Cartoon Wars: Episode V – The Academia Strikes Back

Darleen Click at Protein Wisdom:

Oh I know I’m going to get called names on this. But I’m not going to play that game anymore. Like the sign at one of the TEA parties that said “it doesn’t matter what this sign says, you going to call it racist anyway.” When even the lawsuits now being brought by 30 plus state AG’s is considered racist, it is time to stop playing that game.

I’m flipping outraged even more so by Obama’s “victory lap” where he pretends this crap-sandwich is what “The American People were begging for”. Not one bit of graciousness in his “victory” but that nose up arrogance as his Social Democrats were literally breaking out the champagne.

I expect this will also flush out the usual Stockholm-syndrome “conservatives” who wring their hands and say “oh you can’t say that! People will take offense!”

Heck, I want to shake them up. This is supposed to be a post-racial era? Then deal with the fact that the President of the United States is the head of a gang that just raped our American principles.

I made it a cartoon and not a photoshop and the “woman” is green. Deal, people.

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom:

I’m getting a bit fed up with the insistence by statists that because they populate the arts and the academy, they have some kind of death grip on “hip.” For instance, here’s Nishi, whose only hope of ever really touching cool would be to pay somebody to fuck her once with an ice dong:

Doughy Pantsload aka Jonah Goldberg is the antithesis of cool …. .he doesnt even get that there is NO CULTURE WAR …. there is only an evolution of culture event like glaciation or the extinction event at the K-T boundary. And the “classic liberals” are trying to build a snowfence out of pitchforks and torches to hold off a cultural glacier of liberal memes.
Where are the conservative professors, filmmakers, comics, scientists, actors, artists?
they don’t exist.
:)

So. Let me give this “argument” a go.

Where are the conservative professors, filmmakers, comics, scientists, actors, artists? They’ve been out learning to shoot, honey.

But you’re right: Those punk rock “liberal memes” we buttoned-up dorks are trying desperately to hold back are the epitome of hepness and popularity — the “glaciating” endpoint of cultural evolution as it pertains to maintaining a permanent hold on (the oxymoronic notion of) mainstream hipster culture. I mean, what teen in his rebellious stage isn’t going to embrace the edgy cries of, “all our shower heads are uniform in pressure!”, or “hell no, we won’t go (to restaurants that cook with table salt)!”. Why, it’s just like following the Dead around the country!

Face it, Nishi. The statist scolds — offering soulless progressivism repackaged in the language of freedom — will only hold power so long as they can maintain the euphemisms.

SEK at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

What do you do in the wake of a crushing political defeat?

If you’re Jeff Goldstein, you declare yourself to be way cooler than everyone else; if you’re Darleen Click, you draw a cartoon in which the President rapes a woman, then tells her that he and friends will be back to rape her again later. In the clinical sense, Click is the more interesting case because she thinks that the only problem with her cartoon is that it’s racist. I repeat: she drew a cartoon in which the punch line is a gang rape and the only potential problem with it she can see is that it might be racist. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s plenty racist—plays into tropes as old as slavery and everything—but the punch line is that the President and his associates are going to gang-rape the Statue of Liberty with, I kid you not, immigration reform.

In service of the cheapest of laughs, Click asserts that the statue that symbolizes America’s commitment to the tired, poor, huddled masses of the world is about to be raped because of the President’s commitment to those selfsame masses-yearning-to-be-free. Talk about your industrial grade ideological incoherence—and I would, except for the fact that Goldstein, never one to be upstaged on his own blog, told a woman that the only way she would ever be cool was if someone raped her with an icicle. That’s not true, though. Goldstein never said that. What he said, and I quote, was:

For instance, here’s Nishi, whose only hope of ever really touching cool would be to pay somebody to fuck her once with an ice dong.

Such are the depths to which Goldstein sinks to maintain the illusion that he’s cool, which is sad, you know, because he’s a middle-aged man worried about whether people think he’s cool. Then, in yet another example of just how over me he is, he declares me to be the exemplar of uncool.  Far be it for me, a 32-year-old blogger who sports a backwards Mets cap and is currently writing a scholarly book about comics, to complain when someone says I’m not cool, because honestly, I’m not cool. I grew up, got a job, and am working for the Man; however, forty-something bloggers who alternate between whining about how poorly jobs they don’t have pay and writing 10,000-word-long semiotic screeds about Alinksy and catch-wrestling? Not cool. Doesn’t matter how many people whose favorite film is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington say otherwise, because them? Also not cool.

James Wolcott at Vanity Fair:

In a desperate, ghoulish plea for attention (now that even right wing sites are no longer linking to it), Protein Wisdom has published an editorial cartoon portraying President Obama as a gloating, unrepentant rapist with Lady Liberty his weeping victim, her torch lying broken at the foot of the bed. Rapist Obama tells Lady Liberty to stop whining, get herself cleaned up, and promises he’ll be back later with “friends,” i.e., a gang-rape.

For those slower cowpokes among Protein Wisdom’s armchair outlaws, the cartoon is helpfully titled “Rape of Liberty,” to ensure they won’t miss the message over the sound of their own chewing.

The perpetrator of this tawdry little exercise, a flagrant offender named Darleen Click, doesn’t care if you think this cartoon is racist because conservatives get called racist no matter what we do and we’re sick of it and besides “I made it a cartoon and not a photoshop and the “woman” is green. Deal, people.”

I find the logic of that statement somewhat elusive, though I suppose we should be grateful that it’s a symbolic green statue being shown forcibly violated in that Psycho room and not, oh, the Virgin Mary, virgin no more. With Easter coming up, perhaps Protein Wisdom will favor us with Lady Liberty hanging from the cross as Obama drives in the last nail–I wouldn’t put anything past those “desperadoes.”

Goldstein responds to SEK and Wolcott:

Two things. First, and for the record, I never declared myself to be “way cooler than everyone else.” I declared myself way cooler than Nishi — which is like declaring myself more handsome than a cadaver, or more Jewish than a Kennedy.

I will, however, happily update my declaration to include Scott Eric Kaufman, who couldn’t find cool were he to stumble pantless into a caribou orgy.

Second, only someone who has sex solely with his own beard could see in Darleen’s comic a “gang rape.” Me, I see a political metaphor. As for those subtextual slave tropes that so horrify Kaufman, all’s I can say is it’s a good thing Darleen didn’t draw a tree outside the window, or else we’d be treated to Scott’s erudite observations about monkeys.

Of course, I’m not “writing a scholarly book about comics.” Which, if Kaufman’s interpretive performance tells us anything, must require that one first become a cartoon. So take my criticisms with a grain of salt.

Meantime, two words, Scott: ice. dong.

****
update: I see that a freshly-moistened James Wolcott once again defied gravity’s odds and managed to jowel his way from divan to keyboard, where with fat pink powdered fingers he pecked out this description of Darleen’s comic: “a desperate, ghoulish plea for attention (now that even right wing sites are no longer linking to [protein wisdom])”. I can’t say that I agree with Mr Wolcott’s rather overwrought assessment of Darleen’s work, but on the second point I can’t offer much of an argument.

Frankly, I’m just glad someone besides me noticed.

Jeff Goldstein again:

This will be an especially personal post, but as it brings into sharp relief many of the ideas I’ve spent years writing about here, I figured it’s worth sharing.

As many of you know, a few evenings ago I received the following email from one of my old creative writing professors:

Jeff,

Would you mind taking my name off your “about” page on Proteinwisdom? I’ve always liked you and your fiction, and your and [name redacted] impetus to make that conference happen, at that moment in time, did a great deal to speed this program along. I was also simply grateful to have you in the program when you came along, because you were–and are–a very smart and intellectual fiction writer, a rare commodity still, to this day. But I am more and more alarmed by the writings in this website of yours, and I do not want to be associated with it.

Brian Kiteley

Here’s the context of that mention on my “about” page: “Some of the writers Jeff studied under are Rikki Ducornet, Beth Nugent, Brian Kiteley, and Brian Evenson.

My reply was terse:

Are you asking that I pretend I never studied under you?

And what, precisely, are you so “alarmed” by?

Me, I’m increasingly alarmed by the number of academics — in particular, those who teach writing — who find speech alarming. But then I guess I’m old fashioned that way.

Thanks, Brian.

As I first noted after receiving the email and thinking on it a bit:

This is, in effect, a repudiation of everything I’ve done here. And yes, it hurt me very much. I checked over my recent entries, and I saw a discussion on the expansion of the commerce clause by Scalia; a discussion of “process” and how it dovetails with the content of thought; a bit on language; a repudiation of the idea of cultural evolution as a move toward some progressive singularity; a discussion of the potential longterm political ramifications — particularly, the growth of a client class — that could arise in the wake of a law that nationalizes healthcare; a short fiction; a Leif Garrett post; and a couple of Corey Haim dispatches from the after life.

No doubt people like SEK will see such a note as befitting a person so foul as me. They will rejoice that others in academia see me as they do. Me, I see the email as a rebuke to everything I try to stand for — especially, that last ditch effort to engage in debate as one of a number of would-be public intellectuals.

Instead, what I write is evidently a cause for “alarm”; it represents some sort of worrisome disease of the mind and the soul that good righteous academic folk must necessarily distance themselves from — to the point that even someone who praises me for my intellect fears the taint of my name and words.

Presumably, academics like Mr Kiteley will continue to associate themselves with intellectualism. “Pragmatic” conservatives will continue to push GOP talking points, and secure their places as influential voices on the right. For my part, I am a pariah on both sides of the divide.

Since receiving that email, I’ve been mulling all this over, and today I decided to contact Brian Kiteley directly; after all, I’ve been to his house, we’ve had drinks together, and we’d always gotten along just fine — and though I hadn’t spoken to him in years, I figured the best way to discuss this would be as close to face-to-face as I could manage.

So I dialed him up and he answered. When I told him who was calling, he let out a forced “laugh” — I presume to show his bemused exasperation with my gall at having contacted him — and, when pressed, he called me a “jerk”.

His position seems to be that allowing Darleen’s comic to stand — the President raping lady liberty “is not a political cartoon and you know it,” he told me — was sick and irresponsible, the abetting of a civil evil that is far worse than, say, drawing Bush as Hitler, or insinuating an American President manufactured a war and sent men and woman off to die so he could exand his portfolio.

When I countered that I thought we were taught to believe that the best way to answer speech is with more speech (I also noted that I found the specific question of how exactly the cartoon was “racist” an interesting one, and that I found the rather heated discussion on that point intellectually useful), he reacted as if I couldn’t possibly believe such idealistic tripe. Finally, he cut me off, told me that I have his phone number and that he doesn’t have mine, and that we should keep it that way (whatever that means). And he hung up.

In between all this , his argument seemed to be that joking about owning guns and the President raping liberty is playing into the hands of the “extreme right wing”-types, many of whom presumably still live in the hills and marshes of “the deep south” and want to do the President real physical harm. When I pointed out that those same types likely wouldn’t frequent a “Goldstein”-run blog, he agreed, at least momentarily, before returning to the theme of the danger my ideas represent: this idea of a (soft) “civil war” revolted him, even though it was clear that I was speaking of a kind of culture war in which the power of the federal government is challenged by states based on concentrations of voters — a kind of libertarian idea for how those who believe in smaller government and the Constitutional directives for states rights over and beyond the ever-growing reach of federal government bureaucracies can bring an effective challenge. In fact, I pointed out that we are seeing that dynamic at work in the lawsuits states are threatening over Obamacare — precisely the reason I reintroduced that original 2005 post as (perhaps) prescient.

Let me now say this: when Brian first wrote me, I was hurt. Now, I’m just angry. And indignant. This idea — coming from a fiction writer, a creative writing program director, and a university professor who instructs on creative endeavors — that a political cartoon or comic he found distasteful should have been removed by me as potentially incendiary and harmful, flies in the face of everything we have ever been taught about free expression, art, political speech, and the exchange of ideas (often heated) in the public square. It is the reverse of tolerance masquerading as a claim to the moral high ground.

It is an Orwellian world in which we live when fucking novelists want to distance themselves from those who criticize the government. Were Kiteley’s disgust over the comic purely aesthetic, I could at least entertain his point. But that isn’t the case: instead, Kiteley objects to the content, and sees Darleen’s cartoon as the online equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded movie theater.

When I noted that people were free to comment on the site and voice their opposition, Kiteley told me of my propensity for stifling opposition — which would come as a surprise to the commenters who visited to call Darleen a racist, etc. Or to the number of people on the left — from Nishi, to SEK, to Jeralyn Merritt — I’ve invited to guest post here over the years.

This is our modern academy, distilled to this singular objective correlative. And make no mistake: the university where Kiteley teaches is NOT on the far left, by university standards.

SEK at Lawyers Guns and Money:

Goldstein’s old professor listed “a propensity for stifling opposition” as one of the reasons he wanted to distance himself from the site, but as Goldstein notes, that’s nonsense. Consider, for example, the condensed verion of the the rational arguments with which he and his commenters engaged my argument the other day:

Scott is a cartoon, a hack; a clearly clueless and remarkably dishonest bracketing brackety bracketer who stands on the sidelines cheering while Lady Liberty takes it in the cornhole. This pretentious character is a lying cock, a fucking pussy, and a fucking retarded scrotumless fuck wearing a hot-pink thong, or maybe white lace boyshorts, and he would not stop a rape in progress, but would instead go home and be so turned-on he’d write a paper about it. Effete attention whores like Scott Eric Robespierre are routinely beat up by bread and, like all leftist twatwaffles lusting for power, he is a haughty apparatchik with a lisp and a pedo beard who couldn’t find cool were he to stumble pantless into a caribou orgy. He roots for the Mets and is truly a prick.

Why wouldn’t an English professor want their name associated with the above? It’s a dazzling display of Oulipian restraint. After all, anyone can write a novel without the letter “e,” but writing in a way that attracts people who argue ad hominem and only ad hominemThat requires true literary talent.

Instapundit:

JEFF GOLDSTEIN: “It is an Orwellian world in which we live when fucking novelists want to distance themselves from those who criticize the government.”

James Joyner:

Now, I happen to find Click’s cartoon both amateurish and distasteful. Further, I disagree with its hamhanded message, both literally and philosophically.  (That is, while I voted against Obama and oppose his health care plan, the process by which he got it passed into law was legitimate. Further, I tend to be Burkean when it comes to matters of representative government, so the election of November 2008 is indeed all the mandate Obama needs until the election of November 2010.)

That said, I’m in full agreement with Jeff about university professors — much less professors of English — having this reaction to the expression of ideas.   Neither he nor Darleen Click are political leaders, who have some tangential responsibility to think about the impact of their words on their followers.  Rather, they’re public intellectuals applying their creative talents to expressing their frustrations as best they can.

It’s debatable whether blogs constitute “the modern academy.”  But it’s indisputable that it’s possible to live the “life of the mind” via blogging and I would argue that, in the main, Jeff is an outstanding case study.

Beyond that, professors rightly go to great lengths to protect academic freedom.  As outlined over the years by the American Association of University Professionals, it “comprises three elements: freedom of inquiry and research; freedom of teaching within the university or college; and freedom of extramural utterance and action.” So it’s bizarre, indeed, for an English professor to argue so passionately for the suppression of speech.

It would, frankly, never occur to me to contact a former student and, in a huff over some cartoon, demand that they remove my name from their biography page.  If I were, however, of a mind to criticize, I would engage the specific idea or utterance rather than try to hide our former relationship.  There is, after all, plenty of history of teachers engaging former students (and vice versa) in rigorous intellectual debate.  Indeed, it’s in the finest tradition of the academy.  Calls for removing offensive speech?  Not so much.

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5 Comments

Filed under Art, Education, The Constitution

5 responses to “Cartoon Wars: Episode V – The Academia Strikes Back

  1. Chris

    Jeff G. is absolutely nuts. Half his posts include him making threats of violence and calling people “cocks,” or “pussies,” then he has the nerve to call himself an academic. He’s a joke, and the only people more ridiculous than he are his loyal lapdog commenters.

  2. You should excuse, Chris. He has been unable to hold even a halfway decent line of argument … or even some entertaining dementia … on the epic cartoon thread at PW. Unfortunately he crossed one of the unforgiveable lines of trolldom.

    He’s boring.

  3. Chris

    Was my estimation of Jeff’s writing style inaccurate, Darleen?

  4. Sister _Otis

    The more I read these RW idiots who excuse the cartoon and attack the professor for a perfectly rational difference of opinion, the stupider they sound.

  5. I really enjoyed reading your blog post here. It was very informative and I also digg the way you write! Keep it up and I’ll be back to read more in the future.

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