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McDaniels’ presence justified

Staff Editorial | Friday, April 13, 2007

It’s generated strongly worded Letters to the Editor, prompted plenty of angry complaints and often required significant changes before publication.

So why is Kaleidoscope McDaniels still in The Observer?

It’s a fair question, and the short answer is, usually, it’s pretty funny.

Concerns about Observer comic strips have surfaced frequently in recent years. Readers have questioned Kaleidoscope since it began in January, and before that Jocular was a frequent target of criticism – although other cartoons, from time to time, have drawn objections as well. Whatever the case, a common theme has emerged.

When a joke is made – unless it’s the mildest, safest and, more often than not, least funny option – someone gets offended.

And when a joke is made that touches a nerve with a broader group of readers, it’s often because it exposed an underlying issue.

What do men at Notre Dame think of the school’s women? Do people understand the magnitude of problems caused by eating disorders? Why is there tension between the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s campuses?

These are serious subjects, and they aren’t caused by stereotypes or jokes found in a comic strip. Those jokes stem from pre-existing problems – and while it’s easy to blame a cartoon for inflaming a situation, it’s not addressing any root cause.

These observations are not meant to undermine complaints. After all, a newspaper’s role is to serve its community, and upset readers deserve explanations. What’s important to remember, however, is that the purpose of a comic strip isn’t to infuriate people – it’s to make them laugh. Some may see those laughs as coming at others’ expense, but that’s ascribing a baser motive to the cartoon than what its author or the newspaper had in mind.

Humor is subjective. That doesn’t mean anything goes, however. When we think one of our cartoonists has crossed the line, we tell him. When we judge a particular submission to be in poor taste, we ask for a replacement, or we run a gray box apologizing for the comic strip’s absence. (That’s not what happened with Kaleidoscope McDaniels this week, though – the cartoonist took three days off.)

Eventually, it comes down to a value judgment. Maybe the cartoons stimulate productive discussion, and maybe they don’t. But we aren’t asking our cartoonists to lead that discussion. We’re asking them to make people laugh. That’s what Kaleidoscope McDaniels does, and that’s why we value it.

We hope that readers will continue to tell us when they think we’ve stepped over the line. But we also hope the community will take these jokes for what they are, and what they’re always intended to be – jokes.