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November 23, 2003

Not a slur against semiotics...or is it?

Check out this cartoon:




Chris Mooney points me to this article in The Washington Post about the furor erupting over this. You see, look at the crescent, an outhouse, the SLAM. SLAM~Islam, a crescent~Islam and an outhouse~House of Islam? That's what I thought after hearing that the artist was a Christian fundamentalist. Christian evangelicals do have an alternate way of speaking within their own sub-culture, the most prominent and public tendency is to use the term "Christian" to only refer to other "Born Again" believers, especially evangelical Protestants. There are more obscure references, like George W. Bush's use of the term wonder working power, which goes over the heads of most non-evangelicals.

My point is that the semiotician is making this way too complicated. Chris gives the guy some credit, but anyone with basic tools of logic, inference and some facts on hand could come to the same conclusion without using terms like "polysemic" to seem more profound than they are.

As for the cartoon, I think it's pretty smart and funny, probably because I do think something stinks in the House of Islam. The semiotician says "it is a mistake to give much weight at all to the artist's stated intention. For one thing, it discounts the strength and influence of the unconscious mind, he said. All that matters in artistic criticism, he said, is the effect of the art on its viewers: the way people interpret it. In other words, even if Hart intended no offense, the offense is there." The dude needs to remember that Christian fundamentalists are insulted and lampooned constantly in a coded fashion as slack-jacked toothless bigoted yokels. There's some truth in that caricature, but only conservatives make a big huff about it, and the demurs of liberal secular purveyors about the intent of this sort of depiction know exactly what they're doing. Doesn't take a semiotician to figure that out.

Update: My girlfriend informs me I've been had-this strip is in the style of this comic artist from what she's seen of him in the past. OK, I should get a life....

Posted by razib at 06:36 PM