A political cartoon depicting the Mexican flag with the eagle lying on its back in a pool of blood, riddled with bullets, is raising protests among many Mexicans. They object to this symbol of patriotism being used to reference the drug wars in Mexico that have contributed to rising murder rates.
Political or editorial cartoons have a long history of effectiveness in making strong statements about people, events and conditions in the public arena. Such cartoons typically use stereotypes and caricatures to make their points, often without the addition of text. Easily recognizable symbols are used as metaphors to establish a cartoon’s context.
When does a political cartoon go too far in its use of stereotypes, caricatures or iconic symbols, becoming a form of violence against the people being depicted? Are there symbols, such as flags and religious holy books, that should be exempted from use as political fodder?
A politician is generally fair game to be caricatured and made fun of, even humiliated, for her positions on legislation. But a cartoon showing a caricature of a politician’s race (e.g., slanty eyes on an Asian candidate) is clearly racism in the guise of free speech. The former attacks the politico’s opinions while the latter attacks the politico’s personhood. Maybe I’m naïve or overly polite, but my gauge for distinguishing between the two is, “Would I say that or show that if I were a guest in the other’s home?” I’d ask the same question about flags and religious holy books.