With an African-American and a woman battling for the Democratic nomination, editorial cartoonists face occasional criticism of racism or misogyny. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson explains that he still tries not to hold anything back. And Professor Elaine K. Miller describes the cartoons depicting 1984 Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Whether it’s a political position, a mistake in one’s personal life or just a silly mannerism, editorial cartoons are supposed to mock politicians and portray them in an unflattering light. But when the two remaining Democratic presidential nominees are an African-American and a woman, editorial cartoonists presumably don't want their caricatures to stand out for appearing racist or sexist.
Nick Anderson is a cartoonist at The Houston Chronicle and president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, and he joins me now. Nick, welcome to On the Media. NICK ANDERSON: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Cartoons are often unflattering. They seize upon prominent features, a big nose, a crooked smile. NICK ANDERSON: Mm-hmm. BOB GARFIELD: And they tend to make it larger or more prominent. When you’re dealing with a woman and an African-American, do you think your colleagues feel fettered in any way lest exaggeration turns into something, I don't know, more pernicious? NICK ANDERSON: Well, I don't know, maybe subconsciously. We do have a history where blacks were depicted in very grotesque ways, so maybe it is subconscious, and it’s something I can honestly say I hadn't overtly thought about. With Hillary, I am more aware of it, and that’s where I have gotten a few more complaints.
And I've got to say I think the double standard exists with the readers more than with the cartoonists. I do some animated editorial cartoons here and my character of Hillary Clinton raised the ire of one of my colleagues, and she actually blogged about it. And I didn't mind her doing it. I thought it was kind of fun to play it out publicly.
But she didn't like that Hillary’s hips were drawn wide. But, you know, I draw Dick Cheney like a cave troll, so I think I was being pretty [BOB LAUGHS] even-handed in my attempt to portray both of them. BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you this. I mean, you have personally [LAUGHS] depicted President Bush as a monkey. NICK ANDERSON: Right. A little girl asked me, why do you draw him like a monkey? And I said, I don't make him look like a monkey. God made him look like a monkey. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] But, you know, I think it’s fair to say that nobody is going to make Barack Obama look like a monkey because no matter what one saw in one’s mind’s eye, you simply couldn't. It would be racially grotesquely offensive. NICK ANDERSON: Absolutely there is. There would be racial baggage attached to that. So if I were tempted, I would in that case have to pull my punches. It’s never crossed my mind. I don't think he looks like a monkey.
When I look at Barack Obama, I think he’s relatively handsome, you know, in an objective manner, so I try to capture that charisma that he seems to have. Rather than portray him as really unflattering, I try to exaggerate without losing that essential quality. BOB GARFIELD: You've made the point that you are not employing a double standard. If you draw Dick Cheney as a troll you should be free to draw Hillary Clinton as you see her.
But, you know, this society does have a double standard and physical appearance for women is simply different than it is for men and the freedom to ridicule it, it seems to me, in polite company, is different for women than it is for men. So, you know, where does that leave the cartoonist? NICK ANDERSON: I think you make a valid point. I just don't think that editorial cartoons should be the province of polite company. I think we have to have some awareness of racial history and gender history, but I think editorial cartoonists are the last people that should be pulling their punches.
Although I think you’re right. We do as a society have double standards for the physical features of women, especially weight. I just don't think that in this case it has gone into the territory where I think it’s inappropriate. BOB GARFIELD: So in the event that Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and is elected president, do you think it’s a good bet that in your cartoons by the end of her first term her jowls will reach the knees of her pantsuit in your cartoons? NICK ANDERSON: [LAUGHS] I think it’s entirely possible. [LAUGHTER] But what happens with a president is they almost become beyond a caricature. They become recognized by a few simple visual tells. With Bush it’s the ears and the space between his nose and mouth.
I think my caricature of him probably looks less like him today than it did when I first started drawing him, but it’s become almost a caricature of a caricature. And if she becomes president, I am curious to see where that caricature will go for all of us. BOB GARFIELD: Thank you very much for joining us. NICK ANDERSON: Thank you for having me. BOB GARFIELD: Nick Anderson is editorial cartoonist at The Houston Chronicle. Of course, a woman has been on the Democratic ticket before. In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s running mate. And, according to editorial cartoon historian Elaine Miller, cartoonists took the “mate” in running mate quite literally. ELAINE MILLER: They were portrayed relentlessly [LAUGHS] as a couple, sometimes a married couple, sometimes a bride, a sweetheart [LAUGHS] and more sort of unprintable types of images. And Ferraro told me in an interview that their campaign had very strict directives to not touch, to not hug, certainly not kiss, to have no physical contact that might lend itself to that sort of interpretation. BOB GARFIELD: And yet the couples imagery in the cartooning persisted. Do you suppose that was because of some sort of embedded sexism, because of poverty of imagination? To what do you attribute this phenomenon? ELAINE MILLER: Well, Tom Toles, who’s now with The Washington Post, he observed this is the first time that cartoonists are really seeing this phenomenon, and so they're reaching out for whatever kinds of images are readily available to them.
I like to say that cartoonists mind the metaphors of the social landscape, so many of them, of course, reached out and portrayed them as a couple. It was readily available imagery. BOB GARFIELD: Now, you've made quite a study of Hillary Clinton and her portrayals in editorial cartoons. Let's go back to when she was First Lady or, at least, wife of the candidate for the presidency. How was she first introduced to the world via editorial cartoons? ELAINE MILLER: The cartoons very quickly began to portray her as the stronger of the two, inappropriately involved in government - she was not an elected official - and she began to be portrayed as wearing the pants.
And, for example, the cartoonist would have Bill playing the saxophone but Hillary reaching around from behind him depressing the keys. BOB GARFIELD: And now that she is the candidate, how has her image evolved in cartoons? ELAINE MILLER: She’s being portrayed much in the same way, too masculine, too shrill. There’s a lot of attention to her clothing and some ridicule of the pantsuit. [LAUGHS] I heard a quip that her official airplane is called “Pantsuit One.”
Now, of course, it’s logical to critique her positions on things, but so many of the cartoons really rely on physical portrayals that are really quite harsh, ones that have her going off to [LAUGHS] a beauty parlor, saying, please give me a good face. And to portray a woman as unattractive really has a different impact than doing the same with a man. There is an asymmetry there in the consequence or the impact of doing that. BOB GARFIELD: Elaine, thank you very much. ELAINE MILLER: You’re welcome. Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Elaine Miller is a professor of women’s studies, foreign languages and literatures at the State University of New York College at Brockport.