While I was on vacation last week the Washington Post had yet another weak-kneed moment regarding Berkeley Breathed's "Opus." You'll remember the Post and other papers wouldn't print Breathed's original version of two strips having to do with Lola Granola's conversion to Islam? This time the Post rejected the strip altogether, because it featured Opus and Bill the Cat all mooning Dick Cheney and an Exxon guy and an Arab oil sheik, from the top of Steve's plug-in hybrid, as the ultimate act of energy independence. You can see it here, on Salon, where we ran it as usual last week.
To his credit, Washingtonpost.com columnist Gene Weingarten admitted the spiking in his latest WashingtonPost.com chat. "Bad decision. Nothing wrong with that comic," Weingarten said, according to Editor and Publisher. But Post editors "decided that last Sunday's strip was ethnically offensive, overly partisan, and mean-spirited," according to AME/News Planning and Administration Shirley Carswell. Silly.
I also think it's silly that Fox News still won't release the full transcript of Jesse Jackson's remarks about Barack Obama. Everyone's focused on his tasteless comment, "I wanna cut his nuts off/out" -- transcripts disagree on what he said, and, personally, I don't even hear the word "nuts" in the videos I'm seeing. But I want to know exactly how Jackson said Obama "talked down" to black people. In the New York Times and many other publications, reporters referenced Obama's Father's Day speech, which I praised, as the source of Jackson's ire. In Slate, Mickey Kaus says it's Obama's "Li'l Wayne" speech from last week, which Kaus found "condescending," but all the video shows is a puzzling reference to Obama's faith-based programs. I can't believe we've spent several news cycles with talking heads opining authoritatively about what Jackson's remarks mean for Jackson, Obama and the state of black America – and nobody, except maybe Jackson, knows for certain what was said.
Finally, I'm finding myself torn on Obama's lastest trouble, the Bernie Mac Affair (Bernie Mac deserves all caps). I happen to love Bernie Mac. I know, I know, I'm turning in my official feminist credentials tomorrow; I'm a bad, bad girl. I also loved "Kings of Comedy." On the other hand, the "ho" joke he told at the Obama fundraiser was bad – both sexist and also not terribly funny. I'd say the "black first lady" joke was even more offensive, if we're going there, playing on old stereotypes of black women as demanding ballbusters. Blech. If I were Michelle Obama, or Bernie Mac's wife, well, I'd be tempted to threaten a Jesse Jackson. And I have to wonder what Obama's staff was thinking inviting Mac in the first place, since his shtick Friday night was pretty much his standard shtick. He will always offend somebody.
On the third hand, though, if we ever want to elect a black president, and I believe we do (I really do believe that, no jokes here), then we're probably going to have to take a little bit wider cultural view on what's acceptable commentary and even comedy. Odds are a mainstream black presidential candidate is probably going to have at least one of the following: A preacher or a teacher who's said something more radical than a white counterpart might; a family member who's said something angry about white people on at least one occasion; a celebrity supporter who's bound to offend the easily offended; a DVD of the "Kings of Comedy." Since Bernie Mac's humor has a sexist tinge, maybe Obama should counter with a fundraiser by some of the "Queens of Comedy," or unleash my personal queen of comedy, Wanda Sykes, who might make Bernie Mac cry.
Anyway, soldiers are dying in Iraq, the mortgage industry is imploding, banks are closing, our civil liberties were seriously eroded this week (with Obama's support) and we're expected to be outraged by Bernie Mac? I'll pass.