My first encounter with Sean Delonas, cartoonist for the New York Post, was when there was a big to-do over this cartoon:
In racial theater at its worst, Al Sharpton actually staged a boycott of the Post, claiming that Delonas was saying that Obama (and by extension, any and every African-American) was a monkey. Now, I know that there’s a terrible history of African-Americans being compared to apes in racist jokes, including old political cartoons (and some not-so-old: crazy pastor Fred Phelps compared Topeka’s first African-American mayor, James McClinton, to an ape on multiple occassions). But this is reading wayyy too much into the cartoon. Are we to seriously assume that Delonas thinks that Obama was going to personally write the next stimulus bill? And if the monkey represents Obama, did he just get assassinated? Even if someone were to assume that Delonas was such a brazen racist (and idiot) as to call the president an ape and then joke about someone murdering him, it still requires some giant leaps in logic: if that was his message, why not have the police officer say something like, “Looks like Biden is president now” or something a little less cryptic? If Obama was murdered, why would the police assume that there would even be a next stimulus bill? Sharpton’s interpretation just doesn’t make any sense.
A much more sensible understanding of the joke, which doesn’t afford Sharpton the opportunity to smear political opponents as racists, is that Delonas thought the stimulus bill was so dumb it could have been written by Travis the Chimp… you know, the same ape who a New York cop shot a few days before this New York Post cartoon originally ran? Doesn’t that make much more sense? In Sharpton’s defense, there’s a sliver of truth to his complaint… but really, only a sliver. The old racist jokes compared African-Americans to apes because apes are considered vaguely humanoid and very stupid, the same dehumanizing stereotypes that some whites thrust upon blacks. And, mind you, the same dehumanization is also why people repeatedly compared George Bush to a monkey — I think it’s safe to say they weren’t being racist there, right? It’s the same stereotype used in the infinite monkey theorem: monkeys are used to suggest that they’re physically capable of typing, but too stupid to do anything besides randomly bang the keys (which is what Delonas thought produced the stimulus bill). [Strangely, this is the second time this theorem has come up on this blog, & last time I linked to this Simpsons clip]. So the stereotype is “monkey=stupid,” not “monkey=black,” meaning that whether you’re calling African-Americans, George Bush, or the writer of the stimulus bill a monkey, you’re really just calling them stupid.
All of that said, this was a bad way to be introduced to the work of Sean Delonas. Even when you understand what Delonas is trying to say, the political cartoon is just lazy. It’s an unclever joke; it reminds me of Marmaduke and Garfield, cartoons which make money, but are written by cartoonists who seem to have long since run out of original or clever ideas. Delonas, like the other two, seems… bored.
So imagine my surprise when it turns out that Delonas is an incredible painter. He painted the altar scenes at St. Agnes in New York. My two favorite scenes. You’ll want to click them:
It’s embarassing that a guy this talented is stuck writing half-hearted political cartoons for the NYP. Anyways, check out his paintings section for more. Maybe an e-mail and a prayer for him to get another church painting gig?