At the University of Minnesota last week, an editorial cartoon I drew for The Minnesota Daily was attacked by a political action group, a reader and a group of University administrators as racist. The irony is, it was a cartoon attacking racism.
I usually don’t respond to criticisms of my cartoons, but in this case, I’m sickened by the intellectual McCarthyism represented by the signatories of the Oct. 17 letter “Rage Continues Over Cartoon”. To imply that the official position of the University of Minnesota is to “no longer” publish “cartoons like this one” is a shameless display of intimidation bordering on censorship by administrators against student journalists.
Perhaps the administrators’ own discomfiture over the exposed practice among their own cronies — not just in UW-Madison but also in at least one other university recently — of doctoring public relations literature to create a fake appearance of diversity on campus is what drove them to take this action. After all, this practice is a symptom of the lack of diversity on university campuses — a symptom of the institutional racism and classism that makes it impossible for many minorities to gain access to a college education.
The bully tactics deployed are anti-free speech, anti-art and an insult to the intelligence of the staff members and readers of the Daily. No wonder Spike Lee felt obligated to open his latest film, “Bamboozled,” with Webster’s definition of “satire.” Academic Stalinists like those who signed the letter have succeeded in infecting the population on and off campus with satirical illiteracy by demonizing anyone who disagrees with their particular prescription for curing the disease of racism in America — namely, censoring the incorporation of negative images from history into art which is designed to attack racism. It’s called satire, and it’s called historicism, and it’s not only equally valid as a strategy for combatting racism, but it’s more sophisticated and more effective.
The notion that repressing the display of a negative image will somehow magically end racism is naive and simple-minded to the extreme, and has been proven by history and by social psychological and communication research to do nothing but add fuel to the power of those images. Bem and Brehm’s work supporting the reactance theory in social psychology and the refutation half a century ago of the bullet theory of communication are relevant examples. George Orwell elucidated the naivete and fascist implications of this strategy in “1984.”
I am embarrassed to be a graduate student at a university where this stale 1980s-style of political correctness is routinely yanked out of moth balls to attack anyone who might dissent from the letter writers’ shoddy anti-art mentality, and disappointed that no art or design or history or literature (or, for that matter, LOGIC) professor has come to the defense of using negative imagery in visual satire. However I am not surprised, as that is precisely the chilling effect that results from the kind of name-calling that was dealt out by this contingency.
Pete Wagner is a Daily political cartoonist and welcomes comments to [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]