A cartoon strip featuring a woman being butchered and cooked has sparked community outrage.
University officials told The Casco Bay Weekly (CBW) not to deliver the weekly tabloid to some campus locations until further notice because of the recent series of controversial cartoons.
“We decided as a group that we wanted to show our anger with that cartoon by asking them to not drop off the paper at the Campus Center,” said Director of Portland Student Life Helen Gorgas-Goulding. Representatives of Gorham Student Life and Portland Hall are considering actions.
Forty to 50 protesters also demonstrated outside of the paper’s headquarters last Wednesday because of the cartoon. Members of the University community were joined by representatives of Family Crisis Services, Sexual Assault Response Services and the National Organization for Women.
The cartoon in question, “Chef Al’s Foul,” featured a knife-wielding chef cutting up and cooking a woman. It was a two-part series that ran in the Feb. 22 and March 8 issues.
“When I saw it I was horrified and I was shocked,” said Beth Martin, coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center. “It was absolutely senseless. It was just a glorification of violence against women.”
Senior sociology major Kristen Stake said she feels similarly. “For people to say it’s no big deal is like saying lynching an African-American isn’t a big deal. It’s terrorizing.”
Martin and Stake participated in last week’s protest in front of CBW’s headquarters on Congress Street. The group waved signs and spoke out for more than an hour against the newspaper’s decision to run the cartoon.
That same day, CBW stopped running the cartoon. The paper published an apology by Editor David Tyler in which he states “as far as we can tell, there was no point being made in the strip . violence against women is unacceptable. And this cartoon was too outrageous — and pointless — in dealing with this issue.”
Next to the apology, however, there was a cartoon that some say demonstrates CBW didn’t take the issue seriously. The cartoon features a character who says he’d “like to address all those negative letters [about the previous cartoon].” The next panel reads, “These are cartoons, people! Nobody gets hurt in cartoons! That’s what makes them great!” Then the character strikes his friend in the back of the neck with an axe.
“The cartoon definitely weakened the apology,” said Martin. “I felt like it was a slap in the face.”
Peg Coleman associate director of Family Crisis Services agrees. “The CBW’s response really mirrors a response that an abuser gives to a victim, like `get over it,’ or `it wasn’t that bad.'”
Despite the new cartoon, Tyler said he understands the severity of the issue.
“We did apologize and we accept full responsibility,” said Tyler in an interview with The Free Press. “But illustrators have opinions and will continue to express them.”
Publisher Lael Morgan also said the paper takes the issue very seriously. She pointed to the large number of angry letters that ran opposite the apology. “Two pages of letters is very serious,” she said.
There are members of the community, however, who want to see CBW go a step further.
“If you’re going to run pictures of women being mutilated, just saying sorry is not dealing with what’s been done,” said Stake.
“I felt like they just didn’t get it,” said Martin, who spoke with Tyler about the issue. “It’s like they don’t understand the impact and the power they have as a media source.”
Martin is working with other area organizations “to put more pressure on [CBW].” Representatives from Family Crisis Services have sent letters to businesses who advertise in CBW to ask them to pull their ads. At least two businesses have already done so, according to Morgan.
With the assistance of other University officials like Gorgas-Goulding, Martin has helped promote a partial campus boycott of the paper. Gorgas-Goulding said if CBW delivers next week’s issue in spite of the request not to, members of her staff might “scoop them up so they’re not available.” Gorgas-Goulding did say, however, that decision wasn’t certain.
Along with a “more sincere apology,” Martin wants the paper to sponsor a workshop on the issue of violence against women and the responsibility of the media. She said that a group would meet this week to put together a specific proposal to give to CBW regarding the workshop.
Morgan said CBW would be willing to take a look at different ideas. “I think a healthy dialogue is a good idea,” she said. She added that she hoped other media might get involved in any workshop if it were to take place.
“We won’t stop until they take some real steps to really show their commitment to the issue, that they can be part of the solution,” said Martin.
News Editor Steve Peoples can be contacted at: [email protected]