors:

closetoracisthome.jpg

John McPherson takes a fair amount of well-deserved heat in the comic strip world for being unable to draw. Looks like we can add a couple other fatal flaws to that list. Is he taking cartooning lessons from Johnny Hart?

Posted by Chris Clarke at November 7, 2005 01:58 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

Er, might you explain, for the slower ones in the class, just how this cartoon is racist? Personally, I didn't even see how the words of that teenager that got beat up a month or so ago for wearing that provocative t-shirt were racist. I thought "racist" was thinking one racial group was inherently superior to another. And, while I'm here, I also don't see what's wrong with "stereotypes". I mean, they're just generalizations, and such cultural generalizations are, well, generally true. I think it really has to do with word choice, and the fact that there is often a negative and a positive way to express the same thing (e.g., is group x "relaxed" or "lazy" or is group y "uptight" or "hardworking"...). Just askin'.

Posted by: ostranenie at November 8, 2005 06:34 AM
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I think it has something to do with them all having overbites.

Posted by: norbizness at November 8, 2005 06:45 AM
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And, while I'm here, I also don't see what's wrong with "stereotypes". I mean, they're just generalizations, and such cultural generalizations are, well, generally true.

There's your problem right there.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 8, 2005 09:46 AM
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From the content, I had assumed this cartoon was published in the 1930's. This blows my mind. Who the hell is this John McPherson person and why is he published in this day and age?

Posted by: Space Kitty at November 8, 2005 03:48 PM
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Guys, help me out here. I agree it isn't funny. It isn't even well drawn. In fact, it's just stupid, a waste of ink and paper.

But why is it racist? It makes fun of cannibals.

Is it racist because the people are drawn brown?

Posted by: carpundit at November 9, 2005 07:45 AM
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While I certainly think this cartoon dumb and crude - crude both in terms of drawing and approach - I do take umbrage at the attack on generalizations, Chris.

Those comedians - Sarah Silverman is one of my favorite examples - who play with stereotypes and generalizations are among the funniest, because intelligent folks recognize that some of the generalizations are true while others are absurd. People that are offended by Silverman - and there are many of them - are usually dullards, uninclined (or perhaps unable) to consider things thoughtfully, instead sticking to the hand-me-down, politically correct doctrine of the day.

Furthermore, science, literature and fine art all point to the value of generalizations. Every scientific advancement is predicated on generalization - observation and characterization of stereotypical behavior - whether at the molecular or the organismal level.

I mean, of course it's stupid to say that cannibals are all big-nosed, small brained black people, but McPherson, in relying on this conventional image, is tapping into a cultural shorthand - unfortunately, not to good effect. I'm a Southern "redneck," but I don't own a truck, follow NASCAR, pursue the big buck, talk with an accent or run, half-naked, onto my decaying porch with a shotgun. I still find all these stereotypes funny, though, in the same way we all often characterize members of the American aristocracy as fat cat, soulless vampires. I know plenty of exceptions to this "rule," but by in large it holds true.

Hell, if I were to call foul every time I see a racial or ethnic stereotype called upon for laughs, I couldn't watch The Simpsons or even The Daily Show!

Posted by: Hungry Hyaena at November 9, 2005 12:00 PM
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I find Sarah Silverman quite offensive.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 9, 2005 12:09 PM
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To elaborate a little:

People that are offended by Silverman - and there are many of them - are usually dullards, uninclined (or perhaps unable) to consider things thoughtfully, instead sticking to the hand-me-down, politically correct doctrine of the day.

Or maybe they're people who think racism against Asians is just as important an ill as racism against Blacks, or as Anti-Semitism.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 9, 2005 12:21 PM
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Or maybe they're people who think racism against Asians is just as important an ill as racism against Blacks, or as Anti-Semitism.

Silverman used a racist word in her joke, but does that make it (or her) racist? Seems to me she was making fun of racists and our legal system, not Asians.

(If you don't know the joke, see this article, about half way down.)

Posted by: JeffL at November 9, 2005 05:08 PM
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Oops, messed up the link. The article is at:

http://www.girlcomic.net/jan2k2/jan2k2_bigones_sarah.php

Posted by: JeffL at November 9, 2005 05:14 PM
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What would you expect from half of the "Wizard of ID" team - I assume he's the same J.Hart. Instead of racism, they do sexism - e.g. the wizard's unattractive wife whose only personality trait is spending; the bimboesque young princess, etc. That damn strip has been going about 20 years in our (Australian) local newspaper and it's as funny as a wet rag.

Posted by: Helen at November 9, 2005 07:48 PM
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CC-

I never heard of the Silverman incident until this post. If the description at the link above (from JeffL) is correct, then it is manifestly unfair to call Sarah Silverman a racist. I don't know Sarah Silverman, but that joke is no evidence of racism.

And unlike that witless non-racist cartoon above, Sailverman's joke was funny.

CP

Posted by: carpundit at November 10, 2005 05:45 AM
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I agree that the joke itself is no evidence of racism. I'll post more later, but there's more to what I'm saying than a superficial analysis of the joke on a standalone basis.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 10, 2005 07:12 AM
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Well, knowing you to be an intelligent person, and certainly no dullard, I'm surprised you find Silverman offensive. I guess that shoots my hypothesis all to hell.

Anyway, like Jeff L, I feel that Silverman is poking fun of racism, while at the same time heightening our awareness that it is a natural inclination - categorization and labelling - that we must keep in check or control. A little laughter once in a while is a good way to release the associated tension and it's far more honest than the holier-than-thou crowd, who swear they are above racist thoughts, but still become nervous when they are walking alone in a "bad part of town."

Posted by: Hungry Hyaena at November 10, 2005 09:12 AM
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Oh good grief. We can't even make fun of cannibals now?

Posted by: Karlo at November 14, 2005 03:03 PM
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> sweet Jesus in a cracker

How ironic that Chris uses a religiously offensive remark while complaining about his wounded racial sensibilities.

SG

Posted by: Sagebrush Gardener at November 15, 2005 07:36 AM
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It's free country.
Isn't it?

Posted by: SilentG at November 18, 2005 07:32 AM
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Um, yes, It's a free country. Which is why we can criticize McPherson's cartoon. Try to keep up.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 18, 2005 07:42 AM
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I get it. By her using it in a *joke* (on national tv no less), it makes the word and calling other Asians *chinks* funny/acceptable, therefore allowing others to use it.

Look at the word "retarded." Would you walk right up to someone with down syndrome and call that person, to their face, retarded? No? Then you shouldn't use it at all.

My opinion is that if you don't want someone to use a word, then you need to stop using it yourself, even if you're "just joking."

Posted by: a nut at November 21, 2005 10:39 AM
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This is a hard one I tend to be torn but when looking at it using the word retard it translates better thru my thick skull. I was appalled at that " tard blog" some idiots that said they worked with and loved mentally disabled kids had going on last year, and may still have going on.

The cartoon is just a ridiculous waste of time.

I feel stereotypes are not a natural inclination they are learned as is racism.

I have never found Silverman particularly entertaining or funny.

Posted by: cooper at November 29, 2005 08:41 PM
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> Look at the word "retarded." Would you walk right up to someone with down syndrome and call that person, to their face, retarded? No? Then you shouldn't use it at all.

actually 'retarded' is a medical term describing an IQ range - it shouldn't be equated with an obviously racist term like 'chink'.

what are you, mentally challenged?

billy

Posted by: billy at November 30, 2005 01:36 PM
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actually 'retarded' is a medical term describing an IQ range

actually, no, it's not so much anymore.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 30, 2005 01:50 PM
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really?

from wikipedia:

"The following ranges, based on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), are in standard use today:

Class IQ
Profound mental retardation below 20
Severe mental retardation 20-34
Moderate mental retardation 35-49
Mild mental mental retardation 50-69
Borderline deficiency 70-79"

also from wikipedia:

"The American Association on Mental Retardation continues to use the term mental retardation."

you are correct, though - some people/organizations don't use the term 'retarded' anymore; they prefer other terminology - but i think my original point is made:

the word 'retard' doesn't equate to the word 'chink'.

get with it.


Posted by: billy at November 30, 2005 03:57 PM
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Nowhere in what you wrote is the word "retarded" listed.

But you're right: the words are different. One insult is considered unacceptable because it's a racial slur, the other is considered acceptable despite the fact that it's a slur against the disabled.

You may be interested in the second half of this post.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at November 30, 2005 04:10 PM
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actually, it was the other way around; it was (and is) used as a medical description long before it was considered by some to be offensive.

and if you want to quarrel about the difference between the word 'retarded' and 'retardation'... well, i can't help you there.

Posted by: billy at November 30, 2005 04:26 PM
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Well, lets take a look at the sliding scale of offensiveness - the word "oriental" is today considered offensive - not quite a slur, but offensive, despite the fact that it literally means almost nothing more than "Eastern", or "from a subregion of Asia". However, it was frequently used to make statements about "oriental" culture, people, and beliefs. Today, many Americans of Chinese/Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese/Cambodian/Lao/Thai/Tibetan/etc. descent tend to want to be refered to that way - or if they must be lumped into one category, "Asian", highlighting the fact that there is no one "Oriental" culture, society, or even race - that grouping them together by anything but geography is culturally insensitive. (To my chagrin, I've found that as a result, people refuse to consider me "Asian" despite the fact that last time I checked, all of India was considered part of Asia.)
How about "negro"? Time was, this was an acceptable, indeed scientific term for people of African descent, meaning, literally "black". Now, among most of my black friends, "black" is the prefered term to describe their racial identity (so as to include those people who are actually from Africa, to whom the phrase "African-American" doesn't apply). However, if "negro" means "black", why isn't "negro" as acceptable as "black"? The reason is two-fold. One, because the term is associated with another offensive term. Secondly, despite being used scientifically, the "science" in question, whether explicitly or implcitly, was often treating this newly discovered people as an interesting species of animal to analyze, not as humans.
So - we've established that literal meaning is not what makes things offensive. What makes things offensive is the association with how the word is used - any term that is applied to people in a largely derogatory manner starts to be considered intrinsically derogatory.
But even that aside, there's an entire set of terms that are offensive because they are created solely for the purposes of refering to "the other" in a derogatory/diminutive manner - notably, "nigger", "chink", "spick", "jap", and their relatives. I would argue that while my first argument counters billy's argument that "retard"/"retarded" is not offensive, the truth is that it is, in fact, of this second category. Despite the apparent dismissal of the difference between the adjectival and noun form of the word, doctors do not, and as far as I know never have, refered to a patient as "retarded" or worse, a "retard". The point here being that in the scientific term "Mental Retardation" (or even "Mentally Retarded"), the adjective is applied not to the patient, but to their learning faculties. That is to say, that literally, their learning is retarded, in the literal sense. Perhaps even their perception is. However, the shorthand of using the advective to refer to people, or to talk about things one considers stupid is one of those diminutive forms of condescension like the words I listed earlier.

Posted by: Aprotim at December 1, 2005 11:51 AM
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Well writ, Aprotim. Thank you.

Posted by: caramida at December 2, 2005 06:51 AM
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Aprotim - i would agree. we're splitting hairs here:

"The point here being that in the scientific term "Mental Retardation" (or even "Mentally Retarded"), the adjective is applied not to the patient, but to their learning faculties."

o.k. - you got me... calling someone 'a retard' is insulting and offensive. but saying that someone is 'mentally retarded' is not. it's simply describing the level of their intellect as measured by their i.q.

"The American Association on Mental Retardation continues to use the term mental retardation."

Posted by: billy at December 2, 2005 05:31 PM
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