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(Source: Martin Šutovec, Sme, 17 Feb. 2010)

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I absolutely love this cartoon by Martin Šútovec, an outstanding contemporary Slovak cartoonist. In fact, I love it so much that I’m reproducing it here and explaining quite laboriously and awkwardly the wordplay that makes it so humorous.

Komárno is for mosquitos

Komárno is for mosquitos

The cartoon is mocking the new Slovak language law (the Hungarian political scientist and MEP György Schöpflin offers his perspective here), which seems, at least ostensibly, to outlaw the public use of languages other than Slovak — hitting the Hungarian minority that makes up roughly 10 percent of Slovakia’s population especially hard.

In the cartoon, you have a mosquito standing next to a sign for Komárno, a border town on the route between Bratislava and Budapest, which has the Hungarian name Komárom, ergo the two signs on the post. Of course, the word “Komárom” also essentially means “to the mosquitos” in Slovak (it’s the genitive plural form of komár — mosquito). So, a Slovak might read the sign as saying “Mosquitoville for the Mosquitos,” or something to that effect. And this is why there’s a mosquito on the left.

Naturally, the notion of a Slovak town being for anyone but Slovaks is offensive to the Hungarophobic Slovak nationalists who support the thrust of the new language law, which is why you get the thuggish skinhead on the right looking enraged with his sign, “Slovakia for the Slovaks!”

My clunky explanation hardly does it justice, but this cartoon cracked me up, and it’s hilarious to anyone who knows Slovak, assuming you aren’t a xenophobe.

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… which probably explains why Stalin was so eager to kill Trotsky before he could leak the secret to Kremlin Fried Chicken to Trotsky’s doppelganger, Colonel Sanders.

 

What if Stalins henchmen had accidentally stabbed Colonel Sanders in the back of the head with a Mexican ice pick?

What if Stalin's henchmen had accidentally stabbed Colonel Sanders in the back of the head with a Mexican ice pick?

Then again, it’s debatable whether fried chicken could’ve been as effective a vehicle for spreading the gospel according to St. Marx as Stalin’s hit idea of restyling himself as Nintendo’s iconic Super Mario in video games played by hundreds of millions of impressionable young minds.

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“I have a strong social program,” the man says to his wife as he heads out the door. “First hockey, then beer.”

It’s good to see I’m not the only one whose social “program” is based on hockey and beer.”

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In an update to the NY Post monkey cartoon saga, the Post has offered a non-apology apology.

Here’s the cop out, in the form of an editorial to run in Friday’s editions:

Wednesday’s Page Six cartoon — caricaturing Monday’s police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut — has created considerable controversy.

It shows two police officers standing over the chimp’s body: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” one officer says.

It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.

Period.

But it has been taken as something else — as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.

This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.

However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past — and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.

To them, no apology is due.

Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon — even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

Translation: Yeah, it caused an uproar, and we’re sorry for that, not because we actually feel contrite, but because it’s caused us a lot of hassle. But we’re still going to be jerks and take thinly veiled jabs at Al Sharpton and other people who’ve accused us of racism because we haven’t actually learned from this experience.

Nice.

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Taking a break from outlining a paper on political cartoons, I surfed to the NYT and discovered … a controversy about a political cartoon.

The offending image in question appeared in today’s New York Post, and tried to make a tawdry connection between the newly passed stimulus package and the pet chimpanzee that recently had to be euthanized after it attacked a human.

 

Shooting the chimp

Shooting the chimp

It’s easy to see that the cartoonist is trying to score a cheap though shameful laugh by referring to the pet chimp.

But it’s also apparent that the connection between an African American (in this case Obama) and a cartoon monkey is racist, and can only be seen as racist in light of a long, ugly history of American political cartoons that depicted blacks (as well as Irish and Chinese) as simian and apelike. Without that historical context, this cartoon might just be thought of as being in poor taste, since it makes light of an unfortunate incident to try to score a cheap political point.

But there’s no escaping that context. Surely the cartoonist in question, Sean Delonas, can’t have been unaware of this history, and he can’t have not known that the image of a monkey in connection with a black president was going to recall that history of racist stereotyping in political cartoons.

Al Sharpton has been vocal in his outrage over the cartoon, as he argues quite cogently on his web site.

The cartoon in today’s New York Post is troubling at best, given the racist attacks throughout history that have made African-Americans synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual inference to this form of racism when, in the cartoon, the police say after shooting a chimpanzee, “now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”

Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder whether the Post cartoonist was inferring that a monkey wrote it?

New York Gov. David Paterson and Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand have also spoken out against the cartoon. But Col Allan, the Post’s editor in chief, is standing by his cartoonist in a pretty indefensible way.

The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.

The problem is, the parody isn’t so clear. If there weren’t that long history of cartoonists portraying African Americans as apes and monkeys, then the parody would be clear, and it would just be a question of taste. But this cartoon doesn’t exist in such a vacuum, and I just find it impossible to believe no one at the Post would be unaware of the hurtful history and racist connotations this image evokes.

It’s interesting, too, how commenters on the NYT story about the cartoon have largely expressed a sense of agreeing with Sharpton, often for the first time, which seems to be a clear indication that the cartoon has an unmistakably racist implication.

Of course, there are some who seem to side with the Post editor and prefer to keep bashing Sharpton, like one commenter who notes how cartoonists long depicted Dubya as a chimp. Once again, context matters. Sure, it’s insulting, and perhaps in poor taste, to suggest Bush is chimplike. But those cartoons don’t carry the same baggage because caricatures of Bush as chimp don’t evoke the same racial stereotypes.

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Sme wrapped up its coverage of the presidential campaign via the NYT today with a compendium of cartoons about the American campaign from around the world. (As an aside: how did I not see this on the NYT’s own web page?!)

It is well worth examining, not only to relive the highlights of the campaign season or to enjoy some of the quite humorous cartoons, but also to get a sense of how people from around the world viewed the campaign and the dawn of the Obama administration.

The Dutch cartoon is particularly revealing, I think, and the Australian cartoon depicts a sentiment that has to make all but the most bigoted smile.

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