Cartoon: In the Name of Who?

By Anthony | July 30th, 2007 | 8:51 am

Cartoon: In the Name of Who?

The High Point City Council recently voted on a resolution to stick with non-sectarian prayers at the start of their meetings. The resolution passed, with Councilman Mike Pugh casting the lone, dissenting vote, saying, “No, in the name of Jesus Christ”. As you may recall, Pugh would rather start city council meetings with prayers to Jesus.

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Last week was an interesting and unusual week for me.

Early in the week, I found myself wrestling with this cartoon – after running it by a few people, I’d gotten a very mixed bag of feedback on it. Some thought it was very good, some thought it was too contentious, and others thought it missed the mark in comparing Pugh’s attitude with the verse from Matthew.

Later in the week, my Pulpit Forum cartoon started generating some negative responses, including a Letter to the Editor in the News and Record.

All this prompted a lot of thinking on the role and responsibilites of a political cartoonist, as well as on the limitations of the medium.

I’m generally not a mean or confrontational person, which makes editorial cartooning a bit uncomfortable for me at times. Having to publicly ridicule people on a regular basis tends to go against Mom’s admonition that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all.

However, one well-known political cartoonist (I can’t remember who it was at the moment, unfortunately) said that the job of the cartoonist is to hold people in power accountable for their actions, and to me that is an important distinction. Wielded against an appropriate target – those in power – and with the purpose of encouraging them to use their power in good ways, a stinging cartoon can become a way to help right wrongs. I don’t pretend that my cartoons amount to a crusade for truth and justice, but I do find the idea of holding those in power accountable to be a useful guiding principle. Towards that end, kind and gentle cartoons are unlikely to get the job done.

Unfortunately, while editorial cartoons can be a powerful device, they also can be a bit of a blunt instrument. Exaggeration is one of the primary tools of the cartoonist, and because of this it’s sometimes difficult to present a nuanced, detailed position on a subject. Background info and context can get left out or inadequately communicated, and that can lead to misunderstandings.

For example, some critics of my Pulpit Forum cartoon seemed to assume that I am racist. (Ironically that’s the exact thing my cartoon was critical of – attributing any criticism to racist motivations rather than to a legitimate complaint about the person or group in question.) However, I’m sure that the members of the Pulpit Forum are fine people. I have no problem with the members themselves, only with their seemingly hair-trigger, unsupported use of the “racist” label – a tactic which detracts from any legitimate arguments they may actually have.

Similarly, the Pugh cartoon may not convey enough context for some people either. At first glance, there may indeed seem to be a disconnect between the bible verse and my criticism of Pugh, or someone may (incorrectly) think I am speaking out against all public prayer. After all, in Matthew 6, Jesus is not prohibiting public prayer, but rather cautioning against praying publicly for the wrong reasons – for the glory of the petitioner rather than of God.

And that’s where some context can help out. I tried to put it in by echoing Pugh’s words at the council meeting: “No, in the name of Jesus Christ”. When Pugh said those words, he was not in prayer, or in fellowship with other believers. He was casting a vote on a contentious subject at a City Council meeting. That is one point of reference.

A second point of reference was not in the cartoon, but may be familiar to anyone following the story. At an earlier rally with supporters, Pugh threatened to take his fight all the way to the Supreme Court. These sorts of actions – threats and grandiose proclaimations – smack of grandstanding. In other words – in my opinion – I think Pugh is doing exactly what we are warned not to do by Matthew 6:5-6.

As I’m finding out, some people will understand that point, and maybe agree with it. Others will disagree. Ideally, the cartoon will get people – maybe even Pugh himself – to think about the issue in a way they may not have. If that happens, the cartoon will have done its job.

6 Responses to “Cartoon: In the Name of Who?”

  1. Sue Says:

    Anthony, I imagine political cartooning can be uncomfie for you. You’re one of the gentle good guys in thought and action. I wondered how the LTE might affect you and I’m glad it provoked thoughtfulness – just proves my point (that you’re thoughtful). Like sarcasm, political humor often doesn’t travel well in print but as I’ve learned, a little controversy is good for all of us; it makes us rethink what we said or did.

    I’m also glad you you “got it,” and that you’re going to continue bringing your voice in your own way to this fray.

  2. Joe Guarino Says:

    Anthony, I think you did fine with both cartoons. The point you were making in each was exceedingly defensible.

    While I disagree with the type of interpretation of the US Constitution regarding separationism that would make Pugh’s prayer illegal, your cartoon raised an entirely fair question.

    And I think if the letter writer knew you, she would have never written the letter in the first place.

  3. Anthony Says:

    Sue, Joe, thanks for the kind words – I appreciate it.

  4. meblogin Says:

    meanie!!!!!

    lol

  5. Brenda Bowers Says:

    Anthony, You are in my opinion the most kind and considerate and thoughtful person in the Greensboro blogosphere. And, it is precisely because of these character traits that you are the ideal political cartoonist. You will always say what needs to be said because it’s the right position to take, and never out of malice. Brenda

  6. Anthony Says:

    Thanks Brenda, that’s very kind of you to say.

    Meblogin: As the erudite P.W. Herman once said, “I know you are, but what am I?” ;)