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Editor responds to a recent Gary McCoy cartoon

Gary McCoy More Cool Aid Cartoon

The editor of the Daily Triplicate (Crescent City, CA), Richard Wiens, writes about the reader reaction to a recent Gary McCoy editorial cartoon depicting former Secretary of State Collin Powell drinking kool-aid in his endorsement of Barack Obama. Along with explaining his philosophy of what makes a great editorial cartoon and how he selects them from the paper, he shares his first interpretation of the cartoon compared to later reader reactions who felt that the cartoon played with racial stereotypes.

I thought this was one of those unbiased, down-the-middle cartoons. I considered the drink to represent the bitter medicine that a Republican was presumably swallowing in endorsing a Democrat, a reference to the infamous vat of poison Kool-Aid in the 1978 Guyana mass-suicide.

Two readers have told me they saw it as indulging a crass racial stereotype â?? that black people are presumed to drink Kool-Aid in the same way they’re said to eat lots of watermelon and fried chicken.

I sincerely doubt that’s what the cartoonist had in mind, but I do regret unintentionally publishing a cartoon that some construed as racist.

I’ve since asked several people if they were familiar with the concept of drinking Kool-Aid being a racial stereotype. Some were; others weren’t.

Community Comments

#1 Charles Brubaker
October/30/2008
@ 7:01 am

That cartoon is by Gary McCoy, not Glenn.

#2 Alan Gardner
October/30/2008
@ 7:10 am

Thanks. Corrected.

#3 Mike Witmer
October/30/2008
@ 7:41 am

He shouldn’t have apologized. It’s become a game to see how offended we can be. That retraction just fuels it.

#4 David Cohen
October/30/2008
@ 8:18 am

I thought that the reference to Kool-Aid has always been about it having some mind-altering substance, such as LSD, in it—something as in, “are you tripping,man?!”.

#5 Daryll Collins
October/30/2008
@ 8:22 am

“He shouldnâ??t have apologized. Itâ??s become a game to see how offended we can be. That retraction just fuels it.”

I agree. The editor’s response should have been,”Grow up.”

If you’re looking for slights, you’ll find them. If we all grew up three years in this country, we’d be seven!

#6 Aaron Taylor
October/30/2008
@ 9:35 am

The cartoon makes no sense if it uses Kool-Aid as a racial symbol, does it? But it makes total sense when some people view Powell has hopping on the Obama bandwagon and following him like some cult-like figure — thus the “Kool-Aid” reference. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some poorly-executed editorial cartoons, but this is not one of them.

#7 Mike Sieber
October/30/2008
@ 9:43 am

Just my two cents, but I’ve never thought of drinking the Kool Aid as a racial thing (this is the first I’ve really heard of it being thought of in that context). I always thought it referred to Jim Jones and how people will blindly follow something.

#8 Alan Gardner
October/30/2008
@ 9:57 am

Urban dictionary defines this phrase in the context of the Jim Jones cult mass-suicide.. That’s always been the context I’ve understood it.

#9 Matt Bors
October/30/2008
@ 10:11 am

Kool-Aid was used on that fake food stamp featuring Obama with KFC and a watermelon. The creator said it was “just food.”

Gary obviously meant “drinking the Kool-Aid” in the cultish follower sense. Still, cartoons are about getting across ideas. When you draw a black man with purple lips and Kool-Aid dripping from his face like a two year old, expect blacks (and others) to cringe a bit.

#10 Scott Metzger
October/30/2008
@ 10:59 am

People need to relax. This cartoon is clearly not racist. Everyone knows the term “drinking the Kool Aid” and what it means. People have used that term a lot during this campaign–and previous campaigns.

To take this cartoon as a racial slam is just plain stupid. There’s no reason why the editor should’ve apologized for publishing this.

#11 Charles Brubaker
October/30/2008
@ 11:21 am

Matt,

Gary also draws Obama with purple lips.

Gary tends to draw Democratic politicans ugly on purpose (he always draws Hillary with hair clearly visible on her legs, for example). You can guess what his politics are based on that alone.

#12 Aaron Taylor
October/30/2008
@ 11:41 am

Matt — I saw the food stamp thing, too, and that was blatantly a racist jab at Obama. And, I’ll admit, when I first saw this cartoon before it was ever posted on TDC, I thought “Oh no — Kool-Aid in an Obama/Powell cartoon. There’s going to be some upset people regardless of what the cartoon is trying to say.”

In relation to a previous thread about editorial cartooning in the Obama presidency, this type of unintentional offending may be something cartoonists will have to be more aware of and deal with — for some time, at least. To modify Matt’s quote a bit: “When you draw a black man with (insert object here), expect some people to cringe.”

#13 Abell Smith
October/30/2008
@ 4:15 pm

“To take this cartoon as a racial slam is just plain stupid.”

Not so fast on this one. At what point does “hey, I didn’t know about that other meaning” lose its credibility? What, he’s never seen an episode of Chappelle’s Show? I’m personally way more careful than that with my ‘toons… I find it hard to believe that McCoy wasn’t aware of his hidden meaning here.

Aaron, it makes perfect sense that this might be a right-winger’s point, if he buys into Rush’s screaming into his microphone that Powell’s endorsement of Obama “is all about race”…

#14 Milt Priggee
October/30/2008
@ 5:41 pm

It is quite obvious that the editor is an idiot, completely unqualified to hold the position of editor or any other job in journalism.

He proves that by his statement that both cartoonists he had first hand experience working with were “equally unfunny”.

He’s just another sad example of an editor looking for a safe non-editorial funny that doesn’t make the phone ring.

#15 Rick Stromoski
October/30/2008
@ 5:43 pm

>>>At what point does â??hey, I didnâ??t know about that other meaningâ? lose its credibility? What, heâ??s never seen an episode of Chappelleâ??s Show? Iâ??m personally way more careful than that with my â??toonsâ?¦ I find it hard to believe that McCoy wasnâ??t aware of his hidden meaning here.

My politics are the polar opposite of Gary’s and I am an Obama supporter and member of my local DTC and I never heard of “Chappelle’s show” or the racist reference of Kool aid consumption.

The racist accusations made against this drawing and Gary are way off base. Sometimes my liberal bretheren can be embarassingly overly sensitive at times, finding offense where none is intended.

Let’s fight the good fight when there’s actually something to fight about. This isn’t one of them.

#16 Scott Metzger
October/30/2008
@ 6:05 pm

“Sometimes my liberal bretheren can be embarassingly overly sensitive at times, finding offense where none is intended.”

Exactly how I feel about this. And I’m also an Obama supporter. To say this cartoon is a racial slam is a stretch.

#17 John Cole
October/30/2008
@ 6:24 pm

“Exactly how I feel about this. And Iâ??m also an Obama supporter. To say this cartoon is a racial slam is a stretch…”

I hate to say it, but get ready. With Obama in office, accusations of racism will be thrown at images and metaphors hitherto not viewed as such. In a few cases, such accusations will be legit. In most, however, it will simply be an effort to cudgel critics into silence.

#18 Abell Smith
October/30/2008
@ 8:58 pm

OK, my comment before probably should’ve been less accusatory in terms of ascribing a particular motivation to McCoy… sorry, Gary. However, whether the intent is there or not, the fact remains that quite a few readers could easily see a secondary meaning in this cartoon… made even more likely by the fact that he’s got the Kool-Aid slobbered all over his face like a 2 year-old, as Matt said.

Here’s a hypothetical, only slightly different: a year into his presidency, Obama decides not to engage in a military action that some people are clamoring for, and some right-wing pundits seize on the opportunity to portray him as a coward. In an effort to make a clever point, someone does a cartoon of Obama feasting on a tub of fried chicken… and not just nibbling it, but eating it sloppily and appearing very child-like.

At that point, I’d say the cartoonist and editor better be ready to defend the work and explain the meaning…

#19 Matt Bors
October/30/2008
@ 9:29 pm

I don’t think anyone is being overly sensitive here–we’re just discussing a cartoon. For the record, I generally don’t agree with all the apologizing that goes on just because something offends someone. I’m not calling for an apology or shouting “Racism!”

And John’s right: we will see many cries of racism about cartoons on Obama. Some will be justified and some won’t.

But let’s not pretend it’s outrageous for someone to misinterpret this. It’s actually a great case study in how people can see a cartoon’s intent in wildly different ways.

Just as people aren’t familiar with the black/Kool-Aid thing, there are people who aren’t familiar with the Jim Jones thing. Not having that frame of reference would make this cartoon seem very offensive. Those people are not stupid.

#20 Clay Jones
October/30/2008
@ 10:24 pm

You have one black guy giving another black guy a fruit drink. There’s not even a mention of the endorsement. Gary is not a racist but he poorly executed the cartoon. I’m with Matt on this one in that I can see where people can misunderstand (as most people don’t work with cliches and obvious metaphors and analogies on a daily basis). I’m also not a fan of public apologies over simple misunderstandings.
Lord knows I’ve done my own share of poor executions with cartoons and words.

#21 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
October/30/2008
@ 11:08 pm

I agree with John Cole, ( #17 ). This will be a learning experience for many, for cartoonists, but in other areas of journalism as well.
Here, I think that the professionals that have had experience with ethnic elected officials of some prominence could help teach others. ( For myself, Harold Washington as Chicago mayor was illustrative ).
The over-riding question should be for any portrayal is: “Is this specific to the subject, or is it a stereotype that should be shunned?”.
Yes, there will be mistakes made…intentional and otherwise.
My advice? Listen to the A/A comedians. They’ll let you know what’s cool ( except the “N” word ).

#22 Quint Nelson
October/30/2008
@ 11:14 pm

This a preview of the next four years. If you criticize the Messiah, then you are a racist. Welcome to Amerika.

#23 Mike Witmer
October/31/2008
@ 6:17 am

“Not so fast on this one. At what point does â??hey, I didnâ??t know about that other meaningâ? lose its credibility? What, heâ??s never seen an episode of Chappelleâ??s Show? Iâ??m personally way more careful than that with my â??toonsâ?¦ I find it hard to believe that McCoy wasnâ??t aware of his hidden meaning here.”

I hear ya, Abell. I guess it’s just the fact that anyone WOULD get that up in arms over a harmless jab (intentional or unintentional). This is the type of nonsense that keeps cartoons under the thumb of 1950’s era censorship.

#24 Rick Stromoski
October/31/2008
@ 7:35 am

>> In an effort to make a clever point, someone does a cartoon of Obama feasting on a tub of fried chickenâ?¦ and not just nibbling it, but eating it sloppily and appearing very child-like.

The Graphic metaphor of using KoolAid to represent an individual embracing a particular world view is common knowledge given the Jim Jones inference.

If an editorial cartoonist drew a black man voraciously eating a bucket of fried chicken to represent the idea that he’s a coward, that would not only be an overt racial slur but an affront to cartooning since it’s just a ridiculous stretch and an embarrassingly lousy metaphor and he would be publicly mocked by his peers for doing such a crappy job of it.

#25 Scott Metzger
October/31/2008
@ 8:27 am

“Just as people arenâ??t familiar with the black/Kool-Aid thing, there are people who arenâ??t familiar with the Jim Jones thing. Not having that frame of reference would make this cartoon seem very offensive. Those people are not stupid.”

Good point. I actually regret using the word “stupid” earlier.

“Drinking the Kool-Aid” has been quite the popular catch phrase to describe those who support Obama–especially Republicans who support Obama. Within that context, I think the cartoonist should’ve been given the benefit of the doubt on this one.

I’ve never heard of Kool-Aid being a black thing. If anything I immediately think of it as a kid’s drink. And that annoying mascot from the ’80s (“Oh yeahhhh!”). But that’s my own world view. I wouldn’t want people to call me stupid because I never heard of Kool-Aid being a black stereotype, so point taken.

If Obama gets elected the next few years are going to be interesting in world of editorial cartoons.

#26 Daryl Cagle
October/31/2008
@ 9:33 am

There are some interesting comments on Gary’s cartoon on my site:

http://caglepost.com/cartoon/Gary+McCoy/56728/Colins+Kool-Aid+COLOR.html

#27 Mike Lester
October/31/2008
@ 10:55 am

(CONTENT WARNING: ADULT CONCEPTS AHEAD. PROCEED W/ CAUTION) Snuffy Smiff has been stereotyping white’s since the dinosaurs but now a mixed metaphor causes the (white) left to convulse in apologetic reparation. The fact is that if I go easy on a black Pres. I’m saying he’s somehow less equipped, emotionally inferior and can’t take it. That my friends is “racism”.

I’m surprised I haven’t been accused of the pretzel logic that every time I draw Obama, I’m drawing a 1/2 white man in black face.

#28 Mike Lester
October/31/2008
@ 11:11 am

One last thing: I’m predicting I’ll be drawing a 72 yr. old amnesty-loving, placating, mouth-full-of -Chiclets maverick (who gives themselves a nickname?) for the next four years. America will elect the lesser of two bad candidates. You heard it here.

#29 John Auchter
October/31/2008
@ 11:58 am

I, too, will make a prediction. In a Obama presidency not only will there be an increase in contrived accusations of racism (as John mentioned), there will also be an increase in contrived metaphors equating the black and white racial experience in America. Should we be able to draw black sambo characters just because a legacy comic strip feature stars a white hillbilly character? It’s an interesting parallel, but it’s not the same thing. One group is a historic minority with a unique experience, and one is a historic majority with a unique experience.

Now am I saying there should be massive government programs to compensate for all this? No no no no. Should cartoonists not be allowed to walk the edge of “racially sensitivity”? No no no no.

I’m just sayin’ that it is not the same thing, and I’m not looking forward to a potential four years of certain white friends trying to convince me otherwise.

#30 Beth Cravens
October/31/2008
@ 12:40 pm

I had no idea, having lived on Kool-Aid my entire childhood. I’m not black either so how would I know that it was a racial stereotype? Where does that leave us then? Can white people only draw about white politicians? That seems a bit ridiculous seeing as we are likely to have a black president. It would be reverse racism to take it easy on him and not take him to task the same as we would any other president. We can be fair, but let’s not be lax.

#31 Matt Bors
October/31/2008
@ 1:30 pm

“Can white people only draw about white politicians?”

That’s it.Take it to the extreme. No one here said lay off him because he’s black or to never use satire. That doesn’t mean all attacks are legitimate. In fact, I’ve heard there is some middle ground between depicting him as Jesus and a KFC-eating Welfare Czar.

#32 Abell Smith
October/31/2008
@ 3:07 pm

“Snuffy Smiff has been stereotyping whiteâ??s since the dinosaurs but now a mixed metaphor causes the (white) left to convulse in apologetic reparation. The fact is that if I go easy on a black Pres. Iâ??m saying heâ??s somehow less equipped, emotionally inferior and canâ??t take it. That my friends is â??racismâ?.”

No… that is acknowledging historical context. I wondered how long it would be before the “reverse racism” angle came up here. Context is everything, and everything is affected by history. Whites are not a historically oppressed group. No one is saying “go easy” on Obama on the issues, we’re talking about jabs based solely on race.

I’m sitting here watching Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Obama, and Wolf just said flat out “OK, I’m going to give you a series of questions about the economy, and you answer each one as fast as you can.” Can you imagine someone treating a Bush interview like that? Reporters routinely “took it easy” on Bush because he’s a moron… except they went easy on stuff that actually matters to the rest of us.

#33 Abell Smith
October/31/2008
@ 3:19 pm

I should also make absolutely clear that I’m not talking about censorship in any form, as some of the commenters on Cagle’s blog are saying “don’t post cartoons like that.” I’m only saying, as I said before, that cartoonists who use such imagery better be prepared to defend their work when people get pissed…

#34 Wiley Miller
October/31/2008
@ 3:51 pm

“Iâ??m predicting Iâ??ll be drawing a 72 yr. old amnesty-loving, placating, mouth-full-of -Chiclets maverick (who gives themselves a nickname?) for the next four years. America will elect the lesser of two bad candidates. You heard it here.”

What I heard (read, actually) is that you’ll be drawing McCain. That doesn’t mean it’s a prediction of McCain winning the election.

#35 Gary McCoy
October/31/2008
@ 3:58 pm

Clay, the Obama button on Powell’s suit jacket is the implication that he’s endorsing Obama. Sorry I didn’t have him toting a “I’m endorsing Obama” sign.

I shouldn’t have to “defend” my work. I don’t believe any cartoonist should. The work should stand on its own, whether good or bad. The only explanation due to anyone is to an editor. When a McDonald’s hamburger flipper puts too many reconstituted onions on a double cheese burger, he doesn’t apologize to everyone that gets indigestion as a consequence. I know this from experience.

And for the record, in my 20-something years of bachelorhood prior to my recent marriage, I literally dated almost race on the planet. And a Jamaican girl I dated told me she was completely unaware of the black/Kool-Aid connection. She admitted there’s even a cultural divide between black Americans and Jamaicans. But she’s a lot closer than I am.

I can understand how some black people got bent out of shape. But what amazes me is that even after being educated on the Jonestown massacre afterward, some STILL insisted the cartoon had racial overtones. Give me a break, and some Hawaiian Punch.

#36 Abell Smith
October/31/2008
@ 5:30 pm

“I shouldnâ??t have to â??defendâ? my work. I donâ??t believe any cartoonist should. The work should stand on its own, whether good or bad. The only explanation due to anyone is to an editor.”

I disagree… I think what we do should be considered more of a dialogue. We’re making implicit (or explicit) arguments on incendiary issues in public forums… I think that, within reason, we should be expected to be ready to back them up.

However, I do appreciate your response here…

#37 Monty Rohde
October/31/2008
@ 7:46 pm

The response is appreciated as it clarifies things considerably. Thank god the kool-aid wasn’t purple.

Should someone have to defend there work? Even though cartoonists are mostly commentators and entertainers I do believe they should be able explain and support what they draw in a rational manner when its called for. If someone can’t do that, they likely haven’t put much thought or effort into their work. It’s the same standard I apply to everyone who’s expressing an opinion or fact in a public forum. It’s a way to discourage weak or lazy work.

People were validly confused about what you were expressing. With Limbaugh’s (and others) remarks fresh in the air, the idea that Obama and Powell are getting chummy over kool-aid isn’t a stretch. You were able to clarify what was meant and dispel this interpretation.

Oh yes, and people of African descent do generally do have large purple lips. Not everyone, but drawing what’s really there isn’t stereotyping. It’s merely anatomical fact.

#38 Gary McCoy
October/31/2008
@ 10:18 pm

“Weâ??re making implicit (or explicit) arguments on incendiary issues in public forumsâ?¦ I think that, within reason, we should be expected to be ready to back them up.”

Call me a purist if you will, but I stand by my contention that a cartoon shouldn’t require the creator to write a follow-up op-ed explaining what they meant. If they do, then maybe they should be op-ed columnists. If I missed the mark, as some may feel I did, then I’ll take the heat or misplaced criticism that follows.

Blacks drinking Kool-Aid is a cultural thing. The Jonestown massacre is a part of history and the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” has been adopted into our national lexicon as a result.

I feel justified saying more people should be acquainted with the latter than the former for that reason. If they don’t “get it”, they should ask friends or do some investigation rather than taking an Olympic-style long jump onto the race card bandwagon.

I grew up 10 minutes from East St. Louis, IL — one of the most highly concentrated black cities in the nation. And although I was familiar with the fried chicken and watermelon stereotypes, I never heard of the Kool-Aid one. And in my family, we probably drank more Kool-Aid than any black family down the road. The suggestion that this cultural bit of trivia is something I should know if ludicrous.

#39 Garey Mckee
November/1/2008
@ 12:09 am

I have heard Kool Aid being refered to as N—– Water here in Philly.

#40 Jeff Darcy
November/3/2008
@ 10:15 am

Now would be a good time for the big cartoon Kool-Aid jug to come crashing thru the screen and comment on this

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