Ethics Quiz: The King Kong Cartoon

As Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot faced a humiliating defeat (and blamed racism for her fate), the conservative Townhall Media political cartoonist used the iconic scene from “King Kong” to lampoon her.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is the cartoon racist?

Recall that Roseanne Barr was fired from her hit TV sitcom and forced to wander in the wilderness as a cancelled pariah after comparing Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to “The Planet of the Apes.” In 2023, when even mildly negative or critical  statements about an African-American figure is liable to be called “racist,” is comparing  an African-American mayor to a giant gorilla tolerable? Could it possibly be innocent? Isn’t that particular ethics alarm well-tuned to a faretheewell by now? Did the cartoonist assume that since most of his audience was conservative, the accusation of racism wouldn’t arise? Does that excuse the cartoon?

For that matter, does the cartoon need excusing? Political cartoonists have employed Kong Kong on the Empire State Building as a humorous analogy since the 1930s. Are African American figures immune from being targets of this gag? Should they be?

Here are four King Kong cartoons lampooning Donald Trump. There are many more:

11 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The King Kong Cartoon

  1. Considering the other cartoons above: No.

    Considering the unfailing uber-sensitivity of self-appointed black ‘opinion leaders:’ Yes, it will be perceived that way, but don’t let that stop you. Even if you run them all for context it will be “Trump deserved it but Lightfoot doesn’t.'” Lose-lose

  2. Wasn’t King Kong a fairly sympathetic, tragically misunderstood character? Wasn’t he essentially human? Don’t gorillas and monkeys have any currency other than as something used to offend and denigrate African Americans? Is everything always about black people? (Sidenote: judging by current day television commercials, the answer to that question is “yes!”) I also think the fact she’s on the building formerly known as The Sears Tower is in the cartoon rather than the Empire State Building is hilarious.

  3. To be honest, I didn’t even consider this was a racist cartoon until after reading the quiz line and realized, “oh it’s the ape thing…”

    My first thought was the artist was depicting her at the climax of her disastrous reign in the city, getting pelted from two fronts in the upcoming election, her own party and the opposing party represented by the colored planes.

    There’s also many bush II-era cartoons depicting him as a chimp due to his large ears. Artists avoided that same correlating simian feature of his successor.

    So why is depicting a white individual as an ape OK, but not others? Is racism only in the eye of the beholder? Jews were commonly depicted as rats in Nazi publications, clearly for a racist purpose. A big difference is these publications depicted an entire ethnicity as rats and didn’t single out depictions of individuals.

    Maybe the best label to use for the cartoon (and all other examples of this style) is dehumanizing. It fits for all depictions no matter the race of the individual depicted.

    Labeling the image as dehumanizing rather than racist gives the benefit of not presuming to read the mind of the artist. Racist intent is ambiguous in this depiction. Racist intent might be a higher possibility with Lightfoot the target than if Bush or Trump were targets, but the only way to know for sure requires not only reading the artist’s mind but also simultaneously traveling back to the place and point in time of pen contact to paper to extract the artist’s actual motive.

    • “Maybe the best label to use for the cartoon (and all other examples of this style) is dehumanizing. It fits for all depictions no matter the race of the individual depicted.”

      But cartoons be definition are dehumanizing!

  4. Mayor Lori is displaying selective sensitivity.
    She gets all worked up over a fairly average political cartoon but hardly noticed that BL (donot) M in SW Chicago.
    Something seems a bit off but maybe it’s just me.

  5. It’s a good caricature of Lightfoot, with no “ape” suggestions outside of the iconic Kong metaphor. I suppose she could have been depicted being carried off by a red/blue sandworm, but the reference would not be so instantly recognized.

    We might also remember that Kong was not attacked because he was an ape, but because he was dangerous and out of control. Don’t appease the professionally aggrieved.

  6. I think the cartoon is not racist, and I think the political Right should not back down from charges of racism. The reality is, the political Right is going to be smeared as racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc, no matter what, because they are the political enemy. (In fairness, I suppose the political Left will be smeared as baby-killers no matter the nuance on their position.)

    What the Right needs to do is be unapologetic. If a public figure deserves to be lampooned, it shouldn’t matter if he is black, or gay, or trans, or whatever. He should be lampooned. If the Right believes that every individual should be judged on his own merits, then keep with that. Don’t back down because it might rile the Left. If racism is discrimination against an individual merely for belonging to a race regardless of any other characteristics, then keep with that and don’t back down. In pure contradistinction with the Left, the Right needs to define terms and stick with them and not pussyfoot around to avoid upsetting someone’s sensibilities.

    Of course, keeping to the definitions should help members of the Right from falling off the censorship cliff…

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