NY Post Uses Imagery As Vicious Weapon

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This past Wednesday, February 18 the New York Post published a cartoon drawn by famed cartoonist Sean Delonas, depicting two white police officers killing a chimpanzee. One of the police officers says to the other, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

In response to public outrage at the bigoted, insensitive, and racially inflammatory cartoon, Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the New York Post released the following statement: "The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist."

Allan’s response is interesting and just as ridiculous as the cartoon he is attempting to defend. If Col Allan does not understand the historical context of this outrage I would say he’s an idiot but that would offend the idiots of the world.

If the editorial board ignored the potential for outrage before the cartoon was published and published it any way, people of good conscience should never buy the New York Post again. Also, advertisers in the Post should understand that they are vulnerable as well.

Allan calls the cartoon a "parody". A parody is a work created to mock or poke fun at an original work, its subject, or author, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. Parody is a frequent ingredient in satire and is often used to make social and political points.

One of the key elements of parody is a connection to or correlation between the work and the subject of the parody. What is the social or political relationship or correlation between "Travis" the chimpanzee that was shot by police in Connecticut and President Barack Obama, the person credited with writing the stimulus bill? Call me shallow but I fail to see any correlation between the two that makes this "parody" make any sense at all. I, like a lot of people, just don’t get it.

Allen says, "It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy". How so? No one in the cartoon is trying to revive Travis, so where is the parody between the dead chimp and the US economy? Call me shallow but I fail to see any correlation between the two that makes this "parody" make any sense at all.

In response to this Rev. Al Sharpton has released the following statement, "The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys…Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder are they inferring that a monkey wrote the last bill?"

Col Allan tried to deflect criticism of the cartoon and the New York Post by attacking the credibility of Rev. Sharpton by calling him a "publicity opportunist". Rev. Sharpton may have an affinity for cameras and microphones but that in no way invalidates Rev. Sharpton’s point. In his cartoon, Delonas refers to the chimpanzee in the personal "somebody" as opposed to the impersonal "something". Last I checked; a chimpanzee is an animal not a person—even if his name was Travis. Why would Delonas change the very nature of the beast if not to parody President Obama?

For too many years, Africans and African Americans have been compared to primates of all shapes and sizes and simian characteristics. During the late nineteenth and twentieth century slavery and the continued oppression of African Americans was based upon dehumanizing them to the level of beasts of burden and the stereotype of equating African sexuality with bestiality. During WWI, in an attempt to "protect" European woman from sexually aggressive lascivious Black US soldiers, the woman were told that African American soldiers had tails. This cartoon is another example of how these stereotypes have influenced racist discourse from slavery to this very day.

This cartoon shows two police officers killing the chimpanzee. In a time when President Obama has received more death threats than any elected official in the history of this country, any reference such as this should be off limits. Some have tried to rationalize this under the banner of free speech, but as Just Holmes wrote in 1919, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre, and causing panic…" Point being, not all speech is free. In my opinion, this would not pass the clear and present danger test since any characterization of harming the President clearly contributes to the possibility of placing him in danger.

It would be one thing if this cartoon was an isolated incident but unfortunately it is not. The July 21, 2008 cover of The New Yorker magazine played to the stereotypes of the day with an incredibly insensitive and irresponsible caricature of Senator Obama and his wife Michelle. The caricature had a burning flag, Senator Obama in Islamic garb, Michelle Obama with an Afro and an AK 47 and the two of them doing the fist bump with a photo of Osama bin Laden on the wall.

Spokespeople for the magazine stated that their cover was a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obamas right-wing critics tried to create. In a statement the magazine said the cover "combines a number of fantastical images about the Obamas and shows them for the obvious distortions they are."

Again, what usually makes satire funny and/or valuable is its basis in reality. In the case of The New Yorker, the Obamas were the object of the ridicule not those "right-wing critics" who were responsible for the ridiculous and oft times culturally based attacks on them. In this instance The New Yorker appeared to be punishing the victim of the ridicule not the perpetrator, if not perpetuating distortions of their own.

Beyond cartoons there have also been recorded songs and direct statements from Republican spokespeople. This past December Republican National chair candidate John "Chip" Saltsman distributed a CD to fellow Republican Party officials entitled "We HATE the USA". One of the songs on the CD was entitled "Barack the Magic Negro". In January conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh said, "I've been listening to Barack Obama for a year-and-a-half. I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don't want them to succeed… I hope he fails." In these perilous times, there is no space in the public discourse for such language.

This imagery is powerful and used for a very specific reason. It allows the satirist to say vile and bigoted things in a public space that they do not have the guts to say directly. Many times, the images are more powerful than words could ever be. Through their imagery, these individuals are pandering to the lowest common denominators of those who think like them in an attempt to send a message or strike a nerve under the cloak of satire, parody, and humor.

As a person with a very good sense of humor, I have at times stepped over the line. I have come to learn (at times painfully and at the expense of the feelings of the butt of my joke) that just because I think it’s funny does not make it so. A joke, or in this instance parody or satire are only funny or valuable if the audience gets it. In this case, the only ones who got it were the Obamas, and their not laughing.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "On With Leon," a regular guest on CNN’s Lou Dobb’s Tonight, and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com

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