Weekend Diversion: The Power of Mockery

Earlier this week, I was reading one of Ed’s posts, and I followed the link to the original post, where I found this gem of a comment (and I would link to it, but the blog owner has reconsidered what he wants to make public):

‘Freedom of speech’ does not mean ‘freedom from mockery.’

Well, mockery has all sorts of uses, from a Tom Lehrer song…

…to making a political statement. As many of you know, a bill to legalize gay marriage in New York was defeated last week, which is a disappointing setback for anyone interested in equal rights. But there was a stroke of brilliance in all of this — via boingboing — that I had to share with you.

Up at Syracuse University, an anti-gay-rights activist met her match in the form of a single brilliant counter-protester.

The student, Chris Pesto, who made this sign — this ingenious sign — had the following to say (quotes taken from here):

I decided that because this woman thought it was okay to make me feel uncomfortable in my home, I would retaliate and make her feel just as uncomfortable, if not more.

This woman was wearing a ankle-length corduroy skirt, which, as we all know, is a fashion nono. So, in order to make her feel uncomfortable, I stood next to her and held a sign that said Corduroy skirts are a sin! I don’t think I have ever drawn so much attention in my life. SO many people asked to take a picture with me, I got laughs, high fives and there were the few that even cursed off the woman standing behind me.

As I drew interest to what was going on with myself and the woman with the hateful sign, I started to draw a crowd that stood with me in support. Before I knew it I had 100+ people holding signs for gay rights asking people to honk their horns to support.

It always makes me feel good to see people not only doing the right thing, but also doing the smart thing. Congratulations on an extremely successful counter-demonstration, Chris, and for having the courage to stand up for yourself, for your rights, and to stand against bigotry (and bad fashion, even if it’s lost on me).


  1. #1 Diablo
    December 6, 2009

    Yeah censorship is alive and well. I started drawing cartoons for my college paper. My first cartoon dealt with our school SGA voting to support the administration’s new policy of shortening the drop period for withdrawing from a course from 20 to 10 days. So I drew a cartoon of a member of our SGA… well plugging our mascot from behind (GO RETRIEVERS!!!!). Much to my shock, they actually printed it. Well I made a mistake for the next week one….

    It is basically a woman in a full chadri next to a woman bound and gagged. The text was just “One woman is bound by religion, the other by leather…at least the S&M girl gets a safe word”.

    Well I was basically told no way in hell it will get printed. Never mind that the person making this decision doesn’t know the first thing about Islam, what the different sects are, or even knows any Muslims despite our campus having a large population of them. No, I got some 20 year old girl telling me that all Muslims are the same, that they all will be offended, and that their faith is so shaky, she herself must safeguard them. (she doesn’t explicitly say that but that’s what her actions are saying)

    I am just floored that I can make a cartoon that has sodomy and bestiality in it…no problems. I can have a women in her underwear, bound by leather, with a ball gag in her mouth, no issue…but if it shows a woman in a full covering burqa…that suddenly too offensive to print.

    Makes me proud I spent six years in the military to defend our constitution….

  2. #2 Brian
    December 6, 2009

    I agree that people are generally too touchy on religious issues, but I’d like to point out that it is a terrible misconception that Islam as a religion, in any way oppresses women. Some conservative Muslim states certainly do enforce sexist and oppressive policies, but that is not indicative of the religion itself.

    While the burqa may appear to be a clear sign of gender oppression to us in western countries, it is not seen that way by the majority of Muslim women (including those that live in more liberal countries).

    Certain groups will use religion as a pretext to enforce their own – sometimes rotten – policies on people, but if they didn’t have claim it was on religious grounds, then they’d find secular justification.

    I myself was a fairly rebid atheist until about a year ago when my world religion classes at university mellowed my opinions. Now I’m of the opinion that religion is pretty much as benign as any ideology.

  3. #3 Brian
    December 6, 2009

    Hmm, wish I knew a way to edit these comments:
    Paragraph 3 should read ‘… but if they didn’t claim it was on religious grounds…’ and ‘rebid’ on paragraph 4 should be ‘rabid’.

    Good job getting the bestiality cartoon published by the way; I doubt my student newspaper would dare to try, we’re kinda in the bible-belt of southern Alberta.

  4. #4 Tony P
    December 6, 2009

    I’m one who believes that we owe no deference to any religion. And when those religions try to infringe my rights the only thing left for me is to use ridicule and on occasion mockery.

  5. #5 Art
    December 6, 2009

    Religion has power because people take it seriously. Some guy makes up a story about some great sky daddy and how if you do this and that Sky Daddy is happy and brings good things, and if you do these other things Sky Daddy gets mad and chastises us, And schmucks that we humans are prone to be we buy into it as if it was a rational explanation for things.

    The lesson here is that failure to make fun and laugh at stupidity has dreadful consequences. If only the first people to hear the story about Sky Daddy had laughed and smacked the story teller on his back and told him how ‘that is a good one’ and gone on to tell the funny story about how this wandering Samaritan wandered into a whorehouse with only one sheckle when a toss in the sack cost two and …

  6. #6 Paul Murray
    December 6, 2009

    I don’t see much merit in the argument that you should separate a religion from it’s cultural context – that you shouldn’t be down on Islam because of the Burqua. Religion *is* a cultural artifact. There isn’t a core, pure Islam given by God independent og the people who practise it.

    Yes, an attack on Islam as it is practised is necessarily an attack on certain aspects of other people’s cultures. So what? Some cultural paractices are bad and evil. Why shouldn’t we target “God wants you to prosper (therefore, if you are poor you must be outside the will of God, so F you Jack you sinner I got mine)” Christianity?

  7. #7 Brian
    December 6, 2009

    @Paul Murray
    I agree that there is no “pure Islam”, and that we can only examine the cultural manifestations of it. What I mean to say, is not that it’s a bad idea to be against say… oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, I’m sure that’s a defensible position to take. I don’t think that from that, and really any other examples of Islam in whatever culture, that people should then conclude that ‘Islam’ itself is deserving of derision and ridicule.

    Sure, people delude themselves with religion (I’d say that’s a somewhat simplistic view of it, but not too far from the way I’d see it). But do you really think they’d be that much different without it? If people didn’t have religion to tell them what to do and give meaning to their lives, I believe they’d just find something else to fill the gap. Following any political ideology or even overly nationalistic sentiment without question, is just as blind as blind faith in any deity.

    @Tony P
    I’d say the religion isn’t trying to infringe upon your rights, people are. It’s a nearly pointlessly semantic distinction, but if you’ve read the other stuff I posted I’m sure you get where I’m going with it.

  8. #8 Art
    December 6, 2009

    I have nothing against religion as such. Humans are prone to superstition and magical thinking. But there is a great deal of difference between a guy who carries a ‘lucky nickel’ and a woman who has a ‘magical’ little black dress and what happens when superstition becomes institutionalized, controlling nations and billions of people.

    In an ideal world, tell me when you find one of those, superstition and religion would be automatically ridiculed mercilessly. Groups of people seeking to organize around superstition would be broken up. Individual superstitions would, by default, would end up being tolerated simply because the guy with a rabbit’s foot can keep it in his pocket and easily conceal the irrationality.

  9. #9 MadScientist
    December 6, 2009

    I tend to be more like Fred Phelps. I’d make a bunch of signs with hateful quotes from the bible, complete with chapter and verse numbers, and pretend I was associated with the anti-homosexual bigot while making all sorts of obnoxious comments ranging from bible-inspired racism to bible-inspired misogyny. In short, I’ll show everyone I was much holier than her and I’d make sure she not only knew I was much holier but that she was hardly fit to lick my boots – just like in the bible.

  10. #10 DaveH
    December 6, 2009

    I don’t think that from that, and really any other examples of Islam in whatever culture, that people should then conclude that ‘Islam’ itself is deserving of derision and ridicule.

    What about ridiculous examples of Islam in whatever culture?

    All religions ask you to believe at least one ridiculous thing.

  11. #11 AJKamper
    December 6, 2009


    I think you’re reading stuff into Diablo’s post that isn’t there. He didn’t crack on Islam as a whole–in fact, he specified that not all Muslims feel the same way. He made a comment about the woman in the burqa being bound by religion–which is true. Her religious practices (a conservative brand of Islam) bind her “without a safeword.” (Which is a nice metaphor, I might add, though the cartoon would have been funnier if the text was only “At least…”)

    Now, maybe you were speaking generally, and not to Diablo in particular. But it seemed like you were!

  12. #12 Brian
    December 7, 2009

    I realize looking back on my post that I didn’t make the connection very obvious. Mostly I took issue with the “One woman is bound by religion, the other by leather…at least the S&M girl gets a safe word” text of Diablo’s cartoon. While it’s definitely clever, I agree with his newspaper’s decision not to run it.

    Saying that anyone is ‘bound by their religion’ doesn’t seem quite right to me (what a group of people does vs what a religion is, I won’t retread my previous posts). I mean, it’s quite possible I’m wrong in my thinking here, as I’ve only recently adopted this position and haven’t had many different people to bounce it off of.

    Diablo did say that not all Muslims would be offended by his cartoon. But his comic certainly implies that Islam in general oppresses women, which I believe simply isn’t true. The burqa and hijab do not belong exclusively to conservative Islam, and the hijab (headscarf)is being worn by an increasing number of Muslim women who simply want a visible connection to their tradition, partially spurred by the public attention Islam has gotten in the last decade.

    No doubt about it; pretty much all religions, when looked at rationally, contain some fairly off the wall ideas. I agree that religion should not be above ridicule and that to censor someone just for speaking against religion is wrong. Fight anyone that wants to trample on your rights, religious or otherwise. But when you’re not taking a stance on a political issue, or human rights issue, ridiculing a religious group for the beliefs they teach seems petty. Religion isn’t disappearing any time soon and mocking a whole community for their culture does not accomplish much.

    Posting this right before nodding off to sleep, so I apologize if any of that was incoherent.

  13. #13 DaveH
    December 7, 2009

    But when you’re not taking a stance on a political issue, or human rights issue

    Oh but we are.

    The notion that these issues go away when you are not looking is naive.

  14. #14 Diablo
    December 7, 2009

    I just want to say something again real quick…this back and forth….this is what should be going on my campus. People discussing not only my cartoon, but my potential motive, and what their views are to other people. Controversy is isn’t bad as long as it leads to conversations and debates. I see nothing wrong with people talking about complex and/or controversial topics. Its when people stop talking and acting like those issues don’t exist that bugs the hell out of me.

    But what is feeding my anger about this cartoon issue with my paper, is that the editor that made this decision, that feels she has to protect all Muslims from my cartoon, knows nothing about the faith. This is a person that could not tell me what separated Sunni and Shiite, where one was more dominate than the other, what form of Islam is practiced by Hezbollah and what form is practiced by Al-Qaeda, what the pillars of Islam are, what the holy months of Islam are…basically she could tell me nothing about Islam and yet here she is collecting all people of Islam into one group and assuming they would all react in the same fashion(which I find really ignorant), and that she has to protect them from my cartoon.

    Now to clarify, my burqa design in based on the Afghan chadri so if one knows anything about Islamic dress, they see I am attacking Qutbism (the messed up version of Islam followed by Al Qeada), not Islam as a whole.

    This is the equivalent of me drawing a cartoon with a woman wearing those old west style dresses from the Texas cult and being told that I was offending Catholics. It makes no sense and just propagates ignorance…in my mind at least.

    Again, I am fine if people are offended by my cartoon. That is their right. But they don’t have a right to “not” be offended. And my editor certainly doesn’t have a right to spread her ignorance of Islam by limiting a discussion.

    Sorry…I’m off the soap box….

  15. #15 Brian
    December 7, 2009

    Thanks for taking the time to clear things up Diablo. I see my defense was a little unnecessary in this case. Also, I think you convinced me that the cartoon should have run. Good luck with your next attempt in that field.

    Of course the struggle over these issues is ongoing. What I’m saying is, that it contributes nothing to this struggle to mock a religion when it’s not actively engaged in the debate. For instance, Ethan’s original post is awesome. Good for the sign guy. Someone standing alone on that same street corner with a sign that says something like ‘religion is stupid; why believe in a 2000 year old dead god?’ would be pointless. You should be allowed to do it, but why would you? All it does is antagonize people.

  16. #16 DaveH
    December 7, 2009

    What I’m saying is, that it contributes nothing to this struggle to mock a religion when it’s not actively engaged in the debate.

    The notion that these issues go away when you are not looking is just as naive as it was 9 hours ago.

    Your wish not to cause anyone any offence is, of itself, perfectly reasonable. You may have been better off living before the sixties.

  17. #17 Diablo
    December 7, 2009

    One last comment and I am really sorry for derailing this whole comment thread. I met with my editor (not the head editor who made the decision) and presented my original comic again. Got told no, got various excuses (offensive to on campus Muslims, international readers, stereotypes Muslims, etc.) So I presented my backup comic. It was just a sign held up by a bunny. The sign read the following….

    “The Retriever Weekly has deemed the student body of UMBC to be too immature to read a cartoon that dealt with the exploitation of women and the chari. The artist would like to apologize for operating under the assumption that Journalistic Freedom was valued at this institution. The artist has been corrected”

    If they print either, I will be happy. As it stands…I think I will be fired. Thank god I will have a mechanical engineering degree to fall back on in two more years…

  18. #18 flavia deluce
    December 10, 2009

    That picture warms my heart. Especially that he encountered all the positive support. Tell me again why it’s so hard to pass gay marriage initiatives in this country.

    (and is it a trick of the lens and timing or does she seem to be laughing at the joke as well? Has to be timing.)

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