Thursday, October 18, 2012

About That 'Wildcat' Cartoon: Everyone Calm the Heck Down

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 1:46 PM

So the ill-advised Arizona Daily Wildcat cartoon is now national news, at least in media and LGBT circles.

A Change.org petition that calls for the figurative heads of the Arizona Daily Wildcat cartoonist, editor and copy editor (Huh? Copy editors don't look at cartoons!) as of this writing has around 3,250 signatures. Jim Romenesko, the country's pre-eminent media blogger, had the debacle as his top story earlier today.

Well, as a newspaper editor, a former student journalist and a gay dude (by default, the one of the most-prominent gay journalists in this dusty little burg), I feel the need to share my two cents. And the summary of those two cents?

Everyone needs to calm the heck down here.

Let's consider some of the comments on our Facebook post about the issue.

The guy who wrote it got fired, cool. What about the editor who allowed it to be published? What about the publisher who allowed it to be published in his paper?

Yes, the cartoonist who did this cartoon was fired, and he probably deserved it. This toon crossed a line, to be sure, and crossing a line is OK, if that line-crossing is given proper context.

This strip did not do that. There was no context. It wasn't funny. And I am concerned that the fired cartoonist, D.C Parsons, doesn't yet understand all of that, based on his lame apology. He says, in part: "I have always used humor as a coping mechanism, much like society does when addressing social taboos. I do not condone these things; I simply don’t ignore them. I do sincerely apologize and sympathize with anyone who may be offended by my comics (I am often similarly offended by “Ralph and Chuck”), but keep in mind it is only a joke, and what’s worse than a joke is a society that selectively ignores its problems."

If society were ignoring its problems, D.C.—problems, like, say, bias against gay folks—your ass would not be figurative grass right now.

However, I think the editor and everyone else at the Wildcat should get a bit of break.

Folks, this is a student newspaper. That means that, at its heart, the Wildcat is a learning tool. Writers, cartoonists, editors and photographers who don't have experience go there to get experience. And when people are learning something as complex as journalism anew (and, yes, this shit is complex), they're gonna make mistakes.

That strip should not have run, and based on her apology, it seems that the Wildcat editor, Kristina Bui, gets that now.

Let's put this in context here. What's more likely: The Wildcat is staffed by tone-deaf homophobes, or it's staffed by overworked, unexperienced, semi-amateur journalists who, for whatever reason, really messed up here?

Here's another Facebook comment:

uh, this comic wasn't homophobic "in a way". it was homophobic and disgusting in EVERY WAY. STOP DOWNPLAYING THIS.

I gave our previous post on The Range an edit, and I was the one who inserted "in a way" into David Mendez's copy. Why?

Well, I am not sure this is full, complete homophobia . You know what's full, complete homophobia? Someone getting attacked outside of a gay bar simply because they're gay. Or legislation that targets gay folks simply because they're gay.

A cartoon by a kid that appears in a college newspaper? Somewhat damaging and unbelievably dumb, yes. Homophobic? Not necessarily. Again, look at the context.

Another comment:

BFD.

You know what? This is a big deal—and that's a very good thing. Lessons are being learned here, and I can promise you that the discussion of this matter—in college classrooms, at newspapers, etc—is happening right now. It's a BFD, folks, and I am happy about that.

South Park must give you all heart attacks.

This comment, from TW contributor Casey Dewey, misses a point that I think sums up this whole matter: If you're going to approach tough, controversial topics in a way that involves humor, you'd better do it well.

One of the reasons why South Park is so bloody brilliant is that Matt Stone and Trey Parker have an almost unparalleled knack at satirizing sensitive topics in a way that is funny and sends a message. (But even they, on occasion overreach—by, say, attempting to depict the prophet Muhammad in an episode, thereby subjecting employees at their network to legitimate threats of violence.) Same goes for the humor of George Carlin, Louis C.K. and other brilliant humor minds.

But for every Matt Stone or George Carlin, you'll have a Michael Richards, or now a D.C. Parsons. Funny, pointed satire is very, very hard to do.

Enough with the petitions and the gnashing of teeth. What happened here is that a college kid, who probably didn't exactly mean to be homophobic, tried to make a point with humor. He failed, badly, and got the punishment he deserved. And we all learned something as a result.

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