We can Do Better at teh funney

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My great grandmother (according to family legend) was fond of saying “There’s no accounting for taste, as the old lady kissed the cow.”  The first part of the saying it familiar, but the second part is just bizarre.  It does, however, aptly describes how widely people’s individual preferences can be.  That broad spectrum of taste is something I’ve been trying to examine as I process the Oklahoman Sotomayor cartoon.

Not that I’m an arbiter of humor – I am no cartoonist or raconteur.  But my reaction to this cartoon when I saw it via Twitter was visceral and negative.  This is not your typical cartoon violence.

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor went to Ivy League schools and has served as a judge for more than a decade.  And a paper that was once voted the Worst Newspaper in America runs a cartoon depicting her as a pinata or as lynched, depending on who you read.  Satire works because it manages to poke fun at a fundamental truth, a dynamic that just isn’t present in this cartoon.

What also shocked me was the reaction of some of my friends – particularly so-called Liberal, white male friends – who didn’t understand why I thought this cartoon was not only racist but sexist as well.  And inaccurate – Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican decent, which is not only a part of the US but New York City’s 7th borough after West Palm Beach.  And the cartoon is not sexist in a “honey go fetch me coffee” way but in a “let’s all get sticks and beat the crap out of a woman” way.  Oklahoma Women’s Network Blog does a great job of pointing out exactly why this cartoon is threatening to women, in case the three elephants/GOP members with 2×4 is not clear enough in it’s violence. The anger the cartoon evoked in me was only compounded by my friends inability to see the patent sexism.  It points out how engrained sexism is in our society, even amongst allies.

So let’s think this through – what would be ways to DO BETTER and preserve some level of humor and remove the racist, sexist, violent parts?

– Don’t have Sotomayor hanging from a rope. (That’s an easy one.)

– If you have to put them at odds, at least give her a weapon.  In the spirit of humor, it could be smaller – like a knife to a gun fight.  But at least show her as being defensive (and by defensive I mean armed and ready.)  When I first saw the cartoon, for a split second I thought the edge of President Obama’s hat/ridiculous sombrero was a stick Sotomayor was holding.  I was sadly mistaken.

– Play off the elephant/GOP theme and make her look like a mouse – but perhaps that would too clearly show how terrified the GOP is of a smart, educated, ambitious woman of color.

There are about a million other choices the cartoonist could have made to make his point.  I’m all for people expressing themselves, even in their ugliest manifestations.  It’s interesting to watch our American society grapple with the Other identity.  At the end of the day, we have to do better.  We absolutely have to poke fun at ourselves, be irreverent and push boundaries.  But I’d like to think we’re smart enough that we can do so without the meanness and violence.  That in the future, we always do better – whether that’s bringing people in to places of power that haven’t ever inhabited that place before (like President Obama, and eventually Sonia Sotomayor), to cracking jokes that evoke laughter and not outrage and offense.

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