The first problem with the “Babe Lincoln” cartoon in the January 24 edition of The Nation is it’s not funny, writes veteran media observer Larry Gross, “which as Oscar Wilde might have said, is its worst sin.”
And if that weren’t enough, it’s also “tired, inappropriate . . . and heterosexist,” Gross adds.
The cartoon by Robert Grossman depicts an ax-wielding, stovepipe hat–wearing Lincoln in high heels, with skimpy undergarments barely concealing his ample bosom, as the Great Emancipator winks and presents his rump girlishly. The caption reads: “Newly discovered daguerreotype lends support to theory in a recent book that the sixteenth president was gay. Log Cabin Republicans take note.”
The “recent book” in question is C.A. Tripp’s posthumously published The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, in which, according to the publisher, “new details are revealed about Lincoln’s relations with a number of men.”
Tripp’s research aside, the cartoon’s apparent equation of being gay with being feminine (and frisky) has several Nation readers swinging axes of their own.
In a letter to editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil author and former New York magazine editor John Berendt called the cartoon “virulent and blatant homophobic garbage, utterly unworthy of the 140-year-old magazine entrusted to your care.”
Doug Ireland, the political journalist who once penned the Press Clips column here, wrote to the mag: “We’ve just come through an election the Republicans won, in part, by bashing gay people over the head with odious stereotypes and discriminatory referenda. That makes running this cartoon, which pretends that a man who loves a man really wants to be a woman—the oldest canard in the world—even more insulting.”
Famed activist Larry Kramer wrote to Nation publisher Victor Navasky: “That’s a pretty tasteless and wretchedly stinking cartoon of Lincoln and certainly not what we have come to hope for and expect from The Nation.” But in an open letter, author and activist Scott Tucker said the cartoon was exactly what he had come to expect from The Nation:
For many years the editors of The Nation have advised queers that when Clinton, Gore, and Kerry spit in our faces, we must pretend it’s rain. This is the higher education in self-hatred, and it is “progressive” because the lower education in outright general hatred of queers can presumably be left to preachers of the old time religion.
The Nation‘s publicity director, Mike Webb, says the magazine has “received letters from readers who were upset by Grossman’s cartoon, but it was not our intent to offend anyone.” Some of them were posted on the magazine’s website on Friday. So was a response by Grossman:
I knew that gay men were not necessarily effeminate, cross-dressers or bearded ladies but I couldn’t let that prevent me from having my laugh. Better a cheap and infantile joke than no joke at all, or so I thought. Now I hereby apologize to anyone I have offended. I also want to thank the editors of The Nation for their playfulness and/or insensitivity in allowing my perky pin-up to get into print.
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