Citizenship Confusion: WORLD Magazine’s Editorial Cartoons
Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
I recently visited WORLD’s Editorial Cartoon page after reading some praise about it and was struck with how similar their cartoons were to those of other publications. They featured caricatures of politicians with grotesque features that dehumanized them and mocked their competence. They reduced complex political issues into absurd and simple scenarios. They were editorial cartoons, and that is what editorial cartoons do: make fun of politicians. But while there is a long history of belittling politicians in editorial cartoons, what bothered me was that WORLD Magazine, the largest Christian news magazine, seemed to stoop to the same level of dismissive and mocking political discourse as secular news outlets. One editorial cartoon stood out among the others as an example of an uncharitable, inappropriate, and manipulative political statement. It showed Barack Obama sending Rosa Parks to the back of a bus.
This cartoon, drawn by Michael Ramirez, alludes to the three-day, Midwest bus tour Obama took last week to discuss job creation. Apparently, by going on this tour instead of working to help US business, Obama was sending businesses to the back of the bus. Using our SAT analogy skills we can say that in this cartoon, Obama : US Business = White, State-Sanctioned Racism : Rosa Parks. Even if we ignore the not-so-subtle racist implications of putting Obama in the place of white, southern racists, this cartoon is offensive. Rosa Parks stood up against a society that worked to dehumanize and control Black people. She did this peacefully and courageously, and helped to start the civil rights movement. US business is… not growing very rapidly? Abused by regulations?
This comparison is nonsense and rather vile. Even if you believe the Obama administration is systematically working against US businesses, that is not even remotely close to the inhumane treatment of African-Americans in the 1950s. The very comparison belittles what Rosa Parks did.
What is interesting is that Ramirez understands that Rosa Parks deserves to be treated with dignity, so he drew her quite realistically and based the cartoon off of one of the most famous photographs of her. Obama, on the other hand, is drawn with grotesque features and a haughty look as he (apparently) reenacts the abuses of Civil Rights era America by sending her to the back.
My point in all this is not to call out Michael Ramirez or WORLD Magazine, although I think it would be good for both parties to pull the cartoon and issue an apology. Rather, my concern is that Christian culture feels so comfortable adopting the uncharitable and unloving rhetoric of the world in its cartoons. Whether it is WORLD, or Ray Comfort’s blog, or freelance cartoonists, Christians are all too comfortable mocking atheists, evolutionists, Democrats, and presidents, through cartoons. I would like to encourage all of us to resist the urge to mock and belittle those who disagree with us, because as citizens of heaven we have an obligation to represent our Lord through our words and our images.
Add to that the Christian principle of honouring (not merely obeying) even the emperor we don’t particularly like and the dissonance becomes deafening.
Also, did they colour Obama there to look like The White Man?
That cartoon is tasteless to say the least, and really should have been pulled by the editors before it ever saw the light of day. (Judged merely as a cartoon, it’s not even a good one. The comparison isn’t very clever, just boorishly ironic. And there’s nothing funny about it.) A really good political cartoon is both funny and serious (in contrast to an average senator, who is neither funny nor serious), and it resorts to caricatures in order to exaggerate flaws and make a serious point. Most political cartoons are partisan, but a really good cartoon should be enjoyable by people of any number of political persuasions. They are a form of satire, and as such, must provoke both laughter and moral correction. There’s a long tradition of political satire in the West, much of it not very charitable I might add, and perhaps as Christians we should be more careful about the kinds of satire we create. The cartoons I find funniest AND most provocative are those that mock an action, rather than a person. The best satires uncover universal human foibles, and exaggerate them until we recognize our own faults as well as those of our neighbors.
I’m almost more offended by the Darwin cartoon than the Obama one. At least the Obama one is drawn well. Ugh.
Great post! I would disagree with you on one count, when you say:
“Christians are all too comfortable mocking atheists, evolutionists, Democrats, and presidents, through cartoons.”
I would say SOME Christians are all too comfortable doing this. I am not, you obviously aren’t. Seth isn’t. These two other commenters are not–so that’s a start.
@Drew – I feel like we use that “Christians do this, christians do that” thing pretty often around here. There’s implied exceptions, of course. I would hate to think we have to point them out every time.
Hear, hear. Very well said.
@Rich do we really do that around here? I hadn’t noticed?
I didn’t feel that Alan needed to point out the exception in the article, I knew what he meant. I wanted to point out the exception, so I did in the comments there.
YEAH ALL THE TIME CONSTANTLY IT NEVER STOPS ITS NEVER ENDING LIKE INFINITE BRO
I agree with Steve. Political satire may be an uncharitable form of speech, but a lot of that is modified by the context. However, the problem with these comics goes deeper than just “Christians shouldn’t make political cartoons the way TIME does.” In fact, I think that these comics are *particularly* uncharitable, in a way that secular cartoons most often aren’t. I think this is true for a lot of reasons. But I don’t think that these cartoons represent Christian publications sinking to the “rhetoric of the world.” I think these cartoons are far below “worldly rhetoric,” and that they represent a much deeper heart issue.
At root, I’d guess it’s that currently Christianity struggles with a temptation to fear rather than love, to exaggerate threats and take up swords against them, and to see nonbelievers not as humans loved by God but as threats to the next generation of Christian children. But call a spade a spade–these comics, particularly the World Magazine comic referenced above, demonstrate an uncharitable attitude far worse than the standards set by the world.
Just to follow up, I think a few of these comics are good–both as comics and as satire. For example:
Both are funny (at least I found them funny, though I know funny is relative), they reflect on current events, and they hold an unflattering mirror up to readers and leaders alike.
By the way, are any of you familiar with the WWII-era political cartoons of Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) that pillory Hitler? Like the World cartoons, they are heavily partisan, though I hope we can agree that Geisel’s were on the correct side. His really uncharitable cartoons are directed at the Japanese, and the best don’t mock the Axis leaders directly, but mock their American supporters and/or enablers.
I found Kelley’s comics to be a lot more poignant and funny too.
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