Friday, June 23, 2006

Steve Benson

The blogosphere is outraged - outraged I tell you! - about this June 5th editorial cartoon by Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic. This isn't the first time the Pulitzer winner has pissed people off. His classic 1997 anti-death penalty cartoon parodied a famous photo of a firefighter carrying a dying one-year old out of the wreckage of the Oklahoma City bombing to point out the irony in executing Timothy McVeigh. Whatever your opinion regarding that execution, this was powerful, provocative stuff, editorial cartooning at its best. And of course, in the ensuing controversy, almost everyone missed the point entirely. Even firefighters complained that they were portrayed as "advocates of death", which any idiot can see that's not what's going on here. Benson rightfully stood his ground and refused to apologize: "I don't apologize to people who don't understand cartooning."

The usual suspects on the right like Michelle are trying to manufacture some outrage and get everyone worked up into a lather. The Republic has already received some 1350 letters on the cartoon. If you look past the righteous outrage in the letters and the blogs, occasionally you'll find a legitimate point. Benson has been accused of rushing to judgment and making accusations before all the facts are in. But I doubt anyone would be so outraged about Benson's supposed pre-judgment if he had not made his point in such a provocative manner.

Editorial cartooning is in danger of becoming a lost art, with too many cartoonists parroting conventional wisdom with tame, inoffensive, obvious "humor". ("Those clowns in Congress did it again. What a bunch of clowns.") Too many editors fear the controversy that a good cartoonist can bring and too many publishers are getting rid of cartoonists because of cost cutting or because they don't like their politics. So it's good to see a cartoonist who isn't afraid to be provocative or to piss people off, and we should encourage people like Benson to keep at it. I don't usually care for Benson's work. To me he's a guy with a relatively low batting average, but when he does score a hit, it goes out of the park.

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