image from
About this cartoon
On February 18, 2009, the Post ran this cartoon which depicts a white police officer saying to another white police officer who has just shot a chimpanzee on the street: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Although referring to the infinite monkey theorem and the recent rampage of Travis, a former chimpanzee actor, the cartoon was criticized as in bad taste and as making a reference to the racist stereotype of African-Americans being portrayed as non-human apes.The cartoon has been interpreted by some to compare President Barack Obama to a violent chimpanzee who promoted a stimulus bill that was unpopular with many Republicans. Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton called the cartoon "troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys." The Post has defended itself by stating that the cartoon was misinterpreted by its critics. It should be noted that Barack Obama was not the author of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Wikipedia).

About political cartoons
The political cartoon first appeared in 16th-century Germany during the Reformation, the first time such art became an active propaganda weapon with social implications. While many of these cartoons were crudely executed and remarkably vulgar, some, such as Holbein's German Hercules, were excellent drawings produced by the best artists of the time. In 18th-century England the cartoon became an integral and effective part of journalism through the works of Hogarth, Rowlandson, and Gillray, who often used caricature. Daumier, in France, became well known for his virulent satirical cartoons. (infoplease)

By the mid-19th cent. editorial cartoons had become regular features in American newspapers, and were soon followed by sports cartoons and humorous cartoons. The effect of political cartoons on public opinion was amply demonstrated in the elections of 1871 and 1873, when the power of Tammany Hall was broken and Boss Tweed imprisoned largely through the efforts of Thomas Nast and his cartoons for Harper's Weekly. (infoplease)

Political cartoons convey some "truth" through a message, demonstrating a mood around the social or political situation that inspired the cartoon (Press, 62). Yet some critics argue that "cartoons do not change minds, but at best precipitate thought and dialogue" (Fischer, 14). "It is likely that those cartoons most effective as propaganda have tended not to confront and to challenge but rather to reinforce and build on prior beliefs, values, and prejudices" (Fischer, 15). Just as political cartoons are well-received if they support preexisting values, they are well-received if they utilize preexisting symbolism to convey their point. Viewers who glance at political cartoons are provided, in about ten seconds, with a political opinion that may or may not be attractive to them. To make political cartoons immediately effective, cartoonists rely on symbolism with which the public is familiar. (infoplease)

Who created this cartoon?
This cartoon was created by Sean Delonas. He is an award winning painter and illustrator whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, television and Broadway. He is best known for his cartoons that appear daily on page six of the New York Post. He also painted the Altar Painting for the Church of St. Agnes in New York (Delonas).

What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in or omitted from this message?
The overriding theme of this political cartoon is reflective of the current Republican mindset. It represents a message critical of the President’s stimulus package, implying that it was created by a monkey. While it would be presumptuous to ascribe this point of view of to all Republicans, it is most definitely a strongly held belief among the minority party.

After suffering vast losses in the previous election, members of the GOP have become unified in their opposition to President Obama's agenda. This comic concludes the Presidents bill is poorly constructed and average Americans, in the form of the police officers, share this opinion.

It would be unfair, however, to assign any political ideology to the author on the basis one comic representation. Despite the inability to accurately pinpoint such an affiliation, there are other distinct themes present.

The tragedy the comic satirizes was both recent and horrific. The author's use of this tragedy as a vehicle for entertainment and political discourse is indicative of an overall insensitivity for the severe nature of the attack. In addition, the author was seemingly unprepared for the resulting backlash giving the distinct impression that he is out of touch with the beliefs and values of the average recipient.

The message that has elicited the strongest response, the comparison of the President to a monkey, raises a number of possible issues. The author was either unaware that such a message existed, was purposely trying to create a scandal or he simply did not care. According to the NYpost's public apology no racist message was intended, "It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period."

Whether or not this controversy is the cause of a, "thinly veiled expression of racism," or merely a byproduct of ignorance is up to the individual. The author is either incompetent at his job or racist, neither of which are particularly flattering.

Why the issue is being overblown
When considering this particular cartoon, we have to remember one thing: it is a cartoon. A cartoon, as defined by, is a sketch or drawing, usually humorous, as in a newspaper or periodical, symbolizing, satirizing, or caricaturing some action, subject, or person of popular interest. Traditional cartoons are meant to entertain, while political cartoons created in order to incite thought on a particular topic from a different medium.

This cartoon was not meant to imply that President Obama is a monkey, a racial slur used to describe African Americans. Sam Stein, a columnist for the Huffington Post web site, wrote that, "at its most benign, the cartoon suggests that the stimulus bill was so bad, monkeys may as well have written it.”

It seems that even though people cannot agree as to the point of this cartoon, we can all agree it toed a very fine line between racism and simple mockery of a job. The issue, however, is being completely overblown. The author of this comic, Sean Delonas, might have simply been trying to create a stir in the public eye. His job is to create a message that people notice and talk about, and as evidenced by the immense amount of backlash that has occurred, he did his job superbly .

What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
The monkey with two bullet holes is definitely meant to draw your attention, as that is where most readers eyes will go first. The tongue hanging out the side of his mouth is a timeless symbol of death, if not intended to be humorous. The police officer to the left has his eye opened much wider than his counterpart. This is used to draw your attention to him because he is the one who is speaking the quote. The smoke rising form the barrel of their gun indicates that it has just been fired and adds to the immediacy of the piece.

How might other people understand the message differently than me?

Because of my social, cultural, and ethnic background and experiences, some will interpret the message of this cartoon different from me. For example, I may not interpret this cartoon the same as a White, Asian, or Latino person simply because of our different life experiences. However, regardless of ethnicity, there are some who will indeed interpret it the same. Not only is this true for interpretation but for intention as well. For instance, some people find this cartoon to be humorous while others find it to be highly offensive and in bad taste.

According to Sandra Moriarty, a professor in the Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) graduate program in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado-Boulder
, any discussion of visual communication automatically involves some discussion of perception, cognition and the way they relate. She states that in a recent survey of the foundation disciplines used by visual communication scholars, psychology, particularly perception and cognition, was identified as the most important areas of study.

In her essay, "Abduction and A Theory of Visual Interpretation," Moriarty focuses on three major areas in which one interprets things. These areas are identified as perception, cognition, and convention. She states that at the most basic level, the meaning of a sign is internalized by the process of perception--the intersection of our senses with reality-based data as information from the perceived world is "registered." Two important factors are personal observation and individual experience. She states that because perception is active, the individual selects the information and modifies it depending upon the individual's previous experiences. It takes repeated observations for us to make sense of the patterns around us and that is where perception interacts with cognition through the processes of recognition, organization, and discrimination. In other words, visual interpretation involves both the eyes and the brain: what we understand is moderated by what we know or have experienced in the past and how we have made sense of these experiences and recorded them in memory. As for convention, she states that meaning can be internalized as is much of what we learn through visual processing of reality-based information, but it can also be socially or culturally driven which creates an externalized dimension in interpretation. In other words, much of what we know that is language or code based including most visual symbols, is derived from social learning.

While taking Moriarty's theory of visual interpretation as a focal point of why other people may understand this message differently than me, I find it appropriate and necessary to share a few recent experiences of African Americans in which they have been identified as being a "monkey," and more specifically aimed at the first African-American president, Barack Obama.

Frank Niemeir/
It is incidents like these these that are embedded into the minds and memories of African-Americans that are recalled when similar incidents occur, thus, causing some people to perceive things differently that others in particular instances.

Why is "a picture worth a thousand words"?

A picture is worth a thousand words because it shows rather than tells, and it can relay the same message without the rhetoric.
Although the above cartoon has a mere twelve words, it speaks volumes. According to Wikipedia, this phrase refers to the idea that complex stories can be described with just a single still image, or that an image may be more influential than a substantial amount of text. It also aptly characterizes the goals of visualization where large amounts of data must be absorbed quickly.

What is the effect of joining a particular image with particular words?

In this cartoon, there is an image of police officers shooting and killing a monkey, which one could easily relate to the incident that occurred regarding the
recent rampage of Travis, a former chimpanzee actor
. However, adding the words "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill" drastically changes the way in which one may interpret its meaning. The words reveal to the reader who the monkey supposedly represents. The words in this case are as equally powerful as the image when they are portrayed together. If this particular cartoon did not have words accompanying it, I'm sure it would not be interpreted as an attack on President Obama, who is of African-American descent. Thus, the effect of joining a particular image with particular words, is that the image is given more meaning and helps to strengthen the meaning or message in which the author is trying to convey.

Why is this message being sent?
Political comments, in illustrative form, are published daily in newspapers across the nation for a variety of reasons. They've been a staple of American political discourse. According to Paul Parker, a professor of Political Science at Truman State University, political cartoons are a unique creation--pictorial editorial and artistic social commentary. The medium of the political cartoon, which combines the political and the artistic with journalism, provides interested persons the chance to express their social concerns or political views creatively. It allows them to make social commentary beyond the boundaries of the written word. Most political cartoons are "designed to influence viewers with regard to specific political events of the day."

Works Cited
  • "A picture is worth a thousand words." Wikipedia. 9 Mar. 2009. 30 Mar. 2009

Recommendations for Teachers
Graphic Novels: Resources for Teachers and Librarians
Reading images: an introduction to visual literacy
The Visual Literacy Toolbox: Learning to Read Images
Visual Literacy Activities
Visual Literacy and Picture Books
Visual Literacy in Classrooms