Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Manufacturing Controversy

In a breathtaking display of bad taste, Niall Ferguson and the Financial Times have likened President Obama to a black cartoon cat. Ferguson recently wrote, "President Barack Obama reminds me of Felix the Cat. ...Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky." Um, Niall? In North America in the 21st century, black cats are unlucky, not lucky; and Obama's starting his presidency saddled with a war, a world that is mad at hell at the US, a financial crisis, an impending depression and an unprecedented deficit is the opposite of lucky.

When there was some expression of dismay at the article, Ferguson shot back with Why My Comparing Obama to Felix the Cat Is Not Racist, an almost wholly irrational defence. But rational argument is obviously not the point for Ferguson: he seems to be aiming to (1) gain celebrity through shock-jock tactics, and (2) publicize as widely as possible the Obama/F-t-C comparison.

I grew up watching Felix the Cat every Saturday morning; this is an extremely disrespectful comparison, to say the least. And yes it is racist. Comparing an African American to a black animal is like saying a Chinese person is a yellow fish.

Paul Krugman thinks this was a mistake by Financial Times editorial staff. I disagree. This reeks of Republican strategy: I bet the goal is for Republicans to start playing the Felix the Cat theme song (the article quotes lyrics from the song and Ferguson refers to Obama as "Felix the Pres"). This could create a musical equivalent of the racist code words that southern Republicans have used for decades. The Republicans have apparently decided that instead of shying away from racism, they'll embrace it.

Ferguson is a right-wing libertarian nutter who wants to abolish income tax, social security and most social service spending. He is best known as a defender of colonialism. As a TV personality he has been able to popularize his extremist views in a series of picture books and media appearances. He is known as a contrarian. The only good side to this stunt is that people might wake up to what a sleazebag he is.

The insidious brilliance of the plan is that there's no real defence. Complaining about it only further publicizes the trick (I don't have enough readers to do any damage.) If Democrats fight back the Republicans will say that Obama is "polarizing". The only effective response might be, eventually, for both sides to drown out productive debate with insulting songs that can be reproduced as simple, catchy tunes. The Democrats could, for example, blast the Woody Woodpecker song at Republican candidates. That would be just another step away from substantive debate - a tactic that definitely favors the Republicans.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Black cats are never thought to *experience* bad luck. It's not even clear whether they cause it, or are just portents of it.

Even the most beleaguered PotUS is still one of the luckiest dudes in history.

Comparing a person to a cartoon animal isn't anything like comparing a person to an animal; cartoon animals are recognizably people, they are characters. If I call this a "Mickey Mouse blog" you'd probably be insulted but I doubt you'd call me a racist for comparing you to a black animal. Granted, the character could be a racist stereotype -- I don't know -- but that doesn't seem to be your issue and has nothing to do with whether the character is an anthropomorphized animal.

I think you're stretching to make a lot of your criticisms, probably just because the original source was so obnoxious. (I dunno, didn't read it.)

Yappa said...

You're right - I wasn't clear even in my head that I had a case for racism, and yet it seems racist in that it seems to be making fun of him and demeaning him on racial grounds.

I think the thing that spurred me to write the post was the idea that Republicans would start playing the cartoon's music at their rallies... that really could turn into a racist code word. But that's pure speculation, as is my claim that there was planning behind the article.

lixue said...

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lixue said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Susan

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