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Chimp Cartoon Controversy

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 18th, 2009

What does it mean?

This cartoon image provided by the New York Post appeared in the Post’s Page Six Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009. The cartoon, which refers to Travis the chimp, who was shot to death by police in Stamford, Conn. on Monday after it mauled a friend of its owner, drew criticism Wednesday on media Web sites and from civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton. (AP Photo/New York Post)

NY Post cartoon seems to link Obama to dead chimp

By Karen Matthews
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York Post cartoon that appears to link President Barack Obama to a violent chimpanzee drew outrage Wednesday from civil rights leaders and elected officials who said it echoed racist stereotypes of blacks as monkeys.

The cartoon in Wednesday’s Post by Sean Delonas shows two police officers, one with a smoking gun, standing over the body of a bullet-riddled chimp. The caption reads: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

The cartoon refers to a chimpanzee named Travis who was killed Monday by police in Stamford, Conn., after it mauled a friend of its owner.

Obama signed his administration’s economic stimulus plan on Tuesday.

Critics called the cartoon racist and said it trivialized a tragedy in which a woman was disfigured and a chimpanzee killed. Many urged a boycott of the Post and the companies that advertise in it.

“How could the Post let this cartoon pass as satire?” said Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “To compare the nation’s first African-American commander in chief to a dead chimpanzee is nothing short of racist drivel.”For the rest of the article, see here.

Depictions showing Africans as merely once removed from chimpanzees were used not that long ago.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


35 Responses to “Chimp Cartoon Controversy”

  1. Scott C. responds:

    It is tough to interpret this. I have trouble believing that the meaning suggested by those outraged is actually what the author had in mind.
    Perhaps the connection that he is hinting at does not concern race, but intelligence?

    Anyways, what kind of a world-view could ever lead to the racial connection that may be suggested?
    Conversely, what kind of a world-view would lend full dignity to all humans?

  2. sschaper responds:

    I have to say that when I saw the cartoon, racism didn’t even cross my mind – I was thinking they were saying that the Sack of America Bill was goofy and crazy, or perhaps random.

    then I see the illustrations you posted, and oh, yeah, I can see now how someone could see that. I doubt that the cartoonist was thinking that way.

  3. Alligator responds:

    I doubt the cartoonist was thinking of a racist view, but it was not the brightest thing for him to do. He should have realized someone would interpret it that way. At any rate, it is still in pretty poor taste to try and take a tragic event like this and turn it into some political statement. You can hit the political stuff and bureaucracy without basing it on someone’s personal tragedy that has nothing to do with politics.

  4. Viergacht responds:

    Even if it wasn’t the artist’s intent, it’s hard to believe he was completely ignorant of blacks being called “monkeys”. Apparently this guy has done similarly tasteless or completely culturally tone-deaf stuff in the past.

  5. kittenz responds:

    Of course it was deliberate. But they’ll say that it wasn’t. The controversy will escalate and sales of the paper will soar.

    And so it goes.

  6. lyndonnobles responds:

    the cartoon was obviously NOT meant to be racist, and by trying to whitewash (oooh,.. not caucasianwash!!) this cartoon as another typical racist joke, we are merely rubbing salt in the wounds of this county’s history!

    a crazed chimp was shot by a police force! thats news. the stimulus bill was viewed as ridiculous, written by an individual of less than standard IQ. thats news! two pieces of news were brought together in a FUNNY cartoon!

    if we as a society cannot learn to get over these old wounds, people will be scrutinizing every appearance of a less than regal primate in media for racist subplots 500 yrs from now!

    whats next? we cant have panda cartoons cuz they offend asians?

    no more “3 lil pigs” cuz the cops think we’re making fun of them?

    and where do we draw the line? ban all comical monkey characters? should we ban ALL talking cartoon chimps? outlaw black voice actors from taking jobs voicing primates?

    where do we draw the line? do we start outlawing anything that could POSSIBLY be interpreted as offensive?

    does anybody see this for what it really is??

    CENSORSHIP!

  7. Averagefoot responds:

    I’m with Kittenz on this. The guy had to have known people would take it as racist. The newspaper is quickly becoming a thing of the past… I can’t remember that last time I picked one up. The paper will play dumb and claim that wasn’t their intent all the while hoping it’ll boost their sales.

  8. Scott C. responds:

    I have sympathies with lyndonnobles, here.

    I can’t know for sure that the author is innocent of racist intent; but, I doubt it.

    Either way, the harm that comes with free-press is not so great as the harm that comes with censored-press.
    Distasteful cartoons are a small price to pay for democracy.

  9. browwiw responds:

    Of course the cartoonist knew the message he was trying to convey when he put ink to paper. Listen, I’m a native of rural Kentucky and I still hear epistemologically challenged caucasions bandy about the phrase “porch monkey” when they think African Americans and non-racists aren’t around. This kind of willful ignorance is still alive in America.

    If the cartoonist honestly doesn’t realize that comparing people of African origin with primates is a common and entrenched racist epitaph, then he’s living in a wonderland of cartoon singing sunflowers and unicorns and isn’t qualified to make ‘humorous’ observations about current events.

  10. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Being a Mexican I’m not as much in contact with such a picky topic as racism as most of the readers from the US. But I too didn’t interpret the punchline as a racist remark initially.

    To me it was a very crass & weak joke that meant to compare politicians in the White House as wild and primitive as chimpanzees—which is of course a bad enough insult… for the chimps.

    If the punchline had instead been “They’ll have to find someone else to sign the next stimulus bill”, well…

    But I agree that someone in the New York Post should have thought of the implications of printing this. Perhaps since they saw their pals at The New Yorker got away with that cartoon cover of Obama and his wife pictured as islamist terrorists last year…

    But then, as lyndonnobles asks, where do we draw the line, if we are constantly fearing the double or triple interpretation of everything we say or write?

  11. iftheshoefits responds:

    Congress writes the laws , including those that deal with the budget. The President either signs or vetoes the bills that Congress sends to him or her.

    Obviously this cartoon is a slap at Congress and not the President.

  12. DWA responds:

    I find it very interesting that racism was the first thing that seemed to jump into everybody’s head here.

    The first thing that jumped into mine was a crass and insensitive – to say the least – taking advantage of a extraordinarily painful and truly tragic – BTW, one of the few times in your life you have ever seen that word used properly – event.

    Race honestly did not cross my mind until I opened this blog and started reading. Honestly, and I got my eyes wider open than most you will meet.

    Boy people are funny.

    If this was intentionally racist – well, we’d never know, we have no way of knowing, but if we could find out I’d bet lunch money against it. It was crystal clear to me what it was poking fun at.

    That people shouted racist! immediately – well, it makes it pretty obvious why racism is such a problem. Everybody sees it everywhere. It’s worse than Commies under the bed.

  13. Scott C. responds:

    red_pill_junkie said,
    “which is of course a bad enough insult… for the chimps.”

    Haha! Excellent. The whit displayed here is a small part of what keep me coming back.

    Anyways, as others have said, what’s the alternative? Censored press? What happens when that censorship impacts you? What happens when that censorship marks a paradigm shift?

    I’ll repeat, distasteful cartoons are a small price to pay for democracy.

  14. DWA responds:

    I suppose I should note, reading back again, that at least one other poster didn’t jump on the race angle.

    And whoa, the article actually not only included the awfulness of the event as reason enough in itself, it also used “tragic” the right way too! If that’s the only good thing that comes out of this, though, it won’t be much.

  15. runwolf responds:

    I’ve got two problems with the “racism” calls from this cartoon.

    #1 Obama didn’t write the bill. Period. The end. He’s legally not even allowed to write the bill. If the chimp in the cartoon wrote the bill, by default it can not refer to Obama.

    #2 If it is not nice to call “black people” monkeys (and it was a chimp, no tail!) then why is it okay to call “white people” monkeys (or chimps)? Until Al Sharpton or any other person complaining about this can provide me a time in the previous 8 years where they “took a stand” against the many political cartoons that depicted Bush as a chimp, I’m afraid I’m going to choose to believe the call of “racism” is politically motivated.

    And politically motivated is the more polite motivation. Since in reference to #1, the other motivation might be ignorance.

  16. jayman responds:

    The cartoon is in poor taste, no matter what the intent, IMHO.

  17. Revelation responds:

    Why do so many people walk through life looking for ways to be offended? The caption cleary says “write” reffering to congress. besides, how many cartoons did we see over the last 8 years portraying GW as a chimp? I do feel sorry for the lady who lost a valued family member, but chimps ARE wild animals, and we regular readers on this site know well the complications of keeping them as pets.

  18. fuzzy responds:

    Who said anything about censorship? How about topical sensitivity, or political propriety, or even common decency??

    For all the reasons mentioned in the above comments, this cartoon never should have been selected for publication in a public rag – more appropriate to inclusion in the pulp collections one might unearth in a Southern porno shop.

    Not that I…

  19. clancyryan responds:

    Yeah, Im from Canada, and I still knew as soon as I read the caption that they were comparing the chimp to some congress-person or congress in general. Doesn’t Al Sharpton know that Obama didn’t write the bill?

  20. PeterOtoole responds:

    Since when do we care about tasteless art? There is a gray area where people can get away with ‘plausibly deniable’ racism. That’s what makes the USA the USA.

    It’s just a crappy cartoon in an equally crappy newspaper, and it is a mistake for so called civil rights leaders to be distracted by it. Al Sharpton might as well spend his time writing letters to Cracked magazine complaining about the lack of class.

    I hope that some day a new day will come for dark skinned people, and each will be his or her own leader, and guys like Al will have nothing to do but preach the gospel in church.

  21. GCPickle responds:

    That anyone would make any kind of joke out of this tragic and very sad story makes me sick to my stomach. I have been bothered by this story since it broke. It is terrible that a woman was mauled but what a horrible way for this chimp to die; after spending 14 years in the company of humans, only to have them stab and shoot you – who knows what was going through this poor creatures mind. It’s a sad commentary on society that anyone would make a cartoon/joke out if this event.

  22. cryptidsrus responds:

    Three things:

    1) I agree with DWA on this one. I don’t think the cartoonist intended this to interpreted in a racist way. You’re not alone, DWA. :)

    2) Call me naive, but I didn’t know that a cartoonist was supposed to consider every possible reaction to a cartoon when he makes one. So the argument that “he should have considered the possibility” that people would think this racist is pure hogwash. Yes, racism is a fact of life in this world and in this country, but one cannot worry about whether or not one is “politically correct” enough when one makes a satirical statement of this magnitude.

    3) I DO agree that the man knew that he was making “light” of the whole “chimp” tragedy. So in this respect, it is in bad taste.

    Next event—Al Sharpton goes on Cnn, Fox, and Msnbc to condemn the whole thing and Anderson Cooper hosts a roundtable discussion about how this country still has not truly overcome racism and prejudice (Duh!!!). Overall, I give this story max 1-3 weeks (if less). Great. I don’t blame folks for being angry at experiencing racism and I don’t mean to sugges that there have been instances where ignorance and racism have reared their ugly heads—but this is not it, folks. There’s a difference between genuine concern and seeing bugbears around every bush and corner.

  23. Viergacht responds:

    It’s not “nice” to call anyone a chimp. However, as Loren points out in the post, there is a history of it in the US. You don’t have to “consider every possible” interpretation of a cartoon . . . anyone in America would be cognizent of this.

  24. chicostick responds:

    yes we live in a democratic society but i could care less what the intent was.
    never ever refer to a person of color as a monkey/gorilla.
    PREZBO (pres. barack obama) has already been compared to curious george. another offensive gesture.
    do we lack common sense these days?

  25. MattBille responds:

    The important points have been made above. To synthesize my own view:
    1. The cartoon is in bad taste in its use of a horrific tragedy. If it had been done using King Kong being knocked off the Empire State, it might have been funny. As it is, it’s not funny. It’s borderline apalling.
    2. Congress, specifically Speaker Pelosi and her staff, wrote the bill. Equating the chimp with the President seems like a deliberate fiction designed to get media attention.
    3. Despite the virulent history of racist “black people = apes” stuff, I’ve seen nothing to indicate the cartoonist meant anything along those lines.
    Let’s move on.

  26. runwolf responds:

    Ah, Chicostick. I get it.

    It’s not okay to call “a person of color” as sub-human, but is perfectly acceptable to call a white person sub-human.

    I guess racism is alive and well in America.

  27. DWA responds:

    chicostick:

    “never ever refer to a person of color as a monkey/gorilla.”

    I would agree. I’d hope we all would. I bet the cartoonist would, too, which is why HE DIDN’T DO IT.

    The only humans in the cartoon are:

    1) the cops;

    2) (by implication) the wonderful people who WROTE – that’s explicit – the package.

    Tasteless? Yes. Very. It takes fresh and awful wounds, and makes light of them. Many of us might think it funny. But those people didn’t lose their faces. They didn’t stab, and beat with a shovel, and call men with guns in to kill a being they raised as a son. They didn’t shoot an intelligent animal several times at point-blank range.

    But to call it racist requires the deliberate (or knee-jerk) reading-in of stuff that ain’t there that yes indeed, keeps race alive as a sore spot in this country.

    If I were the cartoonist, I’d defend myself. I wouldn’t do the deep knee-bend that the media seem to demand in cases like this, and people metronomically do whether they mean it or not. I’d say: point it out, and I’ll show you why you are (a) wrong and (b) ignorant of how government works. And then I would apologize to those I did, indeed, hurt. Because this was wrong.

    (That the woman above who labels this “racist drivel” is a journalist is, well, it’s inexcusable for a journalist to say that.)

    Now of course if he had racist undertones in mind – and you think he’d admit that absent serious pressure to do so? – all bets are off.

    But to find racists under every bed…well, it’s one of the things that gives racism its power, the constant game of gotcha! followed by a forced apology, frequently by someone who resents having thoughts put in his head that weren’t there to begin with.

    Our new Attorney General said the other day that we are a nation of cowards – his phrase – when it comes to race.

    Here’s more evidence that he hit it right on the head. If we weren’t too scared to discuss race intelligently …well, do you think something like this would ever happen?

    Again: I knew – instantly – who the cartoon was slamming. And race didn’t enter the picture until people – NOT the cartoonist – put it there.

  28. drjon responds:

    Hi, guys.

    This cartoonist has a long history of being overtly racist and sexist.

    I’m 100% behind the principle of the Benefit of the Doubt, but I honestly don’t think there can be much doubt in this case.

    Those who are arguing otherwise here are perhaps saying more about their own moral standards when it comes to finding excuses for racism.

  29. DWA responds:

    drjon: you need to stay on topic! :-D

    LOOK AT THE CARTOON. THIS ONE. Judge from that. I don’t care what anyone reads into anything else this guy’s done. If you don’t get that, you don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt – ever. This guy wasn’t excommunicated, shot on sight, tortured to death by seven ‘interest groups’ with axes to grind, or deported for any of the ones on that link – a few of which were, indeed, blatantly nasty. So I’m not proclaiming him a racist for this one. If there was a racist message in here, he should be fired for ineptitude …unless, hmmmmmmm, he REALLY knows his audience. And maybe he does.

    And no one here appreciates being called a racist for shedding some light on stupidity and waving-hands-in-the-air silliness of the sort that recurs, like clockwork, and gets us no closer to talking about this like grownups instead of tossing playground crap back and forth like our kids do before we teach them better. You might want to watch that one, too. (And if Al Sharpton’s on one side, you might want to consider another.)

    Try common sense occasionally. Racism, and the attitudes that maintain it, love heat, and shun light.

  30. drjon responds:

    @DWA, if the context of the cartoon did not provide ample evidence, his body of work speaks for itself.

    You’ve gambled on a faulty interpretation, and that gamble has demonstrably failed.

    Instead of shooting the messenger, you might be wiser to take your lumps and move on. And maybe learn something from the process, nyet?

  31. DWA responds:

    drjon:

    HUNH!?!?!?

    “You’ve gambled on a faulty interpretation, and that gamble has demonstrably failed.”

    And you, um, demonstrated that? How? By the way the eedjits in the media are donning their customary clown suits?

    I cannot WAIT for this one. Stand by one. I’m popping some popcorn.

    Lumps? Not seeing any on me. In a few heads on this thread, well, heh heh, yes I am.

    BTW: You are REALLY good at the racism two-step. But remember, Sharpton likes to lead. And he has baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad (meaning: bad) breath.

    Try to hold off on that irresistable urge to touch the burning firebrand to the wood piled under the stake. K? (I used “wood” instead of another applicable word because of how that word would sound to Certain Sensibilities without a dictionary close to hand. Uh oh…let the Inquisition begin!)

    And maybe learn something from the process, no?

    (Spanish for NO.)

  32. chicostick responds:

    runwolf….tired of the societal double standard? Sir/Madam….you should be!

    Comparing a human to an ape is RARELY used in a positive sense. Pres. Bush was not referred to as ‘the chimp’ because he’s so cute and like-able.
    When people of color are referred, compared, insinuated, suggested, symbolized, alluded to or foreshadowed as chimps/monkeys, it is NEVER used in a positive sense.
    Don’t know what the cartoonists intent was (he is the only person who knows), but it is how it this whole thing is perceived.

    If the cartoonist/editors truly are that oblivious to the insult ….they all need remedial education quickly.
    But we all know a lil controversy equals $$$$$$.

    DWA….I hear you loud and clear and am willing to give them (editors included) the “benefit of the doubt” but I could care less what his intent was.
    The cartoon and its implications are…”tasteless”.
    Just like the curious george/obama t-shirts printed up by small business owners here in GA last year. Could care less how humorous they intended the “joke” to be……it was tasteless/classless and had serious racist undertones.

    Just my opinion…..
    Ya’ll have a great Saturday!

  33. DWA responds:

    chicostick: I’d hope no one here defends this cartoon.

    We just differ as to why we don’t; and some of us think that there’s a good reason to point out the issue.

    This ‘racist’ thing just gets overdone; there are much bigger fish to fry on the issue than parsing another cartoon. (Like for example: why this is the only way we can talk about race.) On the other hand, the American media just seem to LOVE feasting on people’s fresh pain, the fresher the better. It is truly macabre, it is, and really insensitive, and so beyond crass that crass is a kind way of characterizing it; and I think that when we hear about the coarsening of conduct in this country, the media are, bless their little capitalist hearts, leading the way with big red banners.

    So I guess I think that a real issue is getting overlooked here, and an old dead horse getting over-beaten. When the former needs to be addressed…and the latter needs to be addressed in a very, very different way.

  34. jerrywayne responds:

    The POST is a conservative newspaper and I imagine the target of the cartoon is liberalism, i.e., the stimulus package. Thus, the chimpanzee represents the “wild and crazy” legislators who crafted the package. (To conservatives, who haven’t advanced beyond Herbert Hoover apparently, ANY stimulus package is “wild and crazy”.)

    However, the package was an initiative of President Obama. Given the history of racist views and perceptions, it is not a far fetch to see the racist elements in this cartoon, overtly intended or not.

    A couple of months ago a co-worker showed me an image on her cell phone. It was a picture of Obama morphing into a chimpanzee. I was disappointed that she had the image, first, and disappointed she thought I would find it funny, second. I just shook my head and, to embarrass her, I called over a black co-worker and said, “Look, she has a picture of Obama, check it out.”

    Because there is a tragic history of viewing black people as less than human, any portrayal of President Obama as an ape or monkey is of greater import and gravity than a simian portrayal of President Bush. (The Bush simian cartoons express a perception of George W. Bush as individually “not too bright”. Such cartoons simply cannot be seen as racist).

    On a smaller issue. Why do so many people in the media and just walking around apparently not know the difference between an ape and a monkey? (Jeez, this annoys me!)

  35. chicostick responds:

    DWA…good post
    Jerrywayne….worded well.

    Alright….time to break out the Gentleman’s Jack.



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