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!:
- Chris Clarke is first with this contribution.
- Gordo submits "'Day by Day Gets Its War On."
- Amanda Marcotte channels Boondocks.
- skippy mashes Muir and Mutts, but can't resist adding a joke.
- Joshua Trupin takes actual Day by Day dialog and mashes it up with Nancy and Archie.
- Mister Nice Guy gives us Frazz by Day.