By: Sarah LeBlanc
If you’re wondering what the print version of a news satire program like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report is, look no further than the editorial cartoon.
Unfortunately, the often overlooked editorial cartoon received some unwelcome attention last month for a racially suggestive remark coming from a portrayal of the White House’s somewhat comical Pokémon-fanatic intruder on September 30.
The October 1 cartoon that ran in the Boston Herald exaggerated the progress of the intruder and placed him in President Barack Obama’s bathtub. However, the real controversy was caused by the intruder’s comment to the president: “Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?”
In case this remark didn’t instantly set off any alarm bells, the problem with this comment isn’t the closeness of the intruder. It’s the historical and racial suggestion in the word “watermelon.” Cartoonist Jerry Holbert has since profusely apologized, but the question of why watermelon was chosen as the toothpaste flavor was immediately challenged as loaded with a racial connotation.
Though the flavor was changed to raspberry in client newspapers, editors at the Herald chose to publish the comic without revisions.
Editorial cartoons are famous for satirizing political and social situations or failures and they often rely on stereotypes to exaggerate their point. The problem with Holbert’s illustration stems from the apparent miscommunication of the meaning behind the intruder’s comment and the failure to understand the offensive racial stereotype included in his cartoon.
Should editorial cartoons really be taken this seriously? As a form of graphic journalism, these cartoons still communicate a valuable, if not bold, statement on the political, social and economic situation of society. However, the tendency to put too much weight on the intended meaning of these cartoons can cause the artist’s message to be misunderstood.
Earlier this year, Matt Bors’ editorial cartoon also caused controversy when its satirical remark that teenager Michael Brown “was no angel” was included in a New York Times article. The August 18 cartoon played off stereotypical generalizations of Brown as a troublemaker, making declarations that are commonly only acceptable in the critical and satirical medium of the editorial cartoon.
Do you consider editorial cartoons as a form of journalism? Are there some topics that shouldn’t be satirized? Let me know in the comments below.