Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cartoons, Conversations, and Common Sense

Most of my readers look forward to Cartoon Saturday for a bit of a lift from the relentless bad news of the rest of the week, and that's why I've come to do it as a regular feature of this blog. Well, that, plus it gives me a day on which I don't have to do a great deal of thinking about deeper topics.

But cartoons can have the opposite effect, too.

Look at how many people died in the explosion of "Muslim rage" over the cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper a few years ago. And look at the outburst of self-righteous anger over the now-infamous Dead Chimp cartoon published in the New York Post this past Wednesday.

For those of you who live overseas and haven't heard about this row, and for those of you who may just be returning from vacations in the Oort Cloud, here's the Reader's Digest version of the story: a NYP cartoonist combined two stories - the difficulty in crafting an economic stimulus package, and the police shooting of a homicidal pet chimpanzee - to create a cartoon showing two police officers viewing a bullet-riddled chimp and remarking, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

For the record, I thought the cartoon was dumb, but I understood the point: that the stimulus bill was such a mess that it could have been put together by a bunch of chimps. Many, though, including shameless opportunists like Al Sharpton, immediately thundered that the cartoon was racist because it likened President Obama to a chimp. The NAACP has demanded that the cartoonist be fired, and CNN's commentator Roland Martin has claimed the cartoon is an insult to black persons in general.

Now, step back a moment and think about the speech delivered by Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this week in which he called the United States "a nation of cowards" because "we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

This is true.

To the extent that we "talk with each other" about race, the conversation generally tends to be one-sided, with each side trying to outshout and outlecture the other, and any attempt to hold to equal standards of thought and behavior immediately criticized as "racist." It's hard to hold a conversation when everyone's shouting and noone's listening.

Those who thought that former DC mayor Marion Barry ought to go to jail for tax evasion have been called racists by some, as if race trumps respect for the law, the performance of civil obligations, and setting a good example.

Sensitivity to the feelings of others is an important lesson we're all supposed to learn as we grow up. But so is moderation. As long as we are spring-loaded to perceive insult where none exists, and to react with anger to things that are patently silly, we're never going to have Mr Holder's conversation. Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, said that the offending cartoon "... was an invitation to assassination of the president of the United States and anyone who was not offended by it doesn't have any sensibilities."

Well, I wasn't offended by it, and I like to think of myself as a reasonably sensitive person. I thought it was silly, but I think it's a real stretch to view it as "an invitation to assassination of the president." President Obama didn't write the stimulus bill, Congress did...although it's much easier to focus attention on one president than on 535 members of Congress riven by political differences and lacking in ability to discuss and compromise.

Are you offended by this...?

Was your first thought that it implied that all bloggers are of one race, or was it that there are a lot of dumb bloggers out there? When you hear the old saying that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually produce the collected works of Shakespeare, do view it as racist, or as a silly and meaningless analogy?

It's time to take a deep breath, sit back, and start having Mr Holder's conversation, instead of seeking opportunties for discord and harping on perceived slights for political advantage and TV coverage.

My mother was fond of saying that little things affect little minds. And we seem to have no shortage of either.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



John A Hill said...

After my own recent experiences that were exacerbated by misunderstanding and a failure to address the misunderstanding with some simple communication, I can see how we so often jump to the wrong conclusions. I think that we need to step back and view things from an unaffected perspective instead of immediately taking offense when no offense was intended.

Another fine rant from Bilbo!

wv: unrtriw..not very rtriw

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Very good. Cartoons are very sharp and can show up people when they take offence.

Mike said...

"little things affect little minds"

I'm going to have to write this one down. (otherwise I'll forget)

Wv - deduce - I can't come up with an answer for this one.

Melissa B. said...

And did you see the "apology" in this morning's post for the headline & image that accompany Gene Weingarten's column in the Sunday magazine? I think sometimes we carry the Race Card too far...on a lighter note, please don't forget Sx3!

Amanda said...

"spring loaded to perceive insult"
I like that. Plenty of people in the world like that.....PLENTY.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Yup we're all trained monkeys..or is it monkees..I can never remember

Anonymous said...

Well, I must have a very little mind because that is the FIRST thing that popped into my mind when I read that cartoon.

I think I even gasped and my eyes bulged out of their sockets. Then when I read the "intended" definition I thought, hmmm.. well, ok. I guess I'll buy that for a dollar."

Bilbo said...

John & Jean-Luc - thanks!

Mike - deduce comes between deone and detrey in dedeck. Duh...

Melissa - thanks for the comment.

Amanda - sad, but true.

Andrea - works okay with either spelling. Of course, one version sings...

Twinkie - I doubt your mind is that little. But I do think that there was some real needless hypersensitivity involved here.