University of Arizona Newspaper Apologizes for Cartoon That Joked About Father Killing His Gay Son

Azwildcat

The editor of the Arizona Wildcat, the student newspaper of the University of Arizona, apologized yesterday for a cartoon which joked about a father killing his gay son.

Wrote editor-in-chief Kristina Bui:

On Tuesday, the Daily Wildcat staff made a serious error in judgment in printing a cartoon that some readers felt was homophobic and inappropriate. We heard from several readers who expressed their disappointment and hurt over the comic strip.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat is now reviewing its editorial policies and has terminated the employment of the cartoonist as of Wednesday. His views do not represent the views of the Wildcat staff, nor does the Wildcat represent the views of the university.

The “etc.” cartoon in question illustrated a parent threatening their child if he ever came out, and the two characters joke about the threat. We agree with the criticism we’ve met, and we apologize. The comic was not funny.

Commenters to Bui's apology seem to mostly agree with one commenter, Andrew Simpson, who calls on the editorial board to resign:

You still do not seem to understand. The problem is not that "some readers felt" the cartoon was inappropriate. The problem is that you knowingly let your paper promote violent hate. You then published a cowardly non-apology along with an incoherent defense from the cartoonist. The readership cannot continue to trust editors after such a spectacular and public series of mistakes. You, the editorial board, can only really end this by resigning.

Nearly 5,000 folks on change.org feel the same way.

Comments

  1. Brian says

    The cartoon is vile, but the newspaper’s actions afterward, apologizing and firing the cartoonist, went most of the way toward solving the problem. They really messed up by inserting the “several readers felt” qualifier on this blatantly homophobic cartoon, which really negates the whole apology. And in another lesser case of tone deafness, after apologizing for the cartoon, they say “we agree with the criticism we’ve met…the cartoon is not funny.” From other parts of the apology you can tell they get why people are angry, but that last part makes it sound like they think people are angry because the cartoon isn’t funny, not because it promotes killing gay children. It’s surprising what inept communicators these writers can be.

  2. jason says

    I’m going to take a different tack here. To me, it seems like black humor. Maybe the cartoonist could have phrased the captions slightly differently but I honestly don’t think he meant to be homophobic.

  3. BGrey says

    I (shudder) may find myself agreeing with Jason here. I’d have to see the cartoonist’s other work, but this seems more like extremely dark, cynical humor. You’re supposed to be flummoxed/repulsed by the father-son bonding over homophobia in the last panel… I think.

  4. AngelaChanning says

    I will give them the benefit of the doubt – It appears no one edited the newspaper at all for that tripe to be published. //sarcasm.

  5. Brian says

    So I tried rereading it several times and I just can’t see anything resembling black humor, or anything other than really nasty homophobia. Maybe if the cartoonist had had a third character who walked away from these two in the last frame and made some disparaging remark about how ignorant they were or something it might work. But the two characters laughing at the end is the final word, and it’s clear their final thought about calling gays fruits and killing them, is “ha ha ha”. And Jason’s support of the cartoon is pretty much all the proof needed that the cartoon is indeed vile.

  6. BGrey says

    Oh, lordy, I need to do my research before I post. I looked at this fellow’s other cartoons, and… oh boy.

  7. Pete N SFO says

    It’s an enormous f-up, that in the currently climate got some attention.

    They probably didn’t release their Board because it likely doesn’t exist.

    And to the apologists for homophobia above… were you born yesterday? Gay people no longer have to brush off homophobia as no big deal; now we call it as it is, and this certainly was homophobia.

    They ought to have taken aim at Coulter- but completely missed the real target.

  8. Alex Parrish says

    This cartoon is offensive on so many levels — and while I can recognize that it is an approach at ‘dark humor’ is is not one which is appropriate for a public forum. Dark humor is often used to alleviate stress for those who must deal with horrific situations where the only alternative to a breakdown is laughter. Such humor is never for public consumption — it is not intended to be public, and serves no purpose there. An editorial board which does not recognize this and would publish such a work is not to be trusted. They should go.

  9. Jonathan says

    For those defending the cartoonist, please read his “apology” for the cartoon. His complete lack of understanding as to what was wrong with it says to me that the prevailing reaction is quite appropriate. http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/article/2012/10/your-views-101812

    Also, check out the latest from the editorial staff. I think they do get it, and their evolution on the issue is pertinent to the discussion. Though I do think the “nobody around here knows him” defense is a bit weak. http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu/article/2012/10/from-the-newsroom-how-were-learning-from-our-mistake

  10. Adam Ussishkin says

    Thank you for publicizing this. As a member of the UA faculty and the LGBT community, I was beyond appalled to discover this in my campus newspaper. So far, the apologies issues by the paper have been non-apologies and yet the campus administration does not seem to be taking the issue as seriously as they should. If you would like to phone the UA Dean of Students to ask for more accountability or to ask for a deeper investigation, call 520.621.7057.

  11. endo says

    Jason’s support of this cartoon quite clearly confirms what many of us here have suspected for a while: Jason is not actually a gay man.

    He takes every opportunity to bash all representations of gay men or anyone doing good for the gay community. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen make a positive comment here. Yet an instance of obvious homophobia and characters giggling about violence against gay men, he’s all for that?

    Jason is some sort of strange and persistent Concern Troll masquerading as a gay man to sow discontent within our community.

  12. jason says

    Endo,

    I simply don’t like PC in the gay community. If we’re going to progress, we need to criticize all and sundry. There is a place for black humor. Black humor can be very effective in conveying issues.

    I look at that cartoon and understand the creepiness of it. It’s a commentary on negative attitudes towards homosexuality. I see more homophobia in gay guys who are closeted.

  13. Brian says

    No Jason, it’s not a commentary on negative attitudes toward homosexuality, it is the negative attitude in the extreme, and you know it.

    I guarantee that if the cartoonist was a woman or black Jason would be screeching about how horrible it was and therefore all women are evil.

  14. endo says

    Give me a break! There’s nothing remotely anti-PC about your ongoing crusade against Lady Gaga and other female entertainers. Or your constant harping every time a celebrity like Brad Pitt endorses gay marriage.

    You have a specific motive. And it’s not being anti-PC. It’s trolling everyone here.

    You’ve been found out. Game over, man!

  15. Don says

    There appears to be nothing on the University of Arizona website other than the editor’s statement (let’s not call that an apology) and other items mentioned here. No statement from the president, who has a prominent office of diversity programs. Nothing in the local Arizona news. Nothing to suggest this cartoon isn’t consistent with University policy and culture. It is astonishing. Cartoons in my school papers were often not funny, but this conjures the Jim Crow south in a new age.

  16. Fenrox says

    I have an expanded (warped) sense of humor, I get the joke. Now, this assumes that the joke wasn’t a violent knock on gays, I know nothing of the cartoonist to confirm that. BUUUUUT, if you took that joke and had the dad do it with a nod and a dead delivery, it could be funny! NO MATTER WHAT the joke was a total failure. He needed another panel to add context to make it.. you know.. not a hate joke.

    As for the people in charge, I was EIC of my college newspaper and despite how small and simple it was, I totally let a bunch of mistakes through. That apology is a REAL apology and I want to give them props for that.

  17. Francis says

    Just imagine if this were done at NYU. Or Harvard. Or Duke. Or MIT. And the outrage there would be. This is so beyond callous. And the fake non-apology from the cartoonist in question was completely reprehensible.

    Yes, the angle was likely dark humor. Does that make this appropriate? No. Alex explained that perfectly. UA editorial board HAD to have known this would cause major offense yet printed this anyway. They all should be fired. And the lack of school response tells me they really don’t care much about their gay students.

  18. chuck says

    The editor(s)needs to resign or be fired! Cartoon strips do not make it into a paper without being okayed by its editor!

  19. Stefan says

    For the handful of people above supporting this comic, two comments. First, this is not black humor or dark satire, which must reveal its cynicism somehow. We as the audience must have some kind of “in” by which we can interpret the humor as a reflex against hopelessness. That “in” can be characteristics of the author, his or her other work, or–in the best kind of black humor–within the work itself. The last panel in the comic removes any argument that this is black humor in the material itself, and I’ve found nothing about the author or his other work suggesting we can interpret this as being “social commentary.”

    Second, disliking this is not political correctness run amok. Political correctness, when used pejoratively, is about excessive protection of the sensibilities of a target group for no discernible reason other than rhetorical and ideological control. However, given the persistent violence against homosexuals and the clear causal connection between social and cultural mores and that violence, it is fair to call out work such as this comic strip. If we view criticism of such work as mere “political correctness” then we completely undercut the substantive issue at play.

  20. ratbastard says

    These are young students we’re talking about here; the cartoonist probably was attempting dark humor and failed. That aside, it was way out of line. The cartoonist and editor should both lose their positions at the paper.

  21. danswon says

    You know what, even if this wasn’t homophobic at all, that is about the lamest joke ever. I’m more shocked by the poor level of humour than the questionable homophobia of it.

  22. Luke says

    I am never offended by jokes that are racially inappropriate, homophobic, sexist, etc.. To me, the more offensive and shocking, the funnier it is. However, this was not a funny joke, which is the true crime here.

  23. Roberto says

    Following this in the AZ media, it appears (must crib off a Mark Twain comment about thieves): They aren’t as sorry for doing it as much as they are sorry they were caught.

  24. bobbyjoe says

    The question isn’t whether or not Parsons deserved to be fired, it’s why in holy heck he was still working for the Wildcat by this point anyway. Look at his previous comics, and those of you who think he might just have been trying to expose homophobia here will see that rationale vanish in a puff of smoke.

    Like, how about Parson’s comic where a black man is told to marry a Mormon so he can have all the white women he wants? Laughing yet? Or his series of Suicide Prevention Hotline comics where each time the caller is ignored or told to kill themselves? That’s some knee-slapping, rib-tickling humor right there, eh? Or how about the strip where the “joke” is this: “My girlfriend doesn’t like it when I punch her in the stomach… but I don’t like it when she tells me she might be pregnant.”

    That last one had already gotten angry letters to the Wildcat back in February. Seriously, though, go read his comics and then tell me why anyone on the editorial staff that KEPT letting this guy publish this stuff still has a job.

  25. bobbyjoe says

    The question isn’t whether or not Parsons deserved to be fired, it’s why in holy heck he was still working for the Wildcat by this point anyway. Look at his previous comics, and those of you who think he might just have been trying to expose homophobia here will see that rationale vanish in a puff of smoke.

    Like, how about Parson’s comic where a black man is told to marry a Mormon so he can have all the white women he wants? Laughing yet? Or his series of Suicide Prevention Hotline comics where each time the caller is ignored or told to kill themselves? That’s some knee-slapping, rib-tickling humor right there, eh? Or how about the strip where the “joke” is this: “My girlfriend doesn’t like it when I punch her in the stomach… but I don’t like it when she tells me she might be pregnant.”

    That last one had already gotten angry letters to the Wildcat back in February. Seriously, though, go read his comics and then tell me why anyone on the editorial staff that KEPT letting this guy publish this stuff still has a job.

  26. anon says

    I don’t expect the cartoonist to apologize, as he wrote it to begin with. The editors may wish to re-examine their policies. I suppose if you support the Mohammed cartoons then this is along the same lines pc-wise, but it’s elliptically naive. Either the kid is so scared at the end he cracks the joke to put is his father off, or he agrees with his father that gays are awful, or the father is joking and then the son is joking for whatever reason. Too many …’s to work.

    I’m assuming the cartoonist is trying to be edgy in order to get noticed. I guess it’s working out for him.

  27. anon says

    I don’t expect the cartoonist to apologize, as he wrote it to begin with. The editors may wish to re-examine their policies. I suppose if you support the Mohammed cartoons then this is along the same lines pc-wise, but it’s elliptically naive. Either the kid is so scared at the end he cracks the joke to put is his father off, or he agrees with his father that gays are awful, or the father is joking and then the son is joking for whatever reason. Too many …’s to work.

    I’m assuming the cartoonist is trying to be edgy in order to get noticed. I guess it’s working out for him.

  28. Caliban says

    Where are you seeing previous examples of Parson’s “comics”? Seeing this in the context of his other work would help a lot. I’ve tried finding them on the newspaper site without luck.

    So far as I can tell the whole point of this strip, the “punchline,” is do refer to a dead gay kid (killed by a parent, no less) rolled up in a carpet as a “fruit roll-up.” That’s it. There’s nothing there to indicate another level to it, any implied disapproval, just a really bad and offensive “pun.” Any attempt to impose a different interpretation comes entirely from outside- there is NOTHING within the “comic” itself that leads to that conclusion.

    If he had drawn a comic about how if a black person is hanged from a tree and set on fire that must make them a Christmas light, would that have passed muster? I seriously f*cking doubt it.

  29. Caliban says

    Where are you seeing previous examples of Parson’s “comics”? Seeing this in the context of his other work would help a lot. I’ve tried finding them on the newspaper site without luck.

    So far as I can tell the whole point of this strip, the “punchline,” is do refer to a dead gay kid (killed by a parent, no less) rolled up in a carpet as a “fruit roll-up.” That’s it. There’s nothing there to indicate another level to it, any implied disapproval, just a really bad and offensive “pun.” Any attempt to impose a different interpretation comes entirely from outside- there is NOTHING within the “comic” itself that leads to that conclusion.

    If he had drawn a comic about how if a black person is hanged from a tree and set on fire that must make them a Christmas light, would that have passed muster? I seriously f*cking doubt it.

  30. adine says

    Much ado about nothing. I am gay and was not offended. The strip was funny and highlights a reality gay people face with their family.

  31. kipp says

    The cartoon was a kind of black humor that is too proximal-to seriously unfunny homophobic sentiments for my liking. The cartoonist has been fired. I could certainly support penalties for the EIC or the editor of the section where the comic was inserted – but surely Andy (if not the quoted commenter) knows enough about student journalism to see the illogic in a suggestion that a college newspaper’s editorial board resign. Student newspapers are often small-staffed offices where the “Editorial Board” is basically the staff itself. Is the purpose to shut down the student newspaper for a few weeks while a new editorial board (ie new staffers) are hired and trained? The lessons to learned here are undermined by demanding absurd penalties for the offense.

  32. Yuki says

    I know some people who work at the paper, and I think they did the right thing. The truth is that asking for the entire editorial board to resign is ridiculous; it’s a single incident. Not only do the copy editors not all go over the same parts of the paper–the person I know who works there doesn’t even see the comics–but the editor-in-chief okays papers every single day and this is the only thing that’s slipped through.

    It’s a comics page in a college newspaper; most people give it just a glance. Is it awful that it slipped through? Of course, and everybody at the Arizona Wildcat feels awful about it. They’ve apologized, they’ve fired the cartoonist, and they’ve resolved to put everything under closer scrutiny. Why cause them to lose their jobs after a sincere apology?

  33. Yuki says

    I know some people who work at the paper, and I think they did the right thing. The truth is that asking for the entire editorial board to resign is ridiculous; it’s a single incident. Not only do the copy editors not all go over the same parts of the paper–the person I know who works there doesn’t even see the comics–but the editor-in-chief okays papers every single day and this is the only thing that’s slipped through.

    It’s a comics page in a college newspaper; most people give it just a glance. Is it awful that it slipped through? Of course, and everybody at the Arizona Wildcat feels awful about it. They’ve apologized, they’ve fired the cartoonist, and they’ve resolved to put everything under closer scrutiny. Why cause them to lose their jobs after a sincere apology?

  34. Alexx says

    If this is an “attempt” at black humor” then it failed, spectacularly. It isn’t even remotely funny, and I like dark humor. Dark humor is usually a hyperbole of ridiculousness, but if you have nothing normal to contrast it to it just seems hateful.

  35. Samuel says

    the real crime here is that there were people in place (or there should have been) to approve and check each item that goes into the paper……ya the cartoonist is an emotionally bankrupt person who seems to have forgotten what funny is, but the editor(s)have obviously forgotten what the responsibilities of their position are. The lack of concern on behalf of the people responsible for the content of the paper is the most disturbing of all…i am an Arizona resident and i will not be attending or supporting any event hosted by U of A from this moment on…i encourage others to do the same….and lastly to Jason….playing the devil’s advocate only to stir up controversy will not make you popular and it most certainly will not make you appear smarter…grow up.

  36. says

    usually I say you should not back down and apologize because people whine and complain when they don’t like what you say.. BUT.. some things are over the line – and in that case if they are dumb enough to publish it in the first place they gotta stand up and admit they were in the wrong.

  37. Rae says

    I am an Arizona graduate and an alumnae of the journalism program. I worked closely with the staff at the Arizona Daily Wildcat and was a founding editor of the short-lived RedBlue Magazine on campus. In short, I understand the pressure faced by college journalists. I also happen to know the current EIC of the Daily Wildcat, Ms. Bui, personally. I graduated with her sister and have watched her love of journalism flourish over the last eight years. The cartoon is appalling. I understand it’s intent, and see how it was a horrific failure that should never have seen the light of day, however, I am older and wiser than the current editorial board of the Daily Wildcat and have had the time to learn these lessons.

    Having established all of that, I have two things to say: 1.) The Arizona Daily Wildcat is an independent press that serves the University of Arizona, therefore the University and it’s President cannot impose punishment or sanctions on the newspaper or it’s staff because it disagrees with printed content. Please understand I am not saying I agree or disagree with this, however, it is a fact and I therefore ask the community not to penalize a wonderful, socially contentious and progressive university for the mistakes and poor judgement of a group of 19-21 year old students. This cartoon in no way represented the beliefs of the University nor, I believe, it’s student body. 2.) Ms. Bui, like so many other journalists and journalism students I have known, is an extremely moral person who has chosen to walk an extremely thin line between freedom of speech and morality. Many journalists, especially young ones, pride themselves on trying to be as open-minded and unbiased as possible. We (yes, I was subject to this same idealism) try to view things from all points of view and employ a dark cynicism that allows us to understand the intent of something like this cartoon. We foolishly believe that because we understand it, or think we understand it, the audience will as well. Whether or not the audience likes it is irrelevant as the Constitution does not grant people the right to not be offended. Ms. Bui’s choice to print the cartoon was a judgement call. She was walking a tightrope and had to choose which way to walk. Ultimately, she failed in her assessment of the cartoon and its merits, but do not think for one second she and the rest of the editorial board do not understand the serious error of judgement that occurred. They are ashamed of their mistake, Ms. Bui very much regrets the decision she made, but demanding her resignation isn’t going to change the fact that the cartoon has been published, nor will it allow her the opportunity to learn from this serious, serious error in judgement and effectively change the way she, and future Daily Wildcat editorial boards, edit the newspaper.