By Danielle Ryan
A recent cartoon produced by the New York Times depicts Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as gay lovers. It was clearly intended to be hilariously funny while also making a salient political point. In reality, it does neither.
The cartoon is part two of a three-part series called ‘Trump Bites’ from critically-acclaimed animator Bill Plympton. Let me explain the contents of the minute-long video to save you from having to watch it yourself.
It begins with a cartoon Trump standing in front of a mirror altering his bow tie while a portrait of a topless Putin hangs on the wall behind him. Audio of the real Trump confirming that he does have “a relationship” with Putin begins to play and the doorbell of Trump’s cartoon house rings.
The visitor is none other than a muscly, topless (again) Putin. Trump’s cartoon heart begins to beat out of his chest and he hands it over to the macho Russian as a gift. Audio of the real Trump claiming Putin has done a “brilliant and amazing” job plays over the scene.
Now Donald and Vlad are sitting in a car together. The Russian is in the driving seat. Witty political metaphor? Check! Cartoon Trump leans over and places his tiny hand on top of Putin’s excessively large hand. Overdone dig at the size of Trump’s hands? Check!
Suddenly, the car morphs into a unicorn (stay with me) and the star-crossed lovers are riding on its back through a pink sky filled with butterflies, hearts and rainbows. Putin turns around to kiss Trump and we get a close-up of tongues swirling.
Back in his bedroom after his date with the Russian, cartoon Trump is seen with a gun in hand shooting at his TV screen — an obvious reference to his distaste for “fake news” and the like. Roll credits.
Describing the cartoon on its website, the Times explains that it “plays out in a teenager’s bedroom, where the fantasies of this forbidden romance come to life.” But, in case it wasn’t already clear, the end result isn’t funny. It doesn’t do a particularly good job of making any political point, either — unless you’re counting the reinforcement of a tired, boring and unproven narrative of “collusion” and “bromance” between Trump and his Russian counterpart.
What it does do, very well in fact, is highlight the hypocrisy of the New York Times. Despite its socially liberal credentials, the paper of record has seen fit to use gay stereotypes to malign political figures it does not like. The very fact that the men are portrayed as gay is what is supposed to make the cartoon so funny.
Unsurprisingly, gay people on Twitter were quick to point out that mocking people — even fake versions of real people — for being gay isn’t actually very funny at all. Journalist Glenn Greenwald (who happens to be gay himself) called out the Times for “using one disgusting gay stereotype after the next” in an attempt to make a political point. “Homophobia for progressive messaging is still bigotry,” he wrote on Twitter. He’s right. Another gay Twitter user hit out at the Times for its “vulgar” and “homophobic” negative stereotyping, while others blasted the paper for the tone-deaf decision to publish the“gay-bashing” cartoon during Pride Month, of all times.
The Times’ decision to produce the ‘lol they’re gay’ cartoon seems particularly odd, given how oh-so-concerned they pretend to be with the plight of gay people in Russia. Then again, much of the Western concern over gay rights in Russia is and always has been insincere; a political tool that Western nations use to hammer Russia with while ignoring the far, far worse treatment that gay people are subjected to in countries like Saudi Arabia — a religious dictatorship which is hailed by US political leaders for its progressiveness if it makes even the mildest step towards modernity.
Recall the stunt pulled by the Paddy Power bookmakers during the World Cup. The company proudly announced that it would donate €10,000 to gay rights charities every time Russia scored a goal. The irony of announcing this charitable endeavor during a match against a country (Saudi Arabia) where being gay (MAY BE PUNISHED) by death was apparently entirely lost on them.
Anyway, back to the Times. Even if we forgive the newspaper for its foray into homophobic stereotyping to malign public figures, there’s still the fact that the cartoon is boring and stale and one would struggle to justify classing it as political satire.
There is nothing particularly cutting edge about it. It’s a simple rehash of a tired narrative — just with some homophobia thrown in for laughs. The cartoon series bills itself as satire — but satire is supposed to be original, biting, thought-provoking, clever. This fails on every count.
Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!