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Lobby 7 Poster Insulting and Unjustified



Column by Zachary Emig
Cartoonist

If the label used to categorize my comic "Rhino Man" on the pillar poster in Lobby 7 wasn't so offensive, I might consider the whole matter laughable.

But I cannot silently accept the unjustified use of my cartoon as an example of an "anti-Asian stereotype" or the specific heading it is under, which states that it is a "caricature" or a racial slur which I won't dignify by repeating.

Unfortunately, the sponsors of the poster didn't feel it was necessary to provide any insight into what exactly they found so offensive, other than to tag "Rhino Man" with an inaccurate label. In the first place, the slur used to condemn "Rhino Man" is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a derogatory term for Chinese people dating from the turn of the century. Perhaps before using it, the sponsors of the poster should have considered (besides basic civility) whether any of the characters in the comic are actually Chinese. How a Japanese arch-villain, Dr. Sasori, could be considered derogatory toward Chinese people is beyond me.

That leaves the word "caricature," which also completely misses the mark. Since I didn't draw Dr. Sasori to resemble anyone in particular, he's obviously not a caricature in that sense of the word. The other definition of a caricature is a "grotesque or ludicrous representation of persons or things by exaggeration of their most characteristic and striking features" (Oxford English Dictionary, emphasis mine). Is a metallic claw for a hand a "characteristic" feature of Asians? Is a handlebar mustache? These notions are ridiculous, but apparently the poster makers find some merit in them.

So perhaps Dr. Sasori wasn't meant to fall under the category of a "caricature" but instead was included on the poster as a general purpose "anti-Asian stereotype." True, Dr. Sasori is both Asian and a villain, but if that is all that's required to be a negative stereotype, the art community is in serious trouble. Under that rationale, Shakespeare's work is teeming with anti-English stereotypes.

Along the same lines, wouldn't the fact that another of my characters, Professor Atama, is both Asian and a hero be an example of a pro-Asian stereotype? I suppose it is just coincidence that the cartoon appearing on the poster is one of the two (out of six cartoons published at the time) which did not contain a shot of Professor Atama. This is just speculation, of course, since the poster's sponsors didn't provide any explanation for their charges.

In the end, it is the careless and casual nature with which these inflammatory statements were made that concerns me the most. When one is preparing to make such insulting assertions in a public forum, civility dictates that they be backed up with arguments. Upon reading the poster on Wednesday, I wrote my e-mail address on it imploring anyone who found it offensive to talk directly to me. The silence has been deafening.

At the same time, I sent e-mail to the sponsors of the poster, which includes the Asian Caucus and Arab Students Organization, at the e-mail addresses provided (ascore@mit.edu and arab-comm@mit.edu). All I asked for was some explanation of their actions. They haven't had the dignity to respond.

As of this writing (Sunday morning), nobody who found "Rhino Man" to be an "anti-Asian stereotype" has sent me anything, much less a logical argument for its inclusion on the poster. It's as if they slapped it up there as a trial balloon, waiting to see if it struck a nerve with the MIT community. Taking so cavalier an attitude while using such harsh rhetoric is completely irresponsible. I suppose it is much easier slinging mud from behind the veil of anonymity and the self-righteous shield of political correctness. It is also an act of extreme cowardice.

As always, if anyone has any constructive comments, suggestions, or criticisms (preferably things more specific than "it sucks" or "it's cool"), feel free to e-mail me at zbemig@mit.edu.