Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ruminations 19: Monkey Shines

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer)

This is another in what I hope to be a month long series of aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, meant to provoke thought rather than explain it. The hope is that, built up on each other, the series will provide a matrix of thoughts that together might lead the reader in new directions. Though each can be read independently of the others, they are intended to be read together and against each other.
As literacy declines, symbolic speech becomes more potent; ironicallysymbolic speech has increasingly been used to overwrite  text in increasingly interesting ways.  It is no longer possible to read words without a sense fo the symbolic overtones of the imagery that may be invoked--or extracted--from text or image.  

It appears that monkeys have joined the Prophet Mohammad among the pantheon of prohibited images in political, social cultural and other discourse. That seems to be the pulse from both the "people who count in society" and "important media" segments of our political culture as a consequence of the publication of a political cartoon depicting police officers shooting a monkey dead "while remarking 'they'll have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.'" "Racist" U.S: Cartoon Causes Stir, BBC News Online, Feb. 19, 2009.

Irony abounds today. While everyone is chasing the ghouls of racism (and a merry chase it will be, as they tend to be now) all parties seem to have missed an essential point--a key assumption that is more astonishing for our Republic than the effects of the naughty cartoon and its tasteless author: the assumption is that the monkey is a representation of President Obama. But if that is the case then something remarkable has become something considerable less so--the power of the President to legislate.
"The New York Post denied the cartoon chimp represented President Obama. The cartoon "is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimp in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy," said editor-in-chief Col Allen. "
Id. And, indeed, even at the time of the early first Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s, it might have been possible to say that . . . and mean it. But that sort of assertion, an assertion that ought to be true, no longer is. The cartoon is thus much more a commentary on the apparent permanent shift of effective legislative power from the legislature to the executive.

More plausible now, therefore, is the rejoinder.
That was rejected by Andrew Rojecki, co-author of the book The Black Image in the White Mind."The cops are saying, 'Someone's going to have to write the next stimulus bill.' Well, who wrote the last stimulus bill? It's Obama and the Democratic Party, but really it's associated with one person - and that's Obama," Mr Rojecki told the Chicago Tribune.
Id., and that is sad indeed for those who might lament the evisceration of legislative power and its reduction to its form rather than its affectation as an autonomous power in fact.

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