Saturday, July 02, 2005

Racist cartoon or successful art form?

I haven't been in much of a mood for blogging lately, as you may have noticed. While listening to some old-school, radio blogs over at ej flavors, all sorts of long gone memories came gushing back. For that reason, I put my blogging aside for a few days while I poured those memories and emotions into the YA manuscript I've been working on, but had temporarily set aside.

A visitor over at my sister site, Devas T. reads kiddie books, brought the following issue to my attention. Apparently, the Mexican government has issued a stamp featuring Memin Pinguin, a cartoon character that many see as derogatory. This came just weeks after Mexican President Vicente Fox made some controversial comments about American blacks. Statements that I, too, found sort of...well, Ok, offending.

TroyN. asked me what I thought about the stamp issue.

Well, until he asked the question, I had never heard of Memin Pinguin. My initial response to this character was laughter. I'm an artist, and I sometimes do caricatures. A caricature is an art form whereby the artist exaggerates or distorts the features of a person to create a humorous sort of cartoon. If you are fat, chinless and have a big nose, a caricaturist would have a good 'ole time drawing pictures of you, expanding upon your special features to create a humorous drawing. That's what caricaturist do. To that end, in my opinion, artist Sixto Valencia Burgos' caricature is a success. I laughed. I mean, come on my African American blog reader, let's be honest. Memin's characteristics feature bright eyes, big lips, dark skin, and short kinky hair. He probably looks just like your nephew (don't get mad, you know which nephew I'm speaking of), cousin or maybe even your son. And what about the other character, Memin's mother, a fat dark-skinned lady with the rag tied around her head? Looks just like your auntie or cousin. Possibly your momma. That's why I laughed. The artist hit upon something I could relate to: traditionally African characteristics — like it or not. Only those who harbor self hate would be offended. Ok, I know, black people come in all shades of color — from marshmallow caramel to jet-blue, blue-black. And there probably isn't really a true African/black person any longer. Still, generally speaking, these are the characteristics of a person of African descent: dark skin, full nose, full lips, tight curly hair. I'm not ashamed of that. That's me. That's my people, and if I were ashamed, I might be embarrassed, maybe even offended by the caricature of Memin. But I'm not. That was the point I was trying to make to children's book editors and agents who told me I had to illustrate African Americans in a certain way. They told me not to exaggerate facial features, not to distort, not to draw black people in cartoon. And my question was: why not? Visit the children's section of any book store and you'll see white characters portrayed in all types of styles, from exaggerated cartoons to realistic portraiture.

Well, Mr. Uncle Tom Devas T, you're not bothered by the Memin Pinquin character. You probably approve of those racist Jim Crow cartoons of the 1940s that perpetuated stereotypes of African Americans and truly did display hatred by their creators, huh?

I didn't necessarily say I was unfazed by the character. I said, I initially thought he was funny. Then I felt uncomfortable given the fact that so many cartoons created in the United States had racist overtones. Now, that being said, I don't know the history of Memin Pinguin. I have no idea of the origins of the cartoon series or if the artist truly had racist attitudes when he conceived Memin. That's what I'd be more concerned about. Let the Mexican government sell the stamps. If you don't like the stamps, don't buy 'em. I don't like ducks. I won't buy duck stamps.

So, how's that for straddling the fence?

The following is an excerpt from the Washington Post which gives some background:

...Memin Pinguin is a 1940s creation of artist Sixto Valencia Burgos. Mischievous and bumbling, he gets into trouble and is spanked by his mother, also a caricature that some civil rights activists find offensive.

Mexico abolished slavery decades before the United States and never enacted Jim Crow-style laws. But Memin Pinguin resembles hundreds of characters created during legal segregation in the United States, animated and real, including the Amos and Andy minstrels who joked in racist overtones about their ethnicity to the delight of whites-only audiences.

Black historians say that caricatures depicting black people as noble savages paved the way for their dehumanization and, ultimately, mass lynchings. The caricatures' place in history may help explain the strong reaction on this side of the border. ...

Unrelated thought for the day:While listening to a local morning radio talk show, a caller posed this question concerning kidnappings and missing people:

Why does it seem that law enforcement only focuses on locating young, beautiful women kidnap victims?

Retired police officer Sgt. Sam Cox's answer: because nobody kidnaps big 'ole fat ugly people.


Rinda M. Byers said...

Wow, Don, regarding these cartoon, I'm shocked and disgusted, that's my instanteous gut reaction. I haven't had time to analyze my reaction yet, but you, know, these cartoons don't look like cartoons of African-American people, to me at all;these pictures look like monkeys made to look like African-Americans. There's something in the gestures and lines of these that looks like monkey gestures and lines. Creeeeeeeeepy!

But then, I might be a mniority here, since I have personally NEVER liked Disney's Snow White. I hate the dwarves in that movie. They look vaguely to me like cartoons made in Hitler's Germany of jewish people. I don't know. I really dislike the cartoons in that movie, but I love the Sleeping Beauty movie made by Disney.

Just my gut EMOTIONAL reaction, here....

Rinda M. Byers

Jdid said...

I think even if the characters are not meant to offend that one should show some sort of racial sensitivity in these times. Clearly someone in Mexico should realize how these images wuld be preceived by black folks (not just african americans in my opinion) and should have restrained from issuing these stamps. Even if they didnt realize initially the outpouring of sentiment against the stamps now should cause them to withdraw them and apologize but no President Fox is defending those images. I think thats wrong

The Archivist said...

I have to agree with Rinda... I thought it was a monkey at first, then I read the blog and realised it was a caricature.

I feel offended myself for having seen this.

Aziza said...

With all of Mexico's serious problems, I wondered when they had time to create and roll out these stamps. As others stated, I too thought the figure was a monkey when I first saw it and not a person.

Luke Cage said...

Sadly, some things just never change man.

Don Tate II said...

@ all: looks like I'm in the minority (no pun intended). But, that's ok. If I wanted to write about something we could all agree upon, I'd have written about...Britney Spears, maybe? MIKE TYSON!

**RPM** said...

Hey you...

Great analysis and honest thought about..."THE STAMP," I had my Dad in my ear SCREECHING about it a few days ago. I liked that you were so honest in your thoughts - knowing that there is potential for folks to disgree or throw out the Uncle Tom nonsense. My brother ironically accused me of being the same because I suggested that BET was a waste of cable space. No matter what you say, or the manner in which you say it, or the thoughts behind the words - you are ALWAYS subject to misinterpretation.

Great post.


EJ Flavors said...

Great post. I was thinking about this myself, and decided that I was going to actually keep my thoughts to myself. Glad you expressed yourself.

Methinks I should start actually talking about what's going in my life instead of thinking of the whole thing as a soundtrack, n'est-ce pas?

Troy N. said...

Even though I did side on your side I still have that same question biting at me; How does he REALLY and TRULY feel since this does go to what is commonly known as racist or racism. Are we, and I do mean more disconnected to the abuse or beyond it? One wonders.
But nevertheless please understand that I do appreciate and understand where Mr. Devas T. does rant I mean, view..

Anonymous said...

I hate Sam Cox.

Luis said...

you guys might not understand that this is not a racist comic, in fact is one of the most famous Latin American's cartoon character for OVER 50 years, and now you guys are learning about it and complaining? please, I have seen worse artistic racist cartoons here in USA, in fact in the comic you will see different stories surrounding various characters, even in one of the comics is show Memin in USA when his friends and him go to a soccer tournament here in US and is HERE where he is called with the N word, and his friends stand up for him, this comic do show discrimination agiasnt Memin from other characters (usually foreign and North Americans) but from his Friends he never was discriminated, you just think that for saying Negro oh Moreno in spanish you think it in an aggresive and insulting word, well thats absolutely wrong and you might be ignorant for not knwing this, ah and by the way, Memin in not even an African American, his character was based in Cuban children by the author, learn more about it and read at least 1 of the comics, not even all the comics are refered to Memin, but to his friends too