STEVE BOUSER: Readers to Cartoonist: 'Tain't Funny, Mike
This grew out of a couple of recent postings in the "Editor's Note" blog on thepilot.com.
Mike Peters has not been a popular man in Moore County lately.
Three times in the past month, his syndicated cartoons, as published in The Pilot, have provoked outrage or confusion -- or both -- among readers.
First it was Ina Young, who asked early in July: "Could someone please explain the political cartoon by Mike Peters depicting 'Pres. McCain' stating he would 'like to thank the architect' and pointing to a statue that appears to be Osama bin Laden? I fall short of grasping the meaning."
Ms. Young was not the only one who found the cartoon mystifying. I did too at first.
But on reflection, I realized it must be a reference to a weird statement made by Charlie Black, an adviser to Sen. John McCain, who told Fortune magazine that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil would "certainly be a big advantage" to McCain. Black later apologized.
So Peters showed a future McCain celebrating his election and thanking Bin Laden (not a statue of him) for his help in supposedly launching another attack. Ha-ha. At least I think that's what it means. Given another choice, I probably would have opted not to run the thing.
A few days later, a second cartoon by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Peters, who draws for The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News and is distributed by King Features, caused more shock waves.
This one showed McCain on TV as The Joker from the new "Batman" movie, singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb -- Bomb, bomb Iran" while holding a book entitled, "Women Like Being Raped Jokes." A viewer is saying to his wife: "Maybe he should stop being a joker."
That was "absolutely a new low for The Pilot," wrote Jim Everett of Pinehurst. "I cannot recall John McCain ever stating that 'women like to be raped.' For your paper to endorse such a position is abominable and inexcusable."
Actually, "endorse" is not the right word. We print a wide variety of opinions in our pages, but that doesn't mean we agree with all of them. Still, Mr. Everett was not the only reader nonplused by that Peters creation. Professor Rick Crandall of UNC-Pembroke wrote to say we had "crossed the line on this one" because it appeared to be making fun of rape.
Here again, the thing being alluded to by Peters is a bit obscure, having recently made the rounds of the blogosphere and on Keith Olbermann's show on MSNBC. It is based on a 1986 story in The Tucson Citizen about a very unfunny joke that then-Congressman McCain told about a woman who was raped and left for dead by a gorilla, then regained consciousness later to ask a policeman, "Where is that marvelous ape?"
You do kind of feel like you need a shower after that one -- which was pretty rough even for 22 years ago, when political correctness had perhaps not yet reached today's levels. That, coming atop other thigh-slappers like the singing of the "Bomb, bomb Iran" thing to the tune of the Beach Boys' 1965 song "Barbara Ann" and his quip that selling cigarettes to Iranians might be a good way to kill them, suggests that the Republican candidate is definitely humor-challenged and should not quit his day job to become a stand-up comic.
But there was a third shoe to drop. Last Wednesday, we published yet another Peters creation showing Laura Bush sitting at the breakfast table with a man who appears to be her husband disguised behind a white beard. She is reading a newspaper with the headline "Karadzic Caught" and saying, "George, this says he went into hiding fearing impeachment for war crimes."
A couple of callers asked what the heck that was all about. Answer: Radovan Karadzic, guilty of ordering unspeakable atrocities as a former Serb leader, was captured after living undetected for more than 10 years while disguised behind a white beard and an assumed identity. Peters seemed to imply that Bush might be preparing to do the same thing. Again, ha-ha.
"This is totally beyond 'poor taste,'" reader Jimmy Paulk complained, "and goes into the area of slander and false representation of the president's character."
Paulk demanded "a full accounting, apology and retraction," but this column will have to do.
Peters does skate pretty close to the edge, but that's what cartoonists do -- if they're any good. Sometimes they fall off. For whatever reason, cartoonists and other visual satirists have always been able to get away with a lot more than those of us who wield words for a living. Maybe it has something to do with left-brain versus right-brain.
In any case, quite a few of our readers aren't laughing.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com
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