By Ollie Gratzinger | Opinions Editor
Once upon a time, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was a household staple. It would come to the door in its little green bag, and my father would bring it inside; it was the perfect companion to a cup of coffee. Back then, I was far more interested in the little green bag, blowing it up and swatting it around like a balloon. But as I got older, I started to care about the text on the pages — the news — and it was the Post-Gazette I’d pick up at the grocery store. Not the New York Times or the Washington Post, but our humble local paper.
Those days are part of the past, which seems to become more and more distant each day. Within recent years, the Post-Gazette’s management has taken a disturbing, right-wing turn. While the news remains as high-quality as ever, the editorial page has become something else entirely, and it’s forcing a wedge between itself and loyal readers who are all too aware of its disheartening new track.
Early 2018 saw the problematic editorial “Reason as racism” by editorial-page editor Keith Burris, which claimed charges of racism are “the new McCarthyism” and seemed to defend Trump’s “shithole countries” remark. By June of last year, the Post-Gazette faced national outrage after the firing of cartoonist Rob Rogers, who claimed he was let go after 25 years because his cartoons were critical of Trump, and the editors didn’t like what they saw. According to the Post-Gazette, Rogers was fired because he was unwilling to cooperate with Burris.
Recently, conservative artist Steve Kelley was hired to replace Rogers, and his cartoons lack both heart and comedic conviction. Most of his jokes attack liberalism and Democrats, as well as the humanistic values at the core of left-wing politics. Not only are his comics senseless and unfunny, but they reek of sexism, misogyny and ignorance, as well.
A Jan. 14 cartoon caught the public eye, depicting two young girls fantasizing about divorcing a rich man “just like Jeff Bezos.” The previous day’s comic mocked the concept of the “modern woman,” showing a couple sitting in a restaurant while the woman says she’s “all for eliminating gender roles, at least until the waiter brings the dinner tab.”
Other comics attack Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, or mock the liberal opposition to a border wall. One criticized Mayor Bill Peduto’s proposed gun control legislation, and another trivialized the Gillette commercial about toxic masculinity.
The most grossly offensive comic, in my opinion, came out on Feb. 3, and it depicted and older couple reading a newspaper. The man says, “Wow…the polar vortex brought temperatures so low a feminist was overheard singing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside.’”
Kelley attacks the feminist movement, underplays the concerns of women — a marginalized group of which, to my knowledge, he is not part — and validates the misogyny of bigots who now can see their views endorsed on the editorial page of a major metropolitan newspaper. The dangers of giving a platform for this kind of smug, tongue-in-cheek sexism are ample in number and vast in scale, and it normalizes rhetoric that can lead to things far worse.
Every time I see one of Kelley’s comics, I can’t help but ask myself, “They fired Rob Rogers for this?” Rogers’ comics were critical of the powers that be and defensive of things like the #MeToo movement and feminism (see his April 29, 2018 cartoon about the fall of Bill Cosby). He tackled the real issues that ail our society in a way that put the victims first; immigration, Russian collusion, child separation, gun violence and more. Kelley, though, with his holier-than-thou attitude, seems to think that feminists are the biggest threat to our democracy.
While Rogers defended minority rights and took aim at the government, Kelley defends the government and takes aim at minority rights. His jokes, which are hard to discern most of the time, are more like the things your conservative uncle might say at the dinner table on Thanksgiving — the exact type of comments that get a nervous chuckle from a peace-keeping relative and an uncomfortable silence from the rest. What’s funny about mocking feminism? What’s provocative about saying Nancy Pelosi has too much botox in her cheeks? What statement is he trying to make, and who, exactly, is he trying to make it to?
It isn’t satire if the folks being mocked don’t have social power. A hangman can’t engage in gallows humor.