Friday, April 27, 2007

Killed Cartoons, edited by David Wallis

Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War On Free Expression, edited by David Wallis

This books contains about 100 political cartoons that were banned from various newspapers and magazines across the country. Accompanying the images are narratives telling why they were banned; these descriptions are what makes this book both fascinating and annoying. With several of the cartoons it is easy to see why they were banned: women tied up on a conveyor belt waiting to be raped or a naked Uncle Sam, complete with pubic hair. Most aren’t as obvious though, which is where the text becomes enlightening. A cartoon showing the American auto industry in a poor light was killed—in Ohio, not in Detroit—because the paper was worried that they would lose the related advertising revenue. One showing the corpse of Orville Redenbacher literally popping out of his casket was not printed because obituary humor is considered hard to defend. Good stuff, much of it thought provoking. The annoying part is the one-sided political slant.

Out of just under 100 cartoons, 26 directly lampoon Republicans and 4 target Democrats. This imbalance wouldn’t have bothered me if much of the text didn’t rail against unfair and unwarranted censorship. The media inevitably takes a point of view in deciding what stories to print and how much attention each story receives. So it is bad for the editor of a newspaper to selectively choose topics but acceptable for the editor of this book? Eh. Newspapers and magazines are printed to make a profit; killing content that cause people to end subscriptions and advertisers to pull ads is going to be a rare thing. Is anyone really surprised that a cartoon with the image of MLK as a kid explaining the wet spot on his bed to his mother with the phrase, “I had a dream” is going to get yanked? (Ignore the fact it is fairly funny!) But wait, don’t journalists look at both sides of every issue and report things in a fair manner? Isn’t any form of press censorship a violation of free speech? Please. Journalists’ reflect their own beliefs in their art, consciously or unconsciously. To believe that what you read in the Sunday paper is fair and balanced is just as naive as believing the spin from the White House Press Secretary. If Wallis wants to make a point about censorship then more power to him (and frankly, I agree with him!), but doing so while showing his political agenda severely damages the legitimacy of his message.

First Sentence:
Success to Paul Conrad means ruining your appetite.

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