Much Ado About Nothing: Comparing Offensive Cartoons

Posted by mlemaire on February 21st, 2013

When I hopped on Twitter yesterday morning and saw Kentucky fans getting riled up about an editorial cartoon in the Louisville Courier-Journal that poked fun at Kentucky star Nerlens Noel‘s serious knee injury, I was immediately reminded of the time I was dragged into a similar, but not the same, controversy over an editorial cartoon. In the Fall of 2010, I was the Maryland football beat writer for the student newspaper, The Diamondback, when one morning I woke up to more e-mails from purported readers than I had received working for the paper in the previous two years combined. Much to my chagrin, none of the e-mails were congratulatory; instead, most of them were angry remarks over some cartoon the paper had published that morning. Since the editorial staff was responsible for printing cartoons and I worked on the sports staff, I had no idea what cartoon everyone was talking about, so I quickly hustled down to the lobby of my building and picked up a copy of The Diamondback. I flipped to the editorial page and deflated when I found the cartoon everyone was talking about. It was this one.

Published October 26, 2010 by The Diamondback

Published October 26, 2010 in The Diamondback

If this cartoon had run a month earlier, it just would have been a relatively unfunny cartoon that no one would have given a second thought. Unfortunately, not even a week before, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Pete DeSouza had suffered fractures in both of his lower legs as a result of crashing into a car while driving a scooter on campus. Given the context, the cartoon had quickly gone from unfunny and forgettable to a big deal. In defense of the cartoonist, who quickly apologized, she was unaware of the incident involving DeSouza and had just meant the cartoon to be commentary about public safety on campus (and scooters were everywhere at Maryland, especially amongst athletes), but the damage had been done.

The football team was angry, coach Ralph Friedgen was angry, students were angry, faculty members were angry, and of course Maryland football fans were angry as well. The newspaper was bombarded with e-mails, our editor-in-chief had to issue a statement and apology, and the program’s media guy actually revoked our player and coach interview privileges before re-instating them shortly thereafter once we pled our case and explained that we had nothing to do with the publishing or design of the cartoon.

I bring this up because that cartoon is a great example of cartooning gone too far. It may have been an unfortunate mistake by the cartoonist and editorial folks, but it was still clearly an offensive cartoon. You just don’t joke about an incident when someone fractures both of their legs and loses their ability to play. But what about when a talented basketball player tears an ACL and is lost for the season? Well, we found out what Kentucky fans thought of the idea when they rose up against a cartoon published yesterday in the Courier-Journal  that looked like this.

Is This Cartoon Really That Offensive?

Is This Cartoon Really That Offensive?

The situations surrounding the two cartoons are obviously different. One was an accident, one was deliberately crafted around the Noel injury, and so on, but this is not an offensive cartoon. The cartoon is not very funny or especially clever, but considering the cartoonist actually wishes Noel a speedy recovery (bottom right corner above the signature), it probably shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of malicious joke at Noel’s expense. It isn’t really commenting on Noel’s injury at all, it is just pointing out a potentially accurate and common perception of Kentucky’s chances at making the NCAA Tournament without their star center in the lineup.

Of course that hasn’t stopped Kentucky fans from getting juiced up, as they are wont to do from time to time. The comments aren’t as unhinged as I had secretly hoped for, but the comment section of the post on Kentucky Sports Radio is a good place to start if you are looking for backlash. The hashtag #UsesForCourierJournal will also be worthwhile if you are interested in not-very-funny Twitter jokes but some good ole fashioned newspaper bashing and then of course there is Erin Calipari‘s Twitter timeline which features a few variations of the stale “Louisville students don’t read good” joke and some amateur artistry which is, admittedly, at least five times as good as anything I could have drawn.

If you lived in a vacuum but were given the context and told to pick the more offensive cartoon, you would choose the Maryland scooter cartoon every time right? So as much fun as it is to watch Kentucky fans get outraged, let’s take a few steps back, do some breathing exercises, stop assuming every newspaper and cartoonist is a biased sports fan, and save our righteous indignation for something more important.

mlemaire (230 Posts)


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