Zen and the art of the half-assed, passive-aggressive apology
By now you’ve surely seen the hilarious “political cartoon” the New York Post ran earlier this week, cross-referencing the stimulus bill with a horrific story of a woman who was attacked and nearly killed by her friend’s pet chimpanzee. By “hilarious,” of course, I mean “juvenile and offensive,” and because of that I’m not going to dignify it by reprinting it here. Not surprisingly, the cartoon was greeted with nationwide outrage, culminating in a protest led by Al Sharpton outside of the Post‘s office building Thursday. The Post later issued an apology, written in the sullen, unrepentant tone of a teenager being forced by his parents to apologize for something he didn’t think was wrong.
Wednesday’s Page Six cartoon – caricaturing Monday’s police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut – has created considerable controversy.
It shows two police officers standing over the chimp’s body: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” one officer says.
It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.
But it has been taken as something else – as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.
This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.
However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past – and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.
To them, no apology is due.
Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon – even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.
Let’s put on our Little Orphan Annie secret decoder rings and read the hidden message: only a PC ninny with no sense of humor would think this was meant to be racist, but to stop our mail room from getting inundated with hate letters, we’ll throw you people a bone and offer this empty, meaningless apology. Oh, and fuck you, Al Sharpton. There’s no apology like one where it’s clear that the offending party isn’t at all sorry for what he or she has done, where words like “if” and “but” completely invalidate the point of it. The intention of an apology is to acknowledge that what you did was wrong and you’re accepting responsibility for it. Using phrases like “if anyone was offended” or insisting that your actions were misinterpreted renders it merely a gesture to take some of the heat off. You see this a lot in the mea culpa statements given by news outlets who run inflammatory stories or cartoons, or prominent idiots like Prince Harry. I don’t think I did anything wrong, but if it makes you feel better, I’m sorry, okay? Happy now? This apology is especially blatant in its misplaced blame, all but placing Al Sharpton and anyone else who spoke out against the cartoon as the real individuals at fault. After all, if they hadn’t made such a big deal out of it, nobody would have cared, right?
To be honest, when I first saw the cartoon, my initial thought wasn’t “That’s racist,” it was “There goes the New York Post being obnoxious dickbags again.” In New York City itself, the Post is pretty much a joke. It’s a tabloid making the barest effort to pass itself off as actual journalism, and most people with a brain bigger than a walnut know it’s barely worth using to line a birdcage. It’s not even allowed in my house. The only people who take it seriously are those who live in the ever-dwindling segregated neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, the kind who think they’re being edgy and clever by deliberately misspelling Obama’s name as “Osama,” and who call the cops if they see a black person walking down their street. However, the Post has also made it clear that it’s no fan of Obama, or liberals in general, so it’s not much of a reach to see how someone could interpret the cartoon as a racist slam against the President.
Was it intended to be racist? My guess is reply hazy, ask again later. I’ve learned to expect nothing but the lowest common denominator from the Post. I’d like to think that the “artist” behind the cartoon, Sean Delonas, couldn’t possibly be that stupid, but who knows. He has a long and rich history of relying on tired old stereotypes to get his muddled messages across, including portraying homosexuals as prancing fairies who show up to apply for marriage licenses with sheep tucked under their arms, and drawing Jessica Simpson as a Jabba the Hutt sized pile of flesh who dumps her boyfriend for Ronald McDonald. He’s also such a lousy caricaturist that he has to label each of the public figures he satirizes, just in case you can’t figure out who they’re supposed to be. It’s entirely possible that he gives himself much more credit for being clever than he really is. The best satire is intelligent and subtle–look at how many people have accidentally confused articles in The Onion for real news, or thought that Spinal Tap was an actual band. It loses its potency when it’s ugly and obvious. If he had named his cartoons ‘Sean Delonas Hates Liberals, Fags and Fat Chicks (and Possibly Black People),’ it’d be more honest, and easier to market to the Neanderthals who find that kind of thing funny.
There’s no wry, edgy political commentary to Delonas’ work, it’s the equivalent of trolling on the internet, saying deliberately offensive things to rile people up and then insisting you don’t understand what the fuss is about. It’s the feigned obtuseness, the insistence that you just can’t see what everyone finds offensive that’s really maddening. Trolls and people like Delona and Col Allen, the Post editor who issued the “apology,” hide behind accusations that we as a society have grown “too sensitive” or “too PC,” and that we “don’t get to judge what’s offensive to other people.” No, but I jolly well get to judge what’s offensive to me, and shit like this is offensive to me, so I’m going to speak up about it. You can disagree with my disagreeing if you like, it’s one of the really groovy things about living in America. I don’t necessarily think Sean Delonas should be barred from ever running another cartoon in a nationwide publication again, at least once he learns how to fucking draw. I do expect him to own his shit, though, and not cower behind his editor’s whining, defensive, pitiful excuse for an apology. It wasn’t his fault, guys, really, he was just so misunderstood.