Friday, June 1, 2012

Straight But Not Narrow

   This one's for the many folks in my life who have taught me to never be ashamed of who you are.

   It also brings up the subtle point that there's no way to judge by looks (and even then you shouldn't anyways), as the first reaction to this panel is "but they look like regular, normal beavers." Well... yeah, that'd be the point: they are regular and normal. Goes to show you just never know.  

Speaking of which...
h/t Mother Jones

   But seriously, it's long been an abstract aspect of cartooning that's been interesting to ponder: the use of cute asexual animals as de facto stand-ins for human beings affords the artist the luxury of completely avoiding any baggage of gender or race. Unless, that is, one specifically designates such labels, which then becomes an opportunity to play with societal roles and challenge stereotypes - ideally without using said stereotypes (and thereby reinforcing them). So how would the deliberate assigning of a specific identity change or disrupt the perception of what would in some cases be only personal assumptions? In other words, when some folks look at an image of, say, a cartoon beaver without any visual cues as to it's race or gender, it by default will assume properties that are projected onto the character, like a simulacrum.

   Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics maintains that there is a correlation between the specificity of detail in a rendering of a character's features versus a generalized, more universal cartoon simplicity. The latter allows for a viewer to participate and become more engaged with the character by unconsciously assigning or projecting attributes, investing it with their own personal meaning. This could potentially work against an image when bias is part of the projection, like when the addition of a literal label in the form of a caption that specifically designates a role, race or gender. So when a viewer sees a generic cartoon animal, it can act as a sort of cipher, and the more constraints the creator places upon interpretations of the character the more it will rely upon latent stereotypes to "fill in the blanks" as it were.

   The "Homosexual Agenda" caption co-opts and pokes fun at a common turn of phrase used by many who oppose any and all deviation from the Heterosexual Norm, even in the case of animals possessed by gay demons. The meta joke for me in this particular panel is that the true meaning of it will escape the average reader (either that or, like any other work of art, they will assign their own interpretation of the image), and so I get to expound upon it here in a blog post. But without any such signposts, left to one's own devices, how would it look otherwise? 
   It briefly occurred to me that maybe this cartoon would cost me a reader or lose a fan, or even stir up a mild controversy. The irony being that any slight inconvenience or concern on my end is but a pale shadow of what someone who, regardless of the issue, has to live every day of their lives. In my comfortable zone of privilege, I simply can't ever hope to truly understand what it's like suffering from bigotry in any form.
   So one does what one can, using whatever tools are laying around. At it's heart the picture's just a drop in the bucket of hope.

*Update: what with Marvel/DC and more syndicated strips all joining in, here's a hat-tip to Andy Lippincott.


  1. Peace for everyone!

    We still love you.
    Take care,
    The Rogers

  2. If you want to know what being the target of bigotry is like, ride a bike for transportation or on any regular basis at all in traffic. I know it's not as bad as the plight of the truly oppressed, but check out the hate speech in any comment thread discussing bicyclists and motorists or simply experience the barrage of threatening behavior that can accompany any ride in some riding venues and some rides in any riding venue. It's an interesting piece of perspective, as well as healthful exercise and economical transportation. Raise your consciousness and lower your body mass index at the same time! Great stuff!

  3. You catch that viral cycle-cam POV of a hit & run in Berkeley? (Same comment thread phenom too):
    Dude got busted afterwards w/the plate grab...

  4. Thanks Rogers... back atcha!

  5. You're a good egg :)

  6. Thanks... scrambled & fried!