Friday, July 18, 2008

Is THIS Political Cartoon Offensive?

This was brought up on Fark, and, in light of the whole Obama "New Yorker" controversy, I'm interested in your opinion.

Is this cartoon (illustration) that appeared in a recent Rolling Stone offensive?

Just to backtrack a bit, I found The New Yorker cover with Obama & his wife offensive...or more specifically, in bad taste and not effective as satire. I understand arguments to the contrary and respect them. I just didn't like that cover. So sue me. I'm not asking for a boycott of The New Yorker. I'm just saying "meh," and I'm not buying the issue. Okay, not like I buy it anymore anyway, but just read what they post online. But there is a point in there, somewhere.

Back to this Rolling Stone cartoon.

I find this cartoon effective in that I clearly understand the "joke" -- the Democratic candidates are bedeviling McCain. Okay.

I find this cartoon in bad taste for two reasons.

First, the way the mock "Viet Cong" are drawn bothers me. Of course it's exaggeration -- an illustration of a theoretical McCain "flashback" using stereotypically drawn antagonists a la WW II propaganda -- and is not meant to be in any way a statement by Rolling Stone on Asians. It's satire. And yet, the appropriation of that racist imagery still has the power to disturb. I'm not saying Rolling Stone shouldn't have used that imagery, I'm just describing a gut feeling I have when I look at that cartoon. Please do not lecture me with "What Is Funny 101" and tell me my sense of humor is dead. That sort of patronizing tactic was used to death by certain critics in relation to the Obama New Yorker cover, and I'm pretty much sick to death of it.

Second, I think making fun of McCain's experience as a prisoner of war for 5+ years is in incredibly bad taste. That really bothers me. If McCain wants to once in a while make a little joke about it, that's fine. He has earned the right to refer to his painful experience any damn way he wants to. But the reference falls flat in this cartoon, and makes me cringe at the sight of it. It makes me wonder why this is not an an issue in the way the New Yorker cover was.

That all said -- I'm a Obama supporter and plan to vote for him in the election. But I respect the time McCain put in military service, and I think he suffered terribly and that's not something that should be used in satire. From Wikipedia:

"In August of 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain. He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery.] Further injuries led to the beginning of a suicide attempt, which was stopped by guards...His injuries left him permanently incapable of raising his arms above his head. He subsequently received two to three beatings per week because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements."

Again, not advocating censorship, just giving my two cents.


  1. I have to agree. The Asian stereotype is in questionable taste, and the making light of McCain's torture is too.

    In refrence to article, it called McCain a fearmonger, with which I agree, but I wonder, is reporting someone is a fearmonger fearmongering?

  2. First off-- it is okay to advocate censorship, just not government censorship. Sure, you can say whatever you want, but that doesn't mean you have to be published, you know? That said, there are disturbing trends towards sanitization that dovetail in with the government, Tipper Gore, Wal-Mart, etc. As the line between corporation & government thins, it get more worrisome; luckily, the internet exsists, or we'd be screwed.

    That said, whatever. When an image goes out of its way to be offensive, I find it more silly than anything else. Like, someone sat down & thought about how they'd really "shock!" everyone. Uh-- nope!

  3. I find this cartoon far more offensive than the Obama sock monkey (granted, I didn't think that was all that offensive). You get racist depictions of Asians and trampling on a man's personal horror all in one. Bra-fucking-vo.

    I think it's appropriate for people to express their outrage over such imagery, to self censor by not purchasing magazines willing to publish them, and to blog about how fucking horrible they are. But I think magazines should still have the right to publish them.

  4. What the cartoon says to me? “Let’s trivialize something horrible that was done to a real person just to make a snarky political comment about him.” Yeah, not a great cartoon.

  5. ...the hell??

    Yeah, this isn't just's sort of morbid and pointless.

  6. Somewhat different situations as that the Obama cartoon was ostensibly a parody of the far-right caricature of Obama but ended up being indistinguishable from the far-right's caricature of Obama. This isn't anybody trying to parody anything, it's Rolling Stone saying hey, we don't like McCain cause we think he sucks. It's offensive the way the Obama cover would have been if it had been on the cover of National Review.

    I wonder, is reporting someone is a fearmonger fearmongering?

    No it is not. Similarly, calling attention to racism is not racism, and resisting religious oppression is not religious oppression.

  7. Of course, Mr. McCain's experiences apparently weren't so bad as to motivate him to take a stand against our torture of others or anything...

  8. I'm not exactly sure why it's all that offensive to McCain. It's his enemies that are being painted as the evil "other" enemy, after all.

    As a response to the obama new yorker cover, I thought the political cartoon that showed McCain in the oval office, drooling in a wheelchair, his wife offering him pain pills while the Constitution burned in the fireplace with a picture of Dick Cheney on the mantle, to be a much more effective commentary explaining to republicans _why_ Obama supporters were a little ticked at the NY cover.

  9. Hmm, either it is supposed to show that McCain's horrific torture was as harmless as mere words OR that McCain's opponents by using the words they use are as bad as McCain's torturers. Can't say I like either of these two possibilities.

  10. I didn't find this cartoon as offensive as the New Yorker, and not just because I'm left wing. The New Yorker ad perpetuated lies that have been told and that is far too reminiscent of Goebells and Nazi propaganda. Tell a lie enough and it becomes the truth.

    This cartoon is not perpetuating lies told during a campaign.

  11. I don't like the idea of using McCain's torture to shock the audience. But it is effective.

    As far as the Asian sterotypes, well, Asians do have slanted eyes, so I don't see anything offensive since the point was to make them look Asian.

    I also think it's fine to tear apart government officials/procedures/programs just like all the political cartoons did when I used to see them in my history book when I was a youngster in school.

    I can get behind someone saying or doing something that they know they might be attacked for when it comes to members of our government.

    A lot of people worry about feeling instead of outcome. It's good to know that more and more are waking up and changing and puting it in the faces of those who resist.

  12. Pretty much what everyone above said. I think this whole "slanty-eyed devil" angle is disturbing. It does hearken back to WWII-era racial propagandizing. But I'm not too upset about it. I haven't read Rolling Stone since I was in high school. I lump it with Saturday Night Live and MTV as inconsequential pop culture zombies.

    They're still walking around trying to be hip and edgy but they died years ago and need to be buried.

  13. Anonymous10:28 PM

    The Asian thing is way over the top. The costumes alone would've been enough to suggest what the artist was going for. To add the slanty eyes and big teeth seems needless gratuitous and provocative.

  14. Gee, Dave, I don't know why McCain would find trivilizing his five years of continual torture offensive...

    And to Devlin... McCain has always been against Guantamo Bay and torture. I've seen interviews where he said he plans to get rid of that base and heavily change what tactics interrogators can use. Of course, I can't see the future so I don't know if he'd actually go through with it, but he's make consisive statements about it, which is a lot more than you can say for many politicians.

  15. Anonymous1:47 AM

    "As a response to the obama new yorker cover, I thought the political cartoon that showed McCain in the oval office, drooling in a wheelchair, ..."

    I'm not so sure that cartoon was aimed Republicans. I am pretty sure it was aimed at Obama states explicity that it is aimed at the "Irony Challenged"...It seemed to insinuate that if that had been on the cover-Obama's supporters would not have raised any fuss.

    Personally? I think they are equal. Both failed in their attempt by being to close to perceptions to be effective Irony.

  16. It'd be a funnier comic if it was about Democrats waterboarding him.

  17. Anonymous6:18 PM

    --As far as the Asian sterotypes, well, Asians do have slanted eyes, so I don't see anything offensive since the point was to make them look Asian.--

    You're kidding right?
    No, seriously. You are joking right?

    It's not about giving someone slanted eyes to make them look more like a race (and not because I look at the slant in my eyes every morning), but this is along the lines of taking a racial trait and exaggerating it to give more sinister quality to it. And not something down just through their actions, but doing it through one's racial makeup. Something seen more in WWII propaganda then anything that should be seen today.

  18. "Asians do have slanted eyes" is a statement of questionable accuracy, Mister Grimm.

    "Some Asians do have slanted eyes" might be more factual and even then we can debate what exactly constitutes a "slanted" eye.

    Asians have as many eyes shapes as other races do. What's thought of in the West as the "slant" comes from an extra fold of skin above it that gives it an almond shape, the epicanthic fold. The eye itself is certainly not "slanted." It's totally horizontal as per most other eyes on the planet. If it looks turned up from beneath... that's probably due to the person in question smiling and the lower cheeks pushing the soft flesh upwards.

    In those cases, even I have "slanted" eyes. As do plenty of other non-Asians.

    The epicanthic fold is an extremely common physical characteristic throughout Asia, but not every Asian has it. And, to give the opposing example, not every white person lacks it. You'd be surprised by the variety of eye shapes here in Japan. Big eyes, small eyes, almond eyes, rounded eyes, single folded, double folded.

    You know- not all Asians look alike. Not even all Japanese.

    But despite that variety, no one I've met in my almost 4 years here- including Thais, Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans and (of course) Japanese- have had pointy, squinty upturned eyes typical of the racist visual stereotyping found in this and other cartoons.

    That's a visual shorthand we really need to do away with.

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  20. Would Rolling Stone publish an article about Tori Amos and accompany it with a caracature of her rape experience? They did a near-equivalent with the McCain cartoon: trivializing and mocking a traumatic avent in a person's life.

  21. Yes, that is VERY offensive. I think they are for "in jest," but it reminds me of Family Guy humor. Sometimes I would find myself laughing, and sometimes I would just think, "Okay, that's over the line." But where do you draw the line? You brought up both parts--the racist aspect and the apparent mocking of the torture inflicted upon POWs.

    Message it conveys is, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We heard enough already, tell us something different." It's about a densitized media with a short-term memory.