Cartoonists Confront Political Correctness p. 14

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez

On Unity panel journalistic ‘pit bulls’ discuss sensitivity and
ponder ways to illuminate issues without offending people sp.

EDITORIAL CARTOONING AND political correctness are words rarely associated with each other; after all, if the cartoonist has done his job right, someone likely will be offended.
The editorial cartoonist “by his very nature has to be provocative,” noted Mike Ramirez, editorial cartoonist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“We’re the pit bulls of journalism. We attack those who don’t share our point of view,” said the cartoonist, who is syndicated by Copley News Service.
“Essentially, we get paid to be obnoxious,” Ramirez deadpanned.
But when it comes to issues of race and gender and sexuality, there are sensitivities that these cartoonists consider, for if they don’t, their readers will point it out to them fast enough.
During an early morning session of the Unity ’94 conference in Atlanta, Ramirez, Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News, Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Constitution and David Horsey from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer discussed some of the cartoons that have gotten them in trouble, and what they sometimes do to avoid that.
“When I got into cartooning, I thought it was populated only by my heroes like Bill Mauldin,” said Wilkinson, who is syndicated by the Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate, while showing a Mauldin cartoon that was racist. “He cartooned from the trenches in World War II and also from the trenches in Mississippi.
“I found out later my cartooning family has a mixed heritage, at best,” she continued, showing examples of cartoons featuring racial stereotypes held up for ridicule.
Editorial cartooning has evolved from making fun of people to making political statements, Wilkinson explained.
The subjects of editorial cartoons frequently are real people, whether they are white, black or otherwise, and Wilkinson said she just draws ’em like she sees ’em.
“One thing I try to do is integrate a crowd scene,” she said. “To make a differentiation between people, I do exaggerate some characteristics. I don’t do it to make fun but to give the sense that person is of one group or another.”
But racial stereotypes are not protested nearly as much as religious groups, which Wilkinson described as the “most on-guard and vigilant.”
Another point she keeps in mind when drawing is that if she portrays a pregnant teen, if the girl is white she stands for all teens, but if the girl is black it is seen as a negative image portraying all black teen girls as pregnant.
Luckovich, syndicated by Creators Syndicate, agreed, adding, “There are times when you really have to make a conscious decision. A white person is people in general. If you draw blacks, people say you are zeroing in on that group.”
Having a black woman, Cynthia Tucker, as his editor has helped Luckovich, a self-described “white guy,” comment on issues in the black community ? and, he said, it gives him some legitimacy.
While Luckovich said he does not attend editorial board meetings, he uses Tucker and the editorial writers as a sounding board.
“The editorial writers and Cynthia are a good audience to bounce an idea off of to see if it works,” he said. “Sometimes I lose my objectivity after staring at a cartoon for too long.”
When Ramirez first came to Memphis, the city was polarized, and he wondered if he should be extra-sensitive to one group or another.
“I believe issues should be decided on their own merits or faults,” he said, adding that he decided to focus on “issues, not race or gender.” He said he bases his judgment on the content of issues but confronts race when it becomes an issue.
“In the art of characterization, you must consider all elements, [such as] what can enhance the cartoonist’s statement? Ramirez said.
For example, Ramirez received complaints from the Jewish community about his portrayal of Jews as people with big noses. Ramirez, however, draws nearly everyone with an oversized nose, including PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and he showed a series of slides illustrating his point.
The problem, however, is that “I don’t want the message distracted by big noses” because that is when the “cartoon becomes ineffectual.”
“More often than not, it is the context people are upset about,” he continued. “There is a problem of race, and we need to fight it, but in all segments. I do not believe in the generalization of people by broad groups. We have to have a common base to communicate in.”
If every journalist uses a mirror to try to reflect society, then editorial cartoonists have a funhouse mirror, Horsey said.
“If you hold it right, it will shed some light on an issue. But because it is a distorted mirror, it’s going to offend somebody,” said Horsey, who is syndicated through North America Syndicate.
“The one reality of our jobs is that no matter what we do, somebody is going to be angry,” he said. “We may second-guess our readers in terms of being sensitive far more than we need to be. We should give them credit for getting the joke.”
The role of the editorial cartoonist, according to Horsey, is to “get past imprecise perceptions and portray reality in ways people are not seeing well.”
Horsey pointed out that “little things are important. To be included is important.”
Basically, Wilkinson added, this is a white profession.
“True power is not just deciding which cartoonist gets in the paper but in drawing it,” she said.
?(Signe Wilkinson) [Photo]
?(Mike Ramirez) [Photo]

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