The Post’s got a story that might be of interest to my fellow UVA alums: apparently one of the school paper’s idiot cartoonists has gotten himself fired over an offensive cartoon. It took some hunting, but I managed to find the cartoon in question, which comes from a comic strip called Quirksmith:
As you might expect, the most notable thing about the comic is its overwhelming lack of funniness. The joke’s confused in a way that’s difficult to explain — rather than being smartly flipped to hilarious effect, the conceptual setup simply lolls off to the side, like the top layer slumping off of an overengineered cake.
It’s also not very offensive, I don’t think (said the white, middle-class, first-world blogger). The figures have a primitive look, but not one that’s easy to unequivocally define as racist (Thinking about this more, I’ve changed my mind — obviously implying that all Ethiopians live in primitive conditions is pretty racist; my initial scan was for physical caricature, which isn’t present. But the Post article quotes the aggrieved parties as complaining about the famine-related sentiment rather than the pictoral representation, so I think it’s safe to press onward regardless…). Maybe I’m being overly and/or insufficiently generous, but I doubt the cartoonist is even aware that there’s currently a famine (or near-famine) occurring in Ethiopia.
The Post article points out that the guy is 22 years old — that’s close enough to my age that I bet he heard the same Ethiopia-targeting “yo mama so skinny”-style jokes that I did in elementary school. In this case Ethiopia is just being lazily used as a stand-in for the tragically un-pluralizable Nicole Richie.
But he must have arrived on the tail-end of this lame playground schtick, or perhaps heard it from an older sibling. So it’s not entirely surprising that various similarly-aged student groups would see the strip as a mean-spirited non sequitur rather than merely a lame riff on a decades-old joke. Still, calling for the author’s head over this is strikes me as playing into the hands of the David Horowitzes of the world.
On the other hand, I think the strip has been somewhat comedically redeemed by the controversy, if only because the Post writeup includes the following:
Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor for the New Yorker, which specializes in drawings that mock human foibles, looked at Woolard’s cartoon after a reporter e-mailed it to him.
“The New Yorker magazine would not have published it,” Mankoff said.
Surprising, I know. You’d think it would be a shoo-in, given that it’s both a) so inscrutable as to imply non-existent depth and b) not at all funny. Unfortunately it contains no French puns, so the magazine had to politely decline the submission.
Of course, none of the preceding should be taken as a defense of the Quirksmith author. Like nearly all Cav Daily cartoonists, he deserves the worst that the universe can come up with. This isn’t the first time he’s fed indefensible red meat to ideologues, either; apparently the following cartoon actually made it onto The O’Reilly Factor:
I shouldn’t end on a down note, though. I can’t compete with Jon, who tells me that nearly-perfect Perry Bible Fellowship ran in the paper at Syracuse while he was in school. But the Cavalier Daily did have one or two good comics while I was an undergrad. My favorite was Shallow Grave, a bitterly funny strip drawn by a guy named Sean Polyn, who happened to work in the same lab where I spent some time.
Sean’s too busy being a neuroscientist to draw strips these days, but he’s still got a bunch of em online. Here are a few of my favorites: