Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Walking my talk

Stephanie Eisner's controversial cartoon for The Daily Texan, which I got from The Digital Texan. This beats my previous description of it, for one thing. For another, I didn't mention in the last post that the figure in the chair represents the media. For a third, I don't know of too many editorial cartoonists who draw with ink washes, so I thought you should see.
A graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin, has launched a petition seeking to reinstate Stephanie Eisner as a staff cartoonist for The Daily Texan.

Eisner was the cartoonist with whom the newspaper discontinued its relationship after publishing this cartoon last week. Critics protested that the cartoon was a racist response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The newspaper apologized, Stephanie Eisner took a couple of opportunities to apologize and explain, and prairie fire over the shooting and its aftermath continues to burn hot across the nation.

Samian Quazi, the graduate student and a former columnist for The Daily Texan, contacted me asking to help publicize the petition, and I do so now. You can go here to sign the petition and read Quazi's arguments.

I support Quazi's effort because it makes some points that I missed in the previous post about the cartoon, which was really not much more than a oh-something-similar-happened-to-me! catharsis.

Quazi is taking action.

Chief among the points: Stephanie Eisner appears to have been let go for doing her job. She advanced her opinion on the opinion page. It's a valid, credible criticism of the news media's recklessness in covering an incident like Trayvon Martin's shooting.

I infer that Eisner used incendiary words — particularly "colored boy" — to focus her point that the media firestorm over the shooting and aftermath helped mushroom the incident beyond our ability to examine the details thoughtfully, and maybe consider that the rage exceeds its due.

Just my opinion.

When too many professional cartoonists use their space as visual knock-knock jokes to give readers a break from all that … opionion, here is a cartoonist trying to use every square inch to advance a meaningful idea, and prod people to think. 

Eisner's cartoon indeed enraged some readers, though not as Eisner must have intended. Protesting readers perceived that the cartoonist was hurling slurs and perpetuating racist ideas. She was doing just the opposite.

"We sincerely apologize for publishing the offensive cartoon and for the harm that decision caused," The Daily Texan wrote, noting that its editorial board approved the cartoon.

This one of those rare times in which the usually insincere "I apologize to any who were offended" apologies works, because Eisner didn't draw an offensive cartoon. She drew one in which some readers chose to take offense, and not to see her point.

The only thing Eisner may be guilty of — besides misspelling Trayvon Martin's name — is lack of clarity. Ironically, she might have skirted the rage by employing extreme visual stereotypes to make the same point; turn the mother figure into a summer camp leader, for example, scaring hell out of her shrinking charges with a monster story, say. Use the same language and letterforms, but ramp up the contrast and melodrama.

Which brings up the second big reason Stephanie Eisner should be reinstated and Samian Quazi's petition should succeed: The Daily Texan is a student newspaper. Sure, it operates like a hard-nosed medium-city daily at one of the nation's top journalism schools, but it's a place where students learn their craft. It's where they should be able to fail, reassess, regroup, and move forward, applying what they've learned.

Eisner should not have had to apologize for her cartoon, and then told to go away. She should be given opportunities to learn how to make her point sharp and unequivocal, and practice it.

So far, all she's learning — all any of us is learning — is that it's suicidal to dare an opinion, to fight prairie fire with prairie fire, because your supposed supporters will throw you into the fire to quell the outrage, even if the offense misses the message.

Odd lesson to learn in a country with all that fancy Bill of Rights stuff.

Read more on Samian Quazi's quest here.


  1. the least i could do, samian. thanks for bringing it to my attention.