APRIL 30, 2002
Out of Bounds
-- Martin E. Marty
Only two months ago William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights listed "The Ten Worst Anti-Catholic Atrocities of 2002" in America (February 18). Some examples certainly were atrocious, e.g. a Time Out New York listing of "The Best" happenings in the Gay & Lesbian world: "Cardinal O'Connor Kicks the Bucket." Donohue was properly irritated that school districts in New York had the Christmas tree -- is it only Catholic?-- taken down, but then asked for or allowed Muslim and Jewish religious symbols in the same schools. In a Minnesota school, officials did not allow children to wear red-and-green scarves in a middle-school play Were Jesus' swaddling clothes red-and-green? Abercrombie & Fitch, the scummiest of all the firms, in their catalog advised customers to "crash a Catholic Mass" and do some stealing. One need not be a fan of the Catholic League or be hyper-sensitive sort to say: "Out of bounds."
Out of bounds is as out of bounds does. Next year Donohue who, to his credit, did not overdo his criticism of the media "feeding frenzy" in respect to the pedophilia scandal, and who called for priestly reform, can adduce some cartoons of Cardinal Law and the Pope that are at the border. But in the normal run of things, cartoons do exist to push the edges. Enter public life and be ready for grotesques. My friend Mike Peters ("Mother Goose and Grimm"), a political cartoonist who hasn't a mean streak in his body, admits gleefully that he gets paid to draw cartoons aimed at both parties "with malice aforethought." But he knows limits.
Some political cartooning is way out of bounds. After half a century Americans remain shocked and repulsed, over the way "we" portrayed Japanese ("Japs") as sub-humans during the Second World War. Non-Japanese Americans now deal dometically and internationally with Japanese, and know to treat them with dignity. Would one get away with drawing them in 2002 as we portrayed them in 1942?
Now, as you pass the newsstand, look at the cover of the May 6 issue of National Review. That magazine routinely bemoans the low state of American culture, but with this cover displays the lowest. It demonizes Yassir Arafat, portraying him as a sub-human, some sort of raven, a berserk threatener who has choked the dove of peace and is surrounded by rats enwrapped in bomb belts. Would artist Roman Genn and editor Richard Lowry, were their politics different, get away with a cover depicting Mr. Sharon as a vulture, with hooked nose, a la medieval representations of Jews? Some day Americans as a whole, the National Review, and people of basic human sensitivities and sensibilities must deal with the Palestinians. They might be shocked into repentance then. Why not now?