Is this editorial cartoon objectionable?

Apologies in advance to those who believe it is:



This cartoon ran in the student newspaper of the University of North Carolina, a decision for which the editor was assailed. (The cartoon was drawn by a syndicated editorial cartoonist, not a student.)


– Was it wrong for the student paper to run this cartoon?

– Is the cartoon offensive? In poor taste? Or perfectly fine?

I will offer my opinion in the comments.




9 responses to “Is this editorial cartoon objectionable?”

  1. AWB says:

    This seems to me to be a typical college-kid satire fail. He thinks it would be funny and daring to mock something about this situation, but since he doesn’t want to address the serious issue represented, he turns it into a crack about how nutso those anti-corn-syrup people are. More than anything, it strikes me as cowardly and tone-deaf. It’s sort of like how every college newspaper ends up running “A Modest Proposal” for cleaning out the college storm drains or something. The author wants to borrow the mantle of Juvenalian savage indignation, but the only injustice he can think of is that burritos are served in the caf only once a week. Even when faced with an actual crisis that needs savage indignation, they can’t recognize it or feel anything about it, so they gnaw on something else with their toothless mouths.

  2. AWB says:

    If you’re asking if it should be *censored*, no, I’m pretty radically against censorship. But I am for editorial discernment. If one of your writers or artists seems to have a very weak grasp on both the subject matter and his tools, you don’t run it.

  3. Dave says:

    I agree with AWB that it’s a satire fail. What’s the joke? That it’s silly to be afraid of corn syrup? Or that Zimmerman could not have legitimately felt threatened by Trayvon? If it’s the former, it’s not funny enough to be a real joke. If it’s the latter, it’s a worthy point of a satirical cartoon but it’s not presented in anything approaching an effective way.

    Given how utterly lame the cartoon is, I do think it’s offensive. Not for being lame. But for depicting, fairly realistically for an editorial cartoon, the body of a black kid who has just been murdered, with his killer and a cop standing over him and the cop doing nothing but looking puzzled and taking notes.

    It would be possible to depict the same scene without doing it offensively, but there would have to be some point to it. Strong satire appropriately takes anything in human experience as its object. But this cartoon just looks like the cartoonist figured he had to do a Trayvon cartoon, so he drew a fairly literal rendering of the scene and made a stupidly inapposite joke to fit the drawing. It’s the combination of the timid, phoned-in gag with the literal depiction of Trayvon’s body that make this cartoon offensive. It’s not the content — a right-wing cartoon making a sharp point about the incident could have offensive content — but the banality. It’s a tragic, racially charged killing becoming mere grist for some hack cartoonist struggling to meet his syndication quota.

    What if it were your son, brother, or friend depicted in this cartoon lying dead, with left leg bent and overlapping the right knee?

  4. AWB says:

    Yes, exactly. It’s the image of Trayvon’s body that makes it obvious we’re supposed to be looking at serious, angry satire, because holy fuck that image is infuriating. The banality of the “joke” (which I guess I don’t get?) over that body is not interesting enough to make use of the rage the image causes.

  5. FPS says:

    But this cartoon just looks like the cartoonist figured he had to do a Trayvon cartoon, so he drew a fairly literal rendering of the scene and made a stupidly inapposite joke to fit the drawing.

    It’s like a typical entry in the agonizing Caption Contest at the back of The New Yorker each week. (Paraphrasing a character in Go, it just sits back there, waiting to suck.)

  6. AWB says:

    “Christ, what an asshole.”

  7. josh k-sky says:

    My reaction to it was that the Skittles excuse was as lame as every other excuse associated with Zimmerman’s defense, so I took it as reductio, not as a lazy miss. But yeah, if you were just running it because you thought it was tweaking the anti-corn syrup position, then no, dude, pass.

  8. LP says:

    First, to clarify per AWB comments #1 & 2: This was not drawn by a student; it is the work of a syndicated cartoonist. So it wasn’t one of the editor’s writers or artists who had the “weak grasp on both the subject matter and his tools”; the editor chose this cartoon from whatever batch of cartoons the paper bought the right to run.

    I was curious about this story mainly because the editor came under fire for running the cartoon, and then, in the face of the criticism, he doubled down and defended his choice to run it. The question, to me, was not “is this a good cartoon?” It was: “Is this cartoon so offensive that a student editor who runs it should be punished and/or removed from his post?”

    I don’t find the cartoon nearly as infuriating / terrible / stupid / lame as AWB and Dave do. I think it is meant to be a satirical take on the reasons George Zimmerman gave for following and shooting Trayvon Martin – e.g., He had a hoodie. He looked out of place. He seemed vaguely threatening. For whatever reason, Zimmerman believed Martin had a weapon, but all he really had were Skittles and an iced tea. So, this is simply an editorial cartoon taking that same idea one absurd step further.

    It’s not brilliant, granted. But have you looked at many editorial cartoons lately? How many did you look at and think, “Now THAT’s genius!” I’d venture a guess that the majority of editorial cartoons feel rather obvious and not exceedingly clever, with some exceptions for great cartoonists like Tom Toles.

    However… I completely agree with Dave that where this cartoon fails utterly is in depicting the body of Martin. It’s not only cruel; it’s also unnecessary. If you put your hand over the lower half of the cartoon, the joke remains the same. Nothing is lost but the shock-value factor, which the cartoonist was obviously aiming for. It’s insensitive and in poor taste. But while it’s good that the editor has to face, and respond to, understandable reader outrage, I don’t think he should be punished for running the cartoon.

  9. Dave says:

    I agree that a college newspaper editor should probably not be fired for running the cartoon. It’s no more objectionable than a lot of things college newspapers run. I don’t feel bad if the student editor got a lot of complaints for running it, though.

    I also agree that it’s pretty typical as an editorial cartoon. It’s hard to be funny, and it’s hard to respond in cartoon format to atrocities. And the cartoonists who do the best job aren’t going to be producing the kind of work that middle-of-the-road editorial page editors across the country are going to feel comfortable running. (The first bunch of strips of Get Your War On were so incredibly refreshing and sanity-affirming for me when they came out, but I suspect many editorial-page editors at local papers would have been fired for running them. Hell, the New York Times wouldn’t have run them at the time.) This cartoon is tepid because there’s a big market for tepid political cartoons that don’t offend people. Problem is, in some contexts tepid is its own kind of offensive.