Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

May 10, 2005

Bill Garner, Washington Times: Offending Cartoon a Misunderstanding Between East and West

imageIt's hard to gauge the tone of a newly-born political controversy where Pakistan is upset about a Bill Garner cartoon depicting their nation as a loyal dog. On the one hand, it seems to have caught the attention of the legislature and Pakistan's current president is already under pressure to cease helping the United States find anti-American terrorists within Pakistan's borders. On the other hand, the Washington Times seems to be playing this as a tribute to their own reach and power while at the same time running the appropriate soothing explanation from the cartoonist and emphasizing the unfortunate West = Man's Best Friend and East = Dirty Cur split which no doubt adds to the offense.

The thing I don't understand is that depicting someone as a dog has obvious derogatory implications in the West, too. If some cartoonist had depicted the American Armed Forces as a servile dog doing a foreign interest's bidding, the Washington Times is the kind of paper that would be first in line to express its outrage. If that's an unintentional message, it sounds like the Times needs a better screening mechanism for its editorial cartoons to catch unfortunate mistakes, perhaps at the pencil stage (it's not been uncommon in the past for an editorial cartoonist to meet with an editor with several sketches in order to receive feedback and to let the paper in on the process). If that's a message that was intended, they should step up and say so. I wouldn't hold my breath on either one, though.

The slow collapse of editorial cartoons in America is primarily due to economic factors in terms of papers' plummeting needs for locally-generated visual accompaniment. But the decline in relevance that gooses the economic fade finds expression in many ways. The increasing intolerance readers express of any opinion outside of our own certainly plays an important role, perhaps the most important, but so does the sloppiness of some individuals and institutions either wishing to make a point they're not strong enough to then support, or too disinterested to engage such ideas at the newsroom level.
posted 4:57 pm PST | Permalink

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