The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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September 29th, 2004 · No Comments · Art, Politics, Rants

Aaron McGruder’s brilliant Boondocks is one of the few reasons to bother cracking the comics page of most newspapers these days. Attacking issues ranging from race to politics to the Draconian behavior of the RIAA and MPAA, McGruder rarely pulls punches and regularly toes the line of “acceptable” content.

This past week, he crossed one of those lines when he produced a series of strips satirizing reality television and negative portrayals of African Americans that included the use of violence, the term “bitch,” references to various racial stereotypes and the dreaded “N-word.” The “offensive terms” were presented as “n***a” and “b***h.”

My local paper, The Washington Post, chose not to run the series - citing concerns over “content” issues and opting to run an old, less troublesome set of Boondocks strips instead. Other papers ran the strips - though some chose to edit the content slightly by completely blanking out the offensive terms and toning down the violence.

Now, I can understand the Post’s concerns to a degree. The comics page, regardless of whether or not it is warranted, is considered by most Americans to be “kiddy content.” As such, it may have been inappropriate to run the strips in a section of the paper where children are likely to see it. But the Post runs “adult” strips like Doonesbury outside of the comics page (in the paper’s Style section), so it is unclear as to why they couldn’t have moved that week’s Boondocks strips elsewhere, rather than choosing not to run them at all.

The “offensive terms” in question were censored to begin with and a child would have needed to have been familiar with them in advance for the edited versions to make any sense. As such, we can’t make the argument that the Post was afraid of “exposing” children to offensive content, since they could only have understood what they were reading if they had been exposed to the content previously. So that leaves us with only one possible explanation - the Post was concerned about perpetuating negative stereotypes by running content that included racially offensive terms.

But wait… this same paper runs stories EVERY DAY about the “Redskins” football team and it’s a safe bet that there isn’t a lick of satirical commentary to be found in ANY of that content. Evidently, not all racially offensive terms are created equal. And so, to avoid this problem in the future, please refer to the following chart when deciding whether or not your “offensive” content is TOO offensive:

Most offensive

* * * * * Censored (satirical) racial epithets for African Americans.

* * * * Censored (satirical) pejorative terms for women.

* * * Violence (unless it serves to criticize the president and/or is featured in Doonesbury).

* * Uncensored (non-satirical) racial epithets for Native Americans.

* Bil Keane’s Family Circus.

Least Offensive

The Post used to be gutsy on their comics page. Back in 1993, they were one of the first national papers to run a For Better or For Worse series that addressed homosexuality. Earlier this year, they stood behind Gary Trudeau when he produced Doonesbury strips that featured a soldier being seriously wounded in Iraq and losing a leg - a storyline which continues currently in the series. Last week, while Boondocks wasn’t being run, Doonesbury featured a series of strips focusing on the soldier’s injuries and introducing (uncensored) concepts like Sadism.

The Post’s decision was cowardly at best and hypocritical without question. Artists like Aaron McGruder should be defended and applauded for trying to take aim at troublesome elements of our culture - not silenced in the service of an obtuse, inconsistent editorial agenda that lends tacit approval to some stereotypes and offensive content and offers blanket condemnation to others.


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