There's an old saying about editorial cartoonists:
They don't aim to please.
They just aim.
That is one of the strengths of our own Calvin Grondahl, who has been drawing his pointed, well-crafted and opinionated cartoons for the Standard-Examiner since 1986.
Local politicians, public figures and newsmakers often take pride in being portrayed in an original Grondahl cartoon, even if it is in a negative light. They joke about being "Grondahlized."
While most subjects of Cal's cartoons have a thick skin and maturity about his work, some readers don't.
Readers can be extremely sensitive when someone they respect and admire is "Grondahlized." This is especially true when the subject is the president of the United States.
During the Bush Administration, I often heard complaints from readers when Cal drew the president as a hick cowboy or in some other unflattering way. We have a predominantly Republican audience, so these reactions weren't that surprising.
Sometimes we even heard from Texans who were offended by Cal's renditions of President George W. Bush.
Last week, the shoe was on the other foot, and we heard from some readers who were offended by Cal portraying President Barack Obama as a shoeshine boy. Those critics saw the imagery as racist.
I think some, on both sides of the political spectrum, need to get past the idea of viewing Barack Obama as a black president, rather than THE president. The litmus test for me and Publisher Lee Carter in approving the cartoon was, would it have been OK if everything were the same, except the president had been white?
And the answer is yes. The metaphorical image was not that of a black man shining the shoes of a Wall Street banker. It was the president shining the banker's shoes. When I presented this scenario to some critics, they reacted that it was still disrespectful of the president.
Fair enough. But that's what cartoonists do -- they diss. However, that is a different criticism than claiming racism.
I'm sure if President Obama had been portrayed in any subservient role to the banker, such as a limo driver, a waiter or even a janitor, critics could still claim racism. Cal happened to choose a shoeshine boy because it is an iconic image associated with New York, bankers and even the Great Depression. The cartoon may have portrayed an occupational stereotype to some readers, but that's different from a racial stereotype. That would be a drawing that emphasized exaggerated racial features or conduct.
Part of Cal's award-winning talent is tying in different elements to draw a complete and pointed picture.
I understand such images can bring up emotional memories for people relating to their own lives. I was very sympathetic when one caller, who was black, explained some of the roadblocks he faced as a child growing up in Utah.
However, I've also heard similar stories from Mormons, recounting their own persecuted history, and non-Mormons, explaining that I have to understand how it was for them growing up in Utah. I've also heard from people who were victims of crimes, child abuse and discrimination of all types.
I do understand that political cartoons can offend people, and it can be a very difficult decision weighing options before approving publication.
Political cartoons are supposed to be opinionated and provocative. Most importantly, they are supposed to be funny.
Does that mean they succeed every time?
No, not with everyone. But that is what makes political cartoons so unique in our culture. And interesting.
Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or email@example.com.