Monday, January 26, 2009

Forced Perspective

This is going to be a long one, folks. But when Politico publishes a lengthy article that's just begging to be fisked, what's a blogger to do?

The article is here. My comments will be in red (well, naturally). All emphasis is added:
After poking fun at George W. Bush for eight years — often drawing him with big ears and a severe overbite, or as a gung-ho Joe College type, or simply as a clueless doofus — political cartoonists are finding Barack Obama a more elusive target. [Of course. Because making fun of The One is practically blasphemy, you know.]

Bush's emotive facial expressions, easy-to-caricature physical features [!! Objective journalism alert!] and, most of, all his deeply unpopular [Well, everybody Politico knows hated them, anyway] political decisions were fodder for liberal-leaning cartoonists. But the cool and detached [There's that objective journalism again] Obama enters the White House at a time of considerable economic anxiety, bolstered by wishes of goodwill even from some political opponents. [Which is wild, man, 'cause Lord knows liberals never wish their political opponents any good will--it's like, bad karma or something.]

"I had all my villains in place for eight years and they've been taken away," lamented Pulitzer Prize winner Pat Oliphant, one of the most widely syndicated cartoonists. "I don't know that I've ever had this experience before, of a president I maybe like. [Maybe? The way Michael Moore maybe likes attention, perhaps.] This is an antagonistic art. We're supposed to concentrate on finding things wrong. There's no point in drawing a cartoon that's favorable."

Amid a worsening recession, there is the question of what appetite exists for ridiculing a chief executive seen as earnestly trying to guide the country toward recovery. [Really? This question exists? Among whom, exactly?] Racial sensitivities also are an issue, [Well, yes; any criticism of Obama is already reframed as racism, and cartoonists are aware of that] as reflected in last summer's uproar over the New Yorker cover of the Democratic candidate giving his wife — depicted as a gun-toting, Angela Davis look-alike — a fist jab in the Oval Office.

Editorial cartoonists are feeling their way through the uncharted territory, slowly drawing a bead on satire that will singe but not burn. [Why? Do they usually do this for presidents?]

"It always takes a while to get a handle on new administrations, getting to know the players and working on developing effective caricatures," said Ann Telnaes, who draws the animated cartoons for Washington Post online and won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. "My earlier George W. Bush changed quite a bit over the first year."

Professional drawers suggest that Obama may prove an inviting target once ensconced in the White House, though for reasons distinct from his predecessor. Signe Wilkinson, editorial cartoonist at the Philadelphia Daily News, said Obama's penchant for attracting academic eggheads and over-achieving intellectuals will be one way to poke fun at the new president. [Wait...he's funny because he surrounds himself with smart people?]

"Just the same way I resented having a bunch of really smart neocons tell us how great the war in Iraq was going to be, Obama's lining up a bunch of technocrats telling us how they're going to bring heaven on earth," said Wilkinson, a 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner. "If he does everything he says he's going to do and the economy makes an immediate U-turn and peace breaks out in the Middle East, I would say we're going to be in trouble. [In other words, if he lives up to the pre-election hype...] But absent that, I think we'll be OK."

During the presidential campaign, cartoonists frequently homed in on Obama's measured temperament, [Another objective journalism alert!] with more critical strips caricaturing him as cold and aloof. More often than not, though, drawings were complimentary. One showed him mending a Constitution shredded by Bush, and another depicted him as a symbol of 1960s civil rights struggles. [No media bias there, right?] Cartoons regularly portrayed Obama as rail-thin with big ears or playing basketball (one of his passions) or placed him in a pantheon [Really? A pantheon? As in, a dwelling for gods?] with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Oliphant complained that Obama's physical features don't naturally lend themselves to caricature. [I think the suitability for caricature is in the eyes of the beholder...]

"With Bush, you had that general vacuity -- those blanked-out eyes and those goofy expressions. As for Obama, Thank God for his ears. A good-looking president isn't good for cartooning." [Mr. Oliphant is clearly a paragon of objective journalism, able to draw editorial cartoons that reflect no bias whatsoever...Oh, I know. Editorial cartoons are editorial, which means they're opinion journalism. And most editorial cartoonists are very liberal. But the media still thinks that they're not biased--regardless of the fact that the majority of editorial cartoonists, editorial writers, etc. at each major newspaper are left-leaning liberal Democrats...]

Wilkinson said she sees a model for Obama in her drawings of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, another Ivy League-educated, African-American politician -- and a frequent editorial target.

"He brought in a bunch of technocrats who were going to make things run perfectly," she said. "But I have found quite a few issues to cartoon Michael Nutter, and I don't think there's going to be a lack of them for Obama." [Well, that's good.]

Cartoonists take umbrage at the suggestion they will go soft on Obama because they agree with him ideologically [Even though that's exactly what they themselves are saying; at least, that's what Mr. Oliphant is saying, at the beginning of this very article...]. The cartoon landscape will probably be similar to the early presidential days of Bill Clinton, whom they came to regard as a wayward friend, [As opposed to George W. Bush, whom they always regarded as an implacable enemy, clearly.] Wilkinson said.

"The Clintons came in with a great deal of hope," [Hmm, that sounds familiar.] she recalled. "You want to be supportive for the home team. So if you like them and they're the home team, it's a little harder to make fun of them. [No comment. None is necessary, is it?] Having said that, cartoonists did plenty of cartoons on Bill Clinton." [Sure, once his peccadilloes became impossible to ignore.]

Telnaes said her brethren will be careful not to soft-peddle problems and mistakes, particularly as the new president grapples with the economic crisis. [Wait...didn't the article say above that cartoonists are worried that the public doesn't want Obama criticized as he grapples with the economic crisis? I'm confused...]

During the first Bush term, "editorial cartoonists had the same problem as the [mainstream media] had leading up to and during the Iraq war. It was difficult to criticize the administration and not be labeled anti-American during the earlier years," [Gosh, I don't remember that stopping anybody--do you?] she said. "There was a small group of cartoonists who did their job, but on the whole, we dropped the ball."

But even if Obama proves disappointing as a cartoon subject, several new faces on the political scene will provide fresh material, [Sure...jokes about various obscure administration officials will substitute for poking fun at the president.] Wilkinson said.

"You wonder if we're going to have things to work with over the next administration?" she asked. "I get to draw a sexy guy, Sanjay Gupta, Obama's reported pick for surgeon general, as well as freshly appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.). And White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has a real Machiavellian look -- those dark eyes. But most of my readers don't know who Rahm Emanuel is." [Which is pretty appalling, when you come to think of it; that objective media is so good at reporting fairly that the Philadelphia Daily News's own cartoonist doesn't think her readers know who Rahm Emanuel is!]

Oliphant is also looking toward old targets, specifically the Clintons, [As Ronald Reagan would say, "There you go again."] for material. Hillary Clinton's appointment as secretary of state, and by extension her husband, [Sure, Bill is funny. Or nauseating, depending on your perspective. But he's not the president--he's not even the president's husband, much to her great disappointment. So is the Obama policy "Hands off!"? We'll soon see.] will keep him busy, he said.

"At least the Clintons are back. They've never let me down yet."

Tell me again, O Mainstream Media, how centrist and balanced and fair you are, and how your dropping-like-a-rock circulation numbers is all due to the new technology, not to the fact that about half the country finds you about as relevant to their daily lives as air fresheners would be to the ichthyoid inhabitants of Sea World. And keep telling me, when disgust at your blatant worship of our new president translates into cancelled subscriptions and out-of-work editorial cartoonists, who are so busy digging their own unemployment graves that they won't realize their role in their irrelevance until long after the fact.


Scott W. said...

I'll assume these cartoonists will get over their misgivings when they find they need a paycheck. After all, even Hollywood managed to produce Red Dawn during the Reagan years. :)

Anonymous said...

God Bless Barack Obama. I'm really grateful that President Bush's time in office has come to an end.
I pray that we emerge from this dark and troubling time with hope and success in the future with President Obama's wise leadership.


Anonymous said...

Not fair. The local press prints national caricatures on the editorial page, and they seem to have a ready supply to roll out, of anyone in the public eye, including Pres. Obama (just hoping that they leave his family alone).