The difference between satire and “satire” in political humour

I’d like to compare and contrast two political images, both of which inspired comment wank.

The first is from the Western Suburbs Weekly [1].

The second is a Bush macro from Pundit Kitchen [2].


The Bush macro is is classic crip humour – exactly the sort of dark humour I’d expect a PWD (person with a disability) to produce. (Note that I don’t actually know whether the capper is TAB or not.)

It is unambiguously making fun of George Bush, not of the soldier, and I really don’t understand how someone could in good faith interpret it otherwise. The soldier is not depicted in a demeaning way. No stereotypes of soldiers or PWD are used. The soldier is depicted as the sensible person in the picture, not the stupid one.

However, there is a blast of conspicuous outrage in the comment section. The criticism centres around the macro being in “poor taste”, and accusations that the capper “doesn’t support our troops” and “exploits injured soldiers just to make a political point”. The real motivations, however, come out later in the thread, where the community is accused of having an anti-Bush bias (as if that’s a bad thing.)

The Western Suburbs Weekly cartoon, in contrast, rests completely on entrenched racist stereotypes to make its point. It is poking fun at the Chinese subject of the cartoon, not at anyone else.

It, too, inspired comment wank, though less so, as it was being discussed on a smaller site and the wank wasn’t tolerated. The wank was the usual fauxgressive racist bingo stuff, centring around how truly rational people would have given the cartoonist the benefit of the doubt. Oh, and no such wank would be complete without the catchphrase “political correctness gone too far”. This little gem got thrown in by the self-appointed Defender for good measure:

If I wanted to be offensive, I could suggest that your motivations in this matter are coloured by your own feelings (and perhaps past hurt), making your views unobjective and thus invalid.

I would not (because that’s obviously ridiculous), so please don’t invent motivations for me.

So what’s the difference between satire and “satire”, for you? Can you see the difference between these two cartoons? Where does crip or race humour cross the line? (For me, I think it’s somewhere around the point where I can’t imagine a PWD or POC activist producing the piece.)

And, if you have answers, a request from tigtog: could you explain it to the New Yorker?

[1] Description: a fat Chinese caricature straight out of the Gold Rush/Yellow Peril racist cartooning tradition sits behind a large, shiny desk. His deskplate reads “CHINA STEEL Co.”, and there is a small Chinese flag on each corner of the desk. The picture window behind him shows a dim, smoggy sky with factories spewing smoke.

The man is holding a cigar in one hand and a newspaper in the other. The newspaper headline reads, “AUSTRALIA TO ADOPT CARBON SCHEME”.

The man is saying: “HA… HA… R’OSE AUSSIES JUST QUACK ME UP ...”

[2] Description: George Bush is leaning over a hospital bed, shaking a soldier’s hand. An American flag hangs in the background. Bush is looking serious, and the soldier is looking rather incredulous. The soldier has no visible disability, but his left leg is out of frame.

The photo is captioned, “Don’t worry ’bout that leg, son. It’ll grow back.”

Categories: ethics & philosophy, media, Politics

Tags: ,

7 replies

  1. The conspicuous descent into outrage on behalf of the soldiers is rather predictable. Having done a lot of rehab work with physically mutilated people (from car crashes, not warzones) I too can totally see this cap being produced by an actual amputee. By contrast, I get the feeling that a lot of the commentors on Pundit Kitchen would actually prefer the crippled vets to be so “respected” for their sacrifice that they are made invisible.
    A 2006 Washington post profile of Garry Trudeau, who writes the Doonesbury comic strip, made the point about how little the average person understands about what a wounded veteran actually wants to talk about. The reporter screws it up by downplaying a vet’s injury (read the opening paragraphs for cringemaking misplaced jocularity) , but Trudeau gets it right by asking direct questions about the soldier’s experience, which he absolutely wanted to talk about rather than avoid, and which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the character B.D.’s storyline since he lost his leg to an IED in Iraq in 2004. Despite being an opponent of the war, Trudeau treats the soldiers who’ve been wounded in it with empathy and respect.
    Trudeau doesn’t whitewash the pain of recovery, the black humour used to cope or the ongoing nightmare of PTSD. He also donated the profits from the book published in 2005 that collected B.D.’s story (foreword by John McCain) to Fisher House, the charity that provides accommodation for families of wounded soldiers. [Stars & Stripes story] and [sampling of the opening few months’ worth of the B.D. strips].

  2. Argh! The WaPo article was mostly amazing right up till the “Jane” story on the last page. You gotta hate that kick in the feminist teeth, dontcha?
    Thanks for the link to the strips.

  3. I think what appeals about black humour about disability in my household is the whole acknowledgement that Why Yes! Don has a disability! So much of his life has been about pretending that he didn’t and that folks must never speak about it.
    Annas last blog post..Things to Read

  4. I can’t see anything funny about the first one. Mispronunciations of certain sounds is supposed to be hilarious?
    My brother, a vet whose service left him a quad and earned him lots of stays in vets’ hospitals, would have loved that Bush macro. I remember reading a movie review many years ago that complained about the unfeeling, nasty humor in a movie about some disabled guys hanging out together. A few months later, I visited my brother, and he insisted I sit down and watch this “great” movie with him, because it was full of jokes he had to share. Same movie, of course. He would have loved the Doonesbury series on BD.
    I was a kid when my brother was injured, and I always wondered why people refused to refer, even in vague terms, about the fact that he was in a wheelchair. Did they think he hadn’t noticed?

  5. Its interesting to see families we know, whose child, like ours has autism – in many cases it is not immediately apparent that the child has a disability and so they prefer not to talk about or acknowledge that their child has a disability. Some even go so far as to forbid those who know from telling anyone else.
    While I empathise with their desire to give their child what they see as a ‘normal’ experience, we have found that it is much more helpful to educate parents teachers and friends about what autism is and how t affects our son and those around him.
    As a society we still treat people with disabilities as another ‘category’ rather than as people and it is this lack of inclusiveness that seems to be the source of so many of the problems that people with disabilities face in accessing anything.
    Not talking about it certainly won’t make it go away – just keep it in the same basket of ‘unmentionables’.
    Grendels last blog post..Welcoming a new blog

  6. “Some even go so far as to forbid those who know from telling anyone else.”
    Some go even further, and refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything developmentally different about their child or try to access the early intervention their child desperately needs.

  7. I think this sums up some thoughts on satire pretty well, especially with regards to The New Yorker cover –

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