Former Nation editor Victor Navasky, discusses the power of political cartooning in his important new book, The Art of Controversy. What he leaves out is also important: political cartoonists who are women.
Ways To Express Freedom: The Third Annual International Festival Of Political Cartooning In Caen, France
What happens when political cartoonists from around the world gather in one place for a week and share their passion for what they do?
Had it not been for social media, we might not know about the horrible things that were done to the young woman that night in Steubenville, Ohio. Sadly, the attitude and behavior of the young football players, to a degree, is perhaps played out all over the country every weekend. Alcohol fueled rowdy group conduct can lead to horrible misconduct; in this case, it led to a form of gang rape.
This morning, I watched a video of one of the young men who was present that night. Watch it at your own risk–it is disturbing. The cell-phone video is trained directly on one young boy for twelve minutes as he delivers one liners about rape, death and the young woman, over and over again to the laughter of a some in the room. My shock at what was being said was compounded with wondering why is the camera focusing solely on him. At one point, the person doing the filming is heard to laughingly say to his subject, “I’m going to watch this over and over again.” It dawned on me: this young man in front of the camera is a wanna-be comedian. He is telling jokes made at the expense of a passed out, violated young woman (who is not in the room).
There is a strain of comedy in our country that makes fun of others beyond the bounds of civility. I am not saying that derogatory humor aimed at insulting, harassing, belittling and ridiculing women is gang rape, but it is a kind of shared, group attack that many feel is okay to do. Because it is shared by a large number of people in the room (auditorium, computer screen), it is somehow acceptable. Humor is a powerful tool and when used in this way is extremely hurtful to others, and worse. It continually perpetuates disrespect and hate in our society.
I was happily surprised at all the blow-back about Seth McFarlane’s performance at the Oscars. The New Yorker was critical, as were The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Salon. Smaller sites that focus on women’s rights, like Jezebel and Feministing weighed in as well, as did Ms. Magazine
But the days following all the coverage, I found myself a bit dejected: haven’t we been here before? When will misogyny not rank as high quality humor? Granted, humor equality is not high on the list of things we need to fix for women in the world. But we need to fix it, because I think it is symptomatic of the larger issues.
Humor in a society is reflective of what a culture values and doesn’t value, that’s how humor works. It takes what we know, the given in our society, and twists it–and that is what elicits the laugh. The unexpected makes us laugh. So when Mr. McFarlane sang a song about boobs, many of us did not laugh. It isn’t funny anymore. Not only is it humor we have heard from comedians since the dawn of time, we heard the same jokes in grade school. If the song about breasts in film were not enough, McFarlane went on to do jokes about battered women, bulimia, racial and religious profiling.
This type of humor is not only not top quality humor, it’s offensive. If McFarlane and others want to practice it, they have the right. But as a society, we cannot condone sexist, racist and homophobic humor as anything but wrong.
We need to loudly maintain a new standard for what is funny. We are beginning to do so, with the rise of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Even in this regard, we have been here before. Whoopi Goldberg rose to fame decades ago as representative of a new standard of humor in the age of Andrew Dice Clay. Cultural sexism rises and falls with each generation, but I think each time it is getting less and less. For this reason, we–men and women– have to keep pushing out new forms of humor, and not let the old fashioned male standard of humor continue to be seen as what is “good.”
Or maybe we should just go back to the fourth grade.
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