Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day By Day's Chris Muir Gives Hillary a Blackface Makeover

I think every blogger has had an irresistible urge to use blackface on our blogs at one time or another. Most of us resist the temptation, but occasionally some bloggers succumb, and end up red-faced. Despite this handy chart detailing when you should and should not use blackface on your blog, Conservatives have been especially reluctant to use blackface, fearing that it might reinforce nasty, untrue stereotypes people have about conservative attitudes toward race. But Chris Muir, the cartoonist who draws Day By Day, thought it was a terribly unfair double standard that only liberals get to use blackface so he decided to do something about it.

Today, his cartoon not only rubbed Hillary Clinton's face in burnt cork, it also showed her saying, in delightfully stereotypical minstrel dialogue, "Lawdy, I's seen da promised land!" Because Muir's cartoon is regularly featured on a number of conservative blogs, the conservative blogosphere is now festooned with blackface by proxy. Unfortunately, this has made a few conservative worrywarts a little nervous. "Considering how we conservatives trashed Jane ("you ignorant slut") Hamsher for photoshopping Lieberman in black face, shouldn't we police our own and give Mr. Muir a few well chosen jabs for his insensitivity?" asks Rick Moran of Right Wing Nut House, who is very sensitive about seeming racist but not so worried about seeming sexist. Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters also wonders, "should Chris Muir get a pass?" I think the answer invariably will be yes. If anyone can handle blackface with the sophistication and thoughtfulness necessary to pull it off, it's Chris Muir.

Day by Day is sometimes called a conservative Doonesbury but it is actually a lot more than that. Like Doonesbury Muir often buries his punchlines, but he has gone Doonesbury one better by making it rarely funny at all. By avoiding jokes altogether Muir never distracts us from the Very Important Points he's making. These points are reinforced by the images, which usually feature scantily clad characters standing around talking. Muir has come under some criticism by conservative bloggers for being "too sexy," but by having his characters address serious issues in their underwear, what they say has far more impact than the pronouncements of Doonesbury's fully clothed characters.

Muir has not only stripped down his characters, he has also reduced the actual drawing he needs to do to the barest minimum, which gives him a lot more time to think about the intellectual points he is trying to make. As he admits in an interview, "I have templates of bodies, heads, expressions, etc. If you look at the cartoons closely, you may notice that, at this time, each character has about 5-6 head positions only." Coincidentally, these 5 to 6 head positions correspond to the 5 or 6 political positions Muir takes, which he relentlessly drums into his readers' heads.

If Chris Muir drew Charles Schulz's Peanuts, for example, he wouldn't have bothered drawing a panel showing Lucy pulling the football away at the last minute when Charlie Brown tries to kick it. That would be too Old School for him. Instead, Muir would just have Lucy say, "Democrats always pull the football away at the last minute when you are trying to kick it, Charlie Brown." Lucy and Charlie Brown would also probably be in their underwear.

I have to admit that sometimes I have no idea what Muir is trying to say because his cartoons are so sophisticated. Once he referred to "Kantian nihilism." I looked up this phrase on the Internet and I couldn't find anyone who could explain what it means. When Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings speculated that it doesn't mean anything at all, Muir offered cryptic hints about the deeper meaning of his cartoon in the comments: "Don't believe the philosopher in the mirror. What a tool you are. y'all need a life." Even his comments go right over my head. In another cartoon Muir brought up Kant again to criticize Andrew Sullivan: "The categorical imperative means gay marriage? So it's not universal law…seems more a posteriori." I think this may be some sort of a reference to Sullivan's being gay, but I must confess, I Kant make heads or tails out of it.

I don't know if Kant ever used blackface in his work but I doubt he could have brought as much nuance and perception as Muir brings to reviving racist imagery. Muir has already established that he has a deep understanding of race by having a black character (who is usually shirtless like the hero of the much-admired classic Blaxploitation film Mandingo) mouth typical Republican talking points, instead of the usual liberal tripe that blacks say in such cartoons as Boondocks, drawn by Aaron McGruder, who clearly doesn't know anything about black people.

Ever since Hillary quoted a Negro spiritual in her speech at Selma conservative bloggers have been doing everything they can to make sure that no one forgets it. Repeating an idea over and over again such as the notion that Hillary is a racist by pandering to black people, or that John Edwards is so unmanly he is practically gay or that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim who will betray the country, only goes so far. The danger is that eventually voters might listen to what candidates are actually saying and forget the meme we are trying to reinforce no matter how many times Maureen Dowd repeats it in her columns. But I don't think people are going to be able to forget the day that so many conservative bloggers featured Hillary in blackface on their blogs. That is an image that will stick with people for a long time.

Update: TalkAboutComics responds (to a suggestion by Reinder Dijkhuis) with "Jon Swift has a drawing assignment for you!": "I’m sure there are some of you who can, er, take this ball and run with it. And it doesn’t have to be Peanuts, of course: For Better or For Worse “drawn” Chris Muir-style? Calvin and Hobbes? Fetus-X? Show us how Chris Muir would do your favourite newspaper, comic book or web comic!"

The Blogosphere Takes Up the Challenge!:

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dslak said...

I have to say, I'm a philosopher with some interest in Kant, and I would be interested in hearing more of Muir's thoughts on Kant. He seems to really be on top of the latest scholarship.

skippy said...

i only read day by day for the implied sexuality. because that's the only kind republicans have.

Walter Burek said...


Maybe Kant couldn't, but Chris can. So I see no reason why he shouldn't.


Bukko_in_Australia said...

I'm glad he has the courage to draw Hillary in blackface. I look forward to the day when his strip has Lieberman with a Jewnose, and Condi with blubberlips, and Scalia with Wopstubble... Such hilarity will ensue! No pansy PC for Muir!

Reformer said...

It's really a sensitive issue. From a neutral perspective then I think it would be best for the conservative campaign to avoid these situations. Giving ammo to your enemy has always been considered bad.

james higham said...

I wouldn't give her a black face. I'd give her a black eye.

Stella said...

I was born a 45 year old conservative. But you know what? Conservative isn't even "conservative" anymore. It's a label for normal. Yes, I said normal! Conservative and Kant? Hmmmm...

No State shall intermeddle by force with the Constitution or Government of another State...No State at war with another shall adopt such modes of hostility as would necessarily render mutual confidence impossible in a future Peace; such as, the employment of Assassins (percussores) or Poisoners (venefici), the violation of a Capitulation, the instigation of Treason and such like.

I can't find much about Muir's thoughts on Kant. Many people think he is confusing him with Ayn Rand, Schoppenhauer, and/or Nietzsche. Here's a good source for link to Kant's works, dslak.

Oh, dear, I got too serious again... ;-)

Doodle Bean said...

Dear Master Swift,

Once again I must write, "Hear! Hear!", although you have left out a mention of Muir's compassion for the deformed female characters!

The scoliosis from which they suffer should be a lesson for us all!

Yr. Obedient Servant,

Doodle Bean

Grace Nearing said...

The artist seems to be a bit slapdash, and not familiar with the exact traditions of blackfacery. He forgot to give Hillary the traditional white-gloved hands. Thus her hands are in her native flesh-tone.


I snark here too much said...

You know the brilliant thing about doing Muir drawing Hillaryous in blackface? It, like, TOTALLY covers his inability to, like, DRAW!

Muir says himself that he uses templates for his figures, and has, like, four kinds of faces he can do. That Hillary-artillery face looks like the one he uses for Jan, the liberal marketing manager. (You know she's a skanky lib because she's drawn in clothing that shows off her NAVEL! But she has small tits, that scrawny granola eater...)

For that matter, the face he put on Godzillary looks like the one he uses for Sam the conservative engineer. (You know she's, like, totally wicked cool, because she has a MAN'S name and her boobs are BIG! Conservative babes are, you know, so down with their inner raunch...) And all the other women's characters are interchangeable, if you look at them closely, know what I'm sayin?. Except for their hair. Man, can Muir draw HAIR!

I think it's like, awesome, that he can con however many thousands of newspapers he's published in to give him lots of money for only a little work at the drawing table. It's SO Republican-dreamy to make money for not doing much. And spending less time learning how to draw different faces leaves Muir more time to come up with those deeply intelligent story lines.

eatbees said...

OT but too good to pass up -- it seems that ultralib Josh Marshall has finally come around to your sense of Reasonable Conservative values. In this piece he praises USAID director (until yesterday) Randall Tobias for promoting international development even when he was away from the office. Tobias hired Central American escorts to come to his condo. No doubt thinking of his role as international AIDS czar, he then followed his own advice and refrained from sex with the escorts, contenting himself with a healthy massage. The liberal media will surely play this up as an example of Bush administration hypocrisy, but Marshall gets it right for once --Tobias lived his conservative values both on and off the job!

Anonymous said...

OK, my Photoshop skills are not what they should be, but here’s my script;

Panel One; Dagwood is late for work, and racing out the door. Blondie is in her underwear, (lolling in the “broken backed nymph” style that Muir stole from late Victorian kitsch) and holding out his lunch bag.

BLONDIE: Hurry, Dagwood! Mr. Dithers is counting on you to contribute to the economy!

Second Panel; Dagwood and the Mail Carrier COLLIDE!

Third Panel: The Mail Carrier is lying on the porch, tiny “pain” stars circling his head, while Dagwood runs toward the horizon. Blondie stands, looking down.

MAIL CARRIER: Another clash between business and government employees.

BLONDIE: And as usual, the business employee is a lot tougher than you overpaid pencil pushers.

No, it’s not funny. But then again, neither is Chris Muir.

Blue Jean

J Crowley said...

For full Muir effect, he really ought to have had Hillary Clinton wearing a bikini, her hips alluringly askew. Whether the blackface would continue on to cover her whole body or just terminate below her neck is difficult to say.

Amanda Marcotte said...

Here's mine.

Amanda Marcotte said...

Sorry, wrong link:

Here's the right one.

james higham said...

Amanda always eventually gets it right.

misterniceguy1960 said...

In one recent strip, Chris Muir seems to be saying that if an officer sexually harasses an enlisted woman, she should shoot him.

Inciting to mutiny is a Federal offense.

misterniceguy1960 said...

Nobody seems to be commenting on the way Muir has Senator Clinton mangling the words of MLK. Not that I would expect him to have any respect for a man who merely saved America from Civil War II.

skippy said...

alas, i failed.

here's my entry.

Dumb Ox said...

Excellent observations Mr. Swift. Although I don't find Chris Muir's Kant references on point, I think his comic is in every way superior to anything the Libs have ever churned out. Moral mediocrity and eliminating diaper rash are not great sources of politically inspired humor for the Left. Putting a Hitler mustache on Bush seems to be their equivalent of the perfect joke. Brava to Stelle too!

Jesus and Mo said...

As it happens, many Jesus and Mo comics qualify as "Chris Muir draws 'Jesus and Mo'" comics without changing anything. One example.

Joshua Trupin said...

If these are to be true mashups, they should have original strips plus exact Muir wordings, combined to explode in a complete non-sequitur of Republicanism.

Here's my frist try. More to come:

misterniceguy1960 said...

Here's my contribution:

New Day said...

Jesus and Mo,

What fun! Your cartoons are excellent. Thanks.

jurassicpork said...

I think I can hear Jane Hamsher gnashing her teeth in frustration all the way from Oregon.

Meanwhile, a word on the Bush administration's admirable hubris:

“To sum it all up: Nations poorer than us are offering help that we should’ve and could’ve been able to provide and were rebuffed. A nation led by, among other people, a man who’d helped take 52 of our people hostage in Tehran in 1979 wanted to open up diplomatic relations that could’ve saved countless people in Iraq, including our own, was ignored and even threatened. A nation like France offered to train Iraqi security forces and clowns like Curt Weldon responded by changing the name of French fries in the congressional cafeteria to Freedom fries.” - The Deadliest Sin.

Mark said...

Ha, Ha! This is really funny, because Hillary Clinton is not black at all! Yes, I know she sounds black when she sings Aretha Franklin, but trust me, she isn't.

skippy said...

hey if anyone cares, i reworked my piece to make the font more readable.

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MYSTYRI said...

"... irresistible urge to use blackface on our blogs at one time or another. Most of us resist the temptation ..." (emphasis added)

So, conservative bloggers now have the ineffable power to resist the irresistible. Perhaps next they will master the power to write coherent English.

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