Monday, September 10, 2007

More Cartoon Mayhem

Is this cartoon racist?

Students at the University of Virginia think so. Between 100 and 200 of them marched to the offices of the student newspaper The Cav Daily to demand an apology and the firing of the cartoonist after the cartoon was printed last week. “Once again, the Cav Daily has crossed the boundary, but this time will not go unnoticed. We need to organize and end this racism once and for all,” wrote the creator of a Facebook group with nearly 300 members titled “THE CAV DAILY IS ABOUT TO BE FINISHED!!”

What do you think? I have no idea if it's racist myself. It definitely doesn't strike me as funny, but as Michael O'Donoghue once said, making people laugh is the lowest form of humor. On the other hand, it only halfway works as gallows humor either- you can understand the joke, but your next thought is ''How do they have stools and a boot, but no food?'' And why are they bald?

I'm guessing it wasn't the joke that upset people anyway, but the fact that the Ethiopian characters look roughly like the Toxic Avenger in the nude. To be honest, students protesting doesn't really bother me- that's what they do, and it's part of a lively university discussion. I don't think the newspaper should, or will, get shut down over this. Apparently, this is a touchy subject because UVA has a supposed reputation for racism. To be honest, I'd never heard this and really just remember them having a reputation for drunk business majors. I think their school motto is actually, ''Officer, do you have any idea who my father is?''

Anyway, I really don't know. Does anyone think it's racist? Is it offensive enough to fire the guy over? And, seriously, why the hell are they bald?


gregvw said...

I'm probably not best to jusge on such matters, but looking at the picture, it made me think that someone had simply found it unlabeled and then snarkily added the text afterward. Just the picture by itself would not have made me guess the joke.

Holly said...

Hmm, let's think about this.

If you put the strip in words, it would be this: "An Ethiopian food fight involves people bashing each other with non-food objects." In this reading, it is not necessary that the participants BE Ethiopian to do this.)

As far as I can tell (mostly by checking the WHO factsheet on Ethiopia) I don't see any indication that Ethopia is actually short on food. In fact, I think all the comments I've ever heard about Ethiopians not having food probably stem from a famine they had in 1984-1985.

Since jokes based on current events aren't funny*, and jokes based on the current events of 20 years ago are 20x less funny, this either isn't a joke, or it's dada. Especially as Ethiopian food is fucking awesome, and does not involve boots and stools and things.

I'm gonna have to say, I think it's just... aimless racism. At best, it's a lame attempt to stir the passions of the reader, about racism itself, not about Ethiopians, because it's not funny, it's not relevant to anything going on in the world, it's not social commentary, and it seems to be willfully ignorant of readily available facts.

* Granted, sometimes the events themselves are funny as hell, but that's not the same at all.

Rufus said...

There were a number of Ethiopian jokes when I was a kid, mostly because the famine was a big news story, replete with celebrity benefit concerts and so forth. The jokes were supposed to be in poor taste, but really they weren't terribly funny. Once you heard one of them, you heard them all. Basically the set up is something to do with Ethiopians and the punch-line is something to do with them starving. Generally, they're the sort of jokes that your average unfunny Uncle finds amusing. On the other hand, if we fired every college newspaper cartoonist who isn't funny, there'd be none left.

The Pagan Temple said...

I would like to know the story behind it. I have an idea it might have been meant more to antagonize the proponents of those celebrity benefit concerts you mentioned, and other things of that nature, than it actually was intended as a slur at Ethiopians.

Rufus said...

Probably. But attacking Cyndi Lauper for a concert from 1985 seems pretty toothless.

gregvw said...

Would it be tragic if crappy college newspapers didn't have crappy cartoons?

Hiromi said...

I don't think something has to be intentional to be racist.

I do think it's racist. It links starvation with a particular group of people as if it were an intrinsic trait of theirs.

But should the guy have been fired? No, the only thing that's called for is a public lambasting for his lameness.

Rufus said...

Greg- Not tragic really, but they'd still have crappy articles, photos, letters to the editor, and editorials. So, it probably wouldn't make a big difference.

Hiromi- I think that's it- he's not trying to be racist; he's just an idiot and maybe believes that a bunch of racial stereotypes are accurate. I'd actually consider picketing with a sign reading 'Be more funny!'