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Moudakis ‘toon evokes backlash from auto industry

Moudakis Crappy car cartoon

A recent editorial cartoon by Theo Moudakis, cartoonist for the Toronto Star, has created stir from those whose livelihoods (one in seven Canadians) are tied directly or indirectly on the “Big Three” automobile manufactures in Detroit. The cartoon depicts a couple doing holiday shopping under a banner labeled, “cheap crappy toys” and the wife asking if the toys were made in China and the husband responding, “Worse, made in Detroit.” GM Canada led a letter writing campaign that generated close to 400 letters in opposition to the cartoon.

The Public Editor responded in a column that when she first saw the cartoon she felt it was “provocative, though not particularly humorous,” and the cartoon shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the views of the paper, but of the cartoonist.

Reaction from the editor appears to be of support.

“Editorial cartoonists are, by nature, edgy and controversial. So, too, are late night TV hosts,” said editorial page editor Ian Urquhart, who approved publication of the cartoon. “Both use satire, which can be taken as offensive by some in the audience. But the forum of public debate would be worse without them.”

Moudakis, who has won a National Newspaper Award for editorial cartooning, understands he hit a nerve but didn’t set out to offend. “I certainly wasn’t trying to belittle or hurt Oshawa autoworkers,” he says. “Editorial cartoonists can be cheap shot artists, you can’t deny that, but in the end, we don’t mean to hurt anybody.”

Community Comments

#1 Wiley Miller
December/1/2008
@ 9:05 am

A prime example of just how stupid newspaper editors can be, which has led to the entire industry going under. This cartoon is considered “edgy”? What you have here is people trying to kill the messenger, and the editor is pretty much going along with it by her rather lame explanation to the readers. The cartoon was dead on the mark in its satire of the “Big 3” car makers in Detroit, and the editor should have said that in no uncertain terms, pointing out that their ire should be directed at the car manufacturers for turning out inferior products no one wants to buy, not the cartoonist for pointing out that obvious fact.

Is it too much to ask for newspapers to hire editors with intelligence AND a backbone?

#2 Milt Priggee
December/1/2008
@ 10:01 am

What…..?….The Star passed up the opportunity to fire their cartoonist? Oh thats right….he’s in Canada where freedom of speech is worth protecting even with a lame explanation.

#3 Mike Lester
December/1/2008
@ 10:03 am

Daumier and Nast are doing triple gainers in their graves.

#4 John Auchter
December/1/2008
@ 11:58 am

I didn’t particularly like the cartoon, but then I’m from Michigan, so that shouldn’t surprise anybody. If I got the Star, I would be inclined to write a letter stating that the cartoon was, in fact, off the mark. The Big 3 (Ford in particular) are building some very fine vehicles these days with many varieties of hybrids and fuel efficient cars and plug-in electrics on the way. I wouldn’t threaten cancellation or demand an apology. I would simply expect to hear what the editor had to say. (I would be disappointed in the lame-o response that was offered.)

None of that strikes me as edgy….

#5 David Baldinger
December/1/2008
@ 12:51 pm

No one seems more humorless than viewers of cartoons that convey a viewpoint other than their own. My response has always been, “It’s only a damned cartoon. Get over it!”

I doubt any slight was aimed at the autoworkers. It could also be read as criticism of the corporate brain dead who run the Big Three just like the corrupt factory bosses in China who let tasty melamine into their products…

Soon to be on your grocer’s shelves–Melmac cookies and cereal!

#6 Wiley Miller
December/1/2008
@ 1:16 pm

“If I got the Star, I would be inclined to write a letter stating that the cartoon was, in fact, off the mark. The Big 3 (Ford in particular) are building some very fine vehicles these days…”

The millions of Americans (and Canadians) who drive Japanese and European cars would respectfully disagree… while laughing at such a comment.

#7 John Auchter
December/1/2008
@ 1:41 pm

“The millions of Americans (and Canadians) who drive Japanese and European cars would respectfully disagreeâ?¦ while laughing at such a comment.”

Ah, still bitter about that Maverick, huh? (Grenada? Aerostar?…)

#8 Norm Feuti
December/1/2008
@ 2:11 pm

I’m still bitter about the Ford Escort. The one I owned back in the 80s was recalled three times.

#9 Rich Diesslin
December/1/2008
@ 2:51 pm

What David said! ;) I’ve had quite a good run with Saturn cars and Dodge mini-vans, so while I don’t think the US cars are crappy (and buying a foreign car doesn’t imply that US cars are crappy … it can, but doesn’t have to), I got a good chuckle out of this cartoon. Probably because of the timeliness with the big 3 jetting to DC for bail-out money.

BTW – Wiley, I’m really enjoying your lobster storyline! Funny stuff.

#10 Wiley Miller
December/1/2008
@ 3:33 pm

(and buying a foreign car doesnâ??t imply that US cars are crappy â?¦ it can, but doesnâ??t have to)

Well, sure it does, Rich. Most people go out to look at, research and test drive different makes of cars when they’re ready to buy. So when you have the foreign car makers outselling the American cars, that would be a rather clear indication of who’s making the better cars. And when you have so many people passing over American made cars for imports (many of which are manufactured in the U.S.) that should speak volumes about the lack of quality in American cars.

This is basic capitalism. Competition makes you better, or you go out of business. Bailing out the U.S. car companies is not going to solve their problem. And the problem isn’t the workers on the assembly line.

#11 Turbulent Ted Dawson
December/1/2008
@ 4:11 pm

Yay, Ian Urquhart!

#12 John Cole
December/1/2008
@ 4:56 pm

“And the problem isnâ??t the workers on the assembly line.”

That’s true enough. A huge number of “foreign” cars are in fact built by American workers rite’cheer in the U.S. of A. Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others all have stateside plants chugging away to keep up with domestic and foreign demand. It’s therefore a better-than-average argument that the foreign-versus-domestic distinction is largely arbitrary.

However, myopic management allowed the creation of unsustainable union contracts that saddle the Big Three with huge pension and benefits costs. This was a liveable situation when high-margin SUVs were popular (and don’t let anyone snow you — the average American buyer wanted a these gas-guzzlers until a year or so ago and Detroit simply met that demand).

There’s not much doubt Ford, GM and Chrysler possess the engineering wherewithal to build world-class cars (Ford in fact makes a number of European models that probably would be a hit here but don’t meet US emissions and safety standards). But current built-in labor costs versus profit-per-vehicle make that effort extremely difficult.

#13 Stacy Curtis
December/1/2008
@ 5:18 pm

My first car was a Ford Maverick.
My last car was a Ford Focus.

We bought a new car this year.
After test-driving a Ford hybrid (which was laughable), we bought a Toyota instead.

Back on topic …

It’s great to see an editor back their cartoonist.
Cartoons that touch on subjects that are at the heart of the folks in Detroit will cause people to be angry, but that’s no reason to back down from drawing or publishing them.

#14 Stacy Curtis
December/1/2008
@ 5:19 pm

My first car was a Ford Maverick.
My last car was a Ford Focus.

We bought a new car this year.
After test-driving a Ford hybrid (which was laughable), we bought a Toyota instead.

It’s great to see an editor back their cartoonist.
Cartoons that touch on subjects that are at the heart of the folks in Detroit will cause people to be angry, but that’s no reason to back down from drawing or publishing them.

#15 Phil Wohlrab
December/1/2008
@ 7:17 pm

“However, myopic management allowed the creation of unsustainable union contracts that saddle the Big Three with huge pension and benefits costs.”

I believe you’re right about their disadvantages, but a cartoon hitting auto unions might not be quite as punchy. Maybe something depicting alumi auto workers basking by the pool or sleeping late? It’s just a tricky connection.

I own a Toyota because it’s a no brainer. I had a nissan sentra that almost killed me, and the two preowned Chevys I had, died. GM has caught up with better vehicles, but that wasn’t true as early as 2004. Pontiac and chevy were still peddling garbage, with a dated interior. It’ll take about 15 years of consumer reports for them to show a track record of cars that last.
As for green cars, forget green, just make a car to match the quality of a Toyota.. baby steps. If they can’t do that then the bailout is money in the toilet.

#16 Rich Diesslin
December/2/2008
@ 12:17 am

Wiley, once again your logic is incomplete. You infer that the only reason someone buys a foreign car is because US cars aren’t good quality, but that is only one of many possible reasons. So you can hold the opinion, but that doesn’t make it an absolute fact. People tend to buy the car they like the best or the best that they can afford. Sometimes it’s a quality issue, sometimes it is looks or perception, or compensating for something, or mileage or utility or on and on. If I’m buying a Yugo (if they still make them) or a Fiat it probably doesn’t mean I made the choice based on quality. I will give you this, there’s no question the cartoonist in the cartoon above is implying Detroit makes crappy cars. I don’t agree with that, although I think some are, some are quite nice. I still think the cartoon is funny though – a good gag.

#17 Carl Moore
December/2/2008
@ 1:12 am

Moudakis’ cartoon is on the nose. Though they’ve improved, Detroit still hasn’t caught up with the quality standard set by the Japanese. They’ve had decades to try but they’ve run out of time.

Nevertheless, Obama and the Dems will bail out the failing American auto industry because they have no choice – they are beholden to the unions and the legacy union contracts that are such a gross disadvantage in the competition with the Japanese car makers. The money will be wasted. In addition, Obama, Pelosi and company will pass the “card check” legislation that will outlaw secret union elections, further locking in union thuggery that guarantees uncompetitive wages and work rules

#18 Wiley Miller
December/2/2008
@ 8:09 am

Yes, Rich, my logic was incomplete as this is cartoon forum, not a political/economic chat board. I was merely speaking in very broad terms. The principle still holds, though, as one of the many obvious indicators that Detroit puts out an inferior product compared to its competition.

#19 John Cole
December/2/2008
@ 9:37 am

At the risk of further upsetting others with non-cartoon-centric posts …

I’ve written car reviews for various publications for years. Two things I’ve noticed: 1) People often buy cars for silly and irrational reasons, as if it will complete some part of Who They Are, and 2) LOTS more people are interested in cars than politics. The average reader, upon meeting me, will invariably ask for car recommendations. My thoughts on Obama vs. McCain (for example) almost never are solicited, probably out of the desire to not start an argument.

Anyway, all the foregoing simply points out the effectiveness Theo’s cartoon. We’re arguing its point, which as I’ve always understood it is the mission of a political cartoon.

#20 Paul Fell
December/2/2008
@ 9:50 am

I’m enjoying this conversation, so thought I’d put in my two cents…

Isn’t it great to see an editorial cartoon that hits people where they live and generates controversy and conversation? This isn’t really in the category of “hard hitting” cartoons, but it’s sure a refreshing change from the Newsweek “funny cartoon” genre that we’ve seen more and more of over the years.

I hear references to the Unions all the time as though they are the bad guys in all this. Rather than grousing about what the UAW people get for benefits, we should be asking our employers why the hell we all aren’t getting the same perks. Workers in a lot of the EU nations get benefit packages that make most of the US agreements look paltry by comparison.

Lastly, when you hear somebody ranting about those “bad old unions” ask them where they think things we all take for granted like 40-hour work weeks, vacation, retirement and health benefits come from.(That is, for those of us who haven’t seen that kind of thing disappear over time) Those and other things were negotiated through collective bargaining, not gained because of the generosity of Corporate America.

#21 Phil Wohlrab
December/2/2008
@ 1:14 pm

Why aren’t we asking our employers why we aren’t getting the same perks? I’ve seen too many layoffs to have that attitude.
I’m hoping another round doesn’t hit. Businesses have to survive first and foremost. If we were unionized we’d be toast. I wouldn’t want union dues coming out of my take home pay.
I know a guy whose got his own business, but only uses freelancers because he doesn’t want to pay health insurance. Besides that he gets to utilize the skills of different artists this way. Paying employees isn’t cheap.

#22 Wiley Miller
December/2/2008
@ 5:37 pm

This knee-jerk reaction by many to defend the American automakers against any criticism about the quality (or lack thereof) of the cars they build reminds me of the fallout over the economy in general. Whenever I dared mention over the past year that we’re in a recession, I would get bombarded with e-mail from Bush supporters going on and on about how we’re not technically in a recession. Apparently they think denying it would somehow make it not true. Well, if you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, the National Bureau of Economic Research declared that the country sunk into a recession in December of 2007. But anyone with an ounce of objectivity knew that. Denying it only served to make it worse, as nothing was done to turn it around.

It’s the same thing with the “Big 3” in Detroit. If you keep denying the obvious, then how can you ever hope to solve the problem? And that problem is at the top, in the boardroom, not the bottom on the assembly line. The workers can only put together the crap they’re handed.

#23 RS Davis
December/2/2008
@ 8:35 pm

The cartoon isn’t worth arguing about. It was a cheap crappy effort on Moudakis part. It just isn’t funny. It’s like Letterman taking Bush soundbites out of context and running them as ‘Great Speeches.’ It’s lazy and shows little effort. Does he do cartoons with cops eating donuts and construction workers whistling at women, too? “Detroit builds bad cars!”Wow, cutting edge stuff he’s cranking out, there.

#24 Rich Diesslin
December/3/2008
@ 12:38 am

I’m not defending or dissing the auto industry. I just don’t think it’s entirely a quality issue, but that may be part of it. I think a large part of it may be that they are effected more as a by-product of the financial mess. That said, I have no problem allowing them to go into bankruptcy and work their way back out. I’m pretty much against any of the bail-outs. The reason that we weren’t considered in a recession since 07 has to do with not have two quarters in a row of declining growth and inflation didn’t seem to be increasing despite the higher gas prices. I believe most still questioned the health of the economy, but didn’t want to label it. In hindsight though, those declaring we were in a recession appear to have been correct. With so much of stock prices being based on voodoo, who knows whether it’s mass hysteria (panic) or sound reasoning that’s killing our savings. I certainly don’t like the trend in government spending our money on their speculation. Want to spend a trillion bucks? Just divide it up and send a check to each registered taxpayer and see if we can do any worse.

What does that have to do with crappy toys? I don’t know … third base! Good discussion though.

#25 Rich Diesslin
December/3/2008
@ 12:45 am

BTW – Wiley, I like your bail-out solution in today’s comics. ;)

I think it just might work!

#26 John Auchter
December/3/2008
@ 10:22 am

“And that problem is at the top, in the boardroom, not the bottom on the assembly line. The workers can only put together the crap theyâ??re handed.”

Actually Wiley, thatâ??s not right. Everybody in the American automotive industry — from CEOs to engineers to line workers — was complicit in the building and selling of crap. No reason to sanctify anybody. If you had grown up in Flint, Michigan (or similar auto dominated town) you would know this. If you had worked in a GM foundry in 1984, you would know how workers and supervisors conspired to hide inferior castings at the bottom of bins to make the daily count and cut work early. Read the â??Rivetheadâ? book by Ben Hampers — thatâ??ll catch you up.

Back when â??Generous Motorsâ? ruled the land. And it wasnâ??t so bad for us — it turns out a prosperous middle class and well funded schools can actually be quite pleasant.

But hereâ??s the thing: that was then. The Detroit 3 and its workers certainly made their bed, but they havenâ??t spent the ensuing years just lying in it. They have made enormous improvements in quality, in labor relations, in management structure, in productivity, in vehicles. Sure, a lot of it was done kicking and screaming along the way, but then it has also been done with the continuing burdens of legacy costs, financing health care, and an utter lack of a sensible federal energy policy. (And having to return quarterly profits to shareholders who were digginâ?? SUV profits — thatâ??s also how capitalism works.) So to continue on with this perception that American automakers and the UAW are hopelessly behind everybody else in the world and havenâ??t lifted a finger other than to beg money from the feds is just plain wrong.

As for the cartoon itself, I believe RS Davis has identified my problem with it (although in an overly harsh way): The cartoon is lazy. It rests on a tired stereotype. So umbrage was taken. Editors defended. People debated. And hopefully more newspapers were sold. Beautiful!

I hasten to add that I have drawn my share of lazy cartoons and Moudakis has drawn some very, very good ones.

#27 Josh Weale
December/3/2008
@ 10:30 am

While I don’t think there was anything especially inspired about this cartoon, I do find the reaction on the part of Auto industry folks hilarious. I work on a weekly review of Canadian Satire (www.satirecanada.com) and have watched the big three get skewered for their big unions, big vehicles, poor quality, poor service, poor management etc. Not once has Toyota, Honda, or any other car company come under similar fire, and the reason is simple: they haven’t asked for a bailout. To the big three I say, if you are going to ask the government to bail you out, then you are going to get teased a little for your trouble. In the end, you will get a massive cheque from the government and a few cartoons mocking your inferior business model, not a bad trade-off.

#28 Mike Lester
December/3/2008
@ 10:48 am

“2) LOTS more people are interested in cars than politics.” -post 19 John Cole.

Further proof that America likes cars (guilty) and the gasoline fueled horsepower producing testosterone injected combustion engine ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

#29 Ted "Booger Nose" Dawson
December/3/2008
@ 11:06 am

I find it fascinating that the controversy isn’t about Toronto Star printing the word “crappy!” I think that’s still taboo here in the colonies, ain’t it?

#30 Bob Gerhardt
December/3/2008
@ 2:50 pm

I’d like to think Mr. Moudakis’ cartoon is not just an indictment of Detroit’s Big 3, but of North American based manufacturers in general, of their belief the “smoke and mirrors” tactic of producing dozens of mediocre brands/models etc., rather than several very good ones, is effective.

Witness Apple – they certainly don’t need to lower prices to entice people to buy Macs and I-Pods/Phones. Yet.

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