06w07:1 The Cartoons

by timothy. 0 Comments


Last week saw a lot of coverage in mainstream media about the protests over some stupid drawings. In the Saturday (11 Feb) Globe and Mail, the editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon argued that they weren’t showing them because they didn’t feel they added anything important to the story, while justifying the occasional photo of bombed bodies on Israeli buses. (In that case I’m thinking of a 2003 front page). He wrote:

‘As one cartoonist said earlier this week, this is not a matter of self-censorship. It is a question of editing. Every day we are faced with similar decisions, particularly in choosing photos. Do we show a naked woman? Do we show a dead baby? Do we show bodies blown apart by a suicide bomber or other samples of the carnage that come our way regularly? Most often the answer is we do not. Only when we feel an offensive photo is absolutely necessary to the understanding of the story do we loosen our restraints.’

‘This point makes no sense, given that a full understanding of protests about drawings should require that one see them for oneself. I could take the mainstream media’s self-righteousness seriously if this were not the age of the internet and Google. You want to see ’em, go ahead and see them. The same goes for pictures of naked women (naked men aren’t offensive?) dead babies, and carnage (orgish.com?). The media has used arguments of self-censorship and editing to draw us a picture of their own obsolesce. I’ve been wondering about how many people have actually seen the images on the net. As that’s part of what Goodreads is about, I almost sent the link a week ago but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be part of the game of offending people. I’ve been wishing this story would just go away like they always do. Remember two years ago when Mel Gibson was supposedly an anti-semite?

Yet I can relate to being offended by images. In 2002 John Paul II came to Toronto for the World Youth Day and I went and saw him give Mass, since I grew up a Catholic and had seen his photograph at my grandmother’s house for as long as I could remember, in addition to it being very popular in the area. There was a feeling of obligation, mixed with nostalgia I suppose. The night before the Mass, I went to an opening at Art System, the Ontario College of Art and Design student run gallery. Their show was about the Pope, and extended to Catholicism in general. As you can imagine, there were plenty of images of priests and popes sodomizing young boys. For one of the few times in my life, I was offended, but I knew where it was coming from (the rebellious young influenced by the scandals in the news) and having grown up in an open and tolerant society, felt no need to staple a placard to a stick and lead a protest, considering it was all just stupid and immature.

Now, one of the arguments with these Muhammed cartoons is that the editors of the newspaper should have known better. These Muslims are rioting and protesting because they feel insulted. I find it all kind of crazy that some people can get all upset over drawings, but as a visual artist I suppose I’m supposed to get all excited by the power of the medium and jump on the iconographic bandwagon, or get on the side of the cartoonists and talk about freedom of expression and denounce this iconoclasm. But I feel I have better things to do. The World has better things to do.

The editors of newspapers in North America would know better than to publish the images I saw from OCAD. They would be able to see how unfair they were. I’m not sure if that’s censorship, as much as it’s a respect for context. I can well imagine the images published elsewhere – in a show catalogue, in some article critiquing or analyzing the Church’s pederast scandals, in some art history book. The show didn’t warrant getting shut down by the cops, which still happens sometimes. There were no protests.

In this case, the cartoons violate Islam’s prohibition against images, and especially the prohibition in depicting the Prophet. Worse, the arguments made against the images by Muslim spokespeople are that they stereotype Muslims as terrorists. The image by Claus Seidel seems aimed to offend by merely representing Muhammed, whereas the image by Erik Sorensen seems to be as juvenile and ignorant as the shit I saw that night at OCAD.

Further, I have a recent example of being offended by an image. And the image in question is that of an ad featuring Ann Coulter and Robert Novak, featured prominently next to the cartoons here. This webpage thus manages to offend not only Muslims, but secular liberals. And, when I ask myself, ‘why do they keep protesting?’ I’m reminded by Coulter, who recently referred to them as ‘ragheads’.

The best explanation for what’s happened over the past week (advanced by Rick Salutin and reported by Simon Tudiver in Maisonneuve’s Mediascout) is that Muslims are pissed off for always being stereotyped and caricatured as terrorists, from these stupid cartoons to Hollywood’s blockbusters. Tudivier’s headline, by the way, ‘Protesting the cartoon professor’ refers to Peter March, who posted the images on the door of his office at Saint Mary’s University. Peter March was a professor of mine in 1998. After Tudivier raises the Salutin article, he adds, ‘Had Professor March offered up such an idea, MediaScout would have applauded his contribution. We should be looking to our academics to elevate the debate, not debase it by merely inciting an angry mob.’ What’s unclear in the reportage about Prof. March was that he teaches philosophy, and I think it’s fair to suggest that, instead of merely trying to incite an angry mob (as he waded into a protest on campus last week), he was trying to engage in Socratic debate.

Which should help remind us that all of these easy explanations cheapen us all, and I’m going to go back to wishing the world had something better to talk about (like poverty, aids, hunger, global warming, etc). The way the religious keep hijacking the agenda of human betterment seems to me the best advertisement for agnostic secularism, which is why I’m rather happy to live in a Canada, where that’s pretty much the way it is, although we end watching the world’s news for entertainment rather than dealing with our own social agenda. A week ago I wanted to send out the link to the Colbert Report video below, under the headline, ‘why I’m glad I’m not American’ but truth be told, inasmuch as it critiques the American economy, it’s true here as well. This type of thing warrants a lot more discussion than drawings, or ‘turncoat politicians’. – Timothy


‘Thank You’ | The Colbert Report

Protesting the Cartoon Professor | Simon Tudvier

The Cartoons

Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy | Wikipedia

Face of Muhammed
A blog about the cartoons

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 13 February 2006 @ 4:37 PM (Permalink)

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