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.