Sunday, September 5, 2010

Political Cartoons

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 na├»ve 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.


PseudoPiskie said...

Since I don't worship flags or books, I would find the dead eagle tragically symbolic of reality in Mexico today and the burning of holy books misguided but not worth going to battle over. What difference, however, would an action like these make in the future? Others are not as magnanimous as I am. Would my action cause undue harm to another because of less generous responses from others?

But that leads to an entirely different tho related discussion. What responsibility do I have for the (re)actions of others?



I'm with you in terms of flags and books, including holy books, not being on any pedestals for me. But then, I'm also the person who didn't observe other people's birthdays and anniversaries for years, because those kinds of annual events don't hold meaning for me. What I've learned since is that there are people for whom those events hold significant meaning, and I've learned to honor their feelings by honoring their events. Thus, in the same way that I wouldn't purposely insult someone's appearance or heritage, because it hurts their feelings and sensibilities (including, perhaps, their sense of self), I choose not to insult iconic symbols that others hold in high esteem, for whatever their reasons.

You question of "Would my action cause undue harm to another because of less generous responses from others" is an important one. I think the answer is, it depends, and what it depends on is the context. For example, we might tell an off-color, even mean joke, in the company of close friends who share the same views, but we might refrain from telling that joke in mixed company where we don't know where everyone stands on the issue. Among friends, we probably know how everyone's going to react, and we know we're not inciting any harmful responses. But among an unknown group, we don't know how folks are going to respond, and I would always opt for exercising restraint.

Now, even in the company of close friends, there are some jokes or off-color comments that ought never pass my lips, because they are harmful to my soul and the souls of my friends. That would include racist, homophobic, sexist, ageist, etc. types of jokes and comments. I diminish myself and others when I say (and think) those types of thoughts.

I've heard it said that "collective guilt" is problematic, but I'm of the opinion that there is, indeed, such a think as collective guilt. It's a big topic, and I'll save my discussion of it for another day.

Thanks for reading and posting, Shel.