Friday, December 23, 2011

Nast-y Buisness

In the spirit of the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens, someone else's work who's been dead for over one hundred years but is still pissing off people: the consummate cartoonist Thomas Nast.

This time it's over his nomination to the vaunted New Jersey Hall of Fame, which has aroused the ire of a 14th century relic, The Ancient Order of Hibernians. They, along with enlisted political hacks, are protesting the inclusion of Nast based on the content of a few of his panels which depict Irish Catholics in derogatory fashion. President of the New Jersey Order, Sean Pender, says “I find it is outrageous that the New Jersey Hall of Fame is even considering such a bigot in these times for consideration” - a sentiment parroted by Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo (D-Mercer): “We should not be honoring any individual who contributed to the popularization of bigotry and prejudice in our country." While this by definition might preclude an awful lot of shenanigans relating to the Church, in the meantime this politician better make sure he isn’t ever caught using the donkey symbol for the Democratic Party, or the elephant either for his Republican counterpart, Assemblyman David Rible: "As a state Assemblyman and an Irish Catholic I am appalled at the idea that New Jersey would seek to honor a man who openly conveyed prejudice and intolerance through his so-called art." And none of the protesting parties better use anything depicting Santa Claus or Uncle Sam either for that matter, lest they accidentally further contribute to honoring said individual’s media popularizations

So much easier to attack the shadow puppet instead of the real thing, or try and grapple with the societal circumstances behind historical events - much less what's going on right now - as cartoonists, and all other forms of the media, reflect the bigotry and prejudice of their times. To isolate them from their context results in censored stupidity such as, for example, the new, anesthetized edition of Huckleberry Finn. And the supreme irony is how Nast, much like Hitchens, focused his ire upon the leading sources of bigotry and intolerance at the time, ie religion in lockstep with its political simulacra. Not much has changed, and as any casual perusal of current editorial cartoons will reveal, there are many, many more artists that will be joining Nast in Hell, or at least never get in to the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
Speaking of which: voting is open to all...

Like his art, Nast's thirty-year residence in New Jersey encompassed the good, bad and the ugly, and his body of work left an indelible mark upon American culture, despite the efforts of politically-correct censors who would do their best to erase the past. Which, in light of the continuing blemish upon the Church in Ireland, will take far more than the self-righteous indignation of apologists to overcome. The systemic, institutionalized abuse extends beyond any one country, even soiling the shores of Alaska, having reached remote Native villages and resulting in the bankrupting of the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks with payments last year of 9.8 million dollars to the victims of abuse. *For more on this, watch the Frontline program "The Silence" here.

Posted above is "The American River Ganges," one of the notorious panels by Nast that is attracting all of the attention: it recasts bishops as ...menacing innocent children. Hmmm. One of the hallmarks of a great editorial cartoon is how timeless it is, and this particular one should be rerun in conjunction with any press about this newest Nast-y controversy just to point out the hypocrisy of cherry-picking a few bad apples, since everybody knows that not all Irish Catholic priests are pedophiles, right? Because it's simply just not fair to draw upon such negative stereotypes on the basis of a few, isolated instances.

One would think that such an organization would not cast stones, especially in a (literally) stained-glass house: regrettably, being portrayed as drunks, reptiles or apes is probably the more benign caricatures that Irish Catholics will now be remembered as. They certainly seem to have adopted the convoluted right-wing logic of spinning any criticism into where not tolerating bigotry is somehow re-branded as being intolerant and bigoted itself

Hat-tip to Mike Lynch for the initial post over on his blog with an article from a cartoonists POV.  

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