Toronto Star’s cartoon illustrates much more than just Conrad Black’s prison rapists

Toronto Star’s cartoon illustrates much more than just Conrad Black’s prison rapists

As expected, the hysteria around Conrad Black’s incarceration has died down, but there’s one bit of leftover business that needs to be addressed—mostly for what it says about the fortunes of Canada’s two most prominent newspapers, the Star and the Globe. On Monday of this week, the Star kicked off a kerfuffle when it ran the following cartoon on its editorial page.

I think the cartoon more or less speaks for itself. Let’s just say that to run something that offensive in a newspaper with the largest circulation in the country speaks to the essential mediocrity of its senior editors. But don’t take my word for it. This morning’s Ottawa Citizen includes a column by Dan Gardner that’s a walk-off home run on the subject. To wit:

In general, Americans find prison rape a lot funnier than Canadians, and conservatives more than liberals. A complete list of American conservatives who have made jokes about prison rape would fill this page.

The latest is the son of the governor of Kansas, who is marketing a prison-based board game cleverly called Don’t Drop the Soap. “Fight your way through six different locations in hopes of being granted parole. Escape prison riots in The Yard, slip glass into a mob boss’s lasagna in the Cafeteria, steal painkillers from the nurses’ desk in the Infirmary, avoid being cornered by the Aryans in the Shower Room, fight off Latin Kings in Gang War, and try not to smoke your entire stash in The Hole.” Hours of fun, no doubt.

But the cartoonist who thought it hilarious to mark Conrad Black’s incarceration with a gag about prison rape is not some vicious American reactionary. He is Theo Moudakis. And his unspeakably crude joke was published Monday in the impeccably liberal and very Canadian Toronto Star.

For years, an American organization called Stop Prisoner Rape has pleaded for an end to these wisecracks. They “trivialize and dehumanize,” the group says on its Web site. “Such flippant attitudes about sexual violence in detention (are) one of the major obstacles to ending this type of violence.” Doesn’t that sound like something the Star would say in one of its earnest and upright editorials? And yet, it seems, no one at the Star saw anything amiss in Monday’s cartoon.

A non-compete agreement between rapists? Stop, you’re killing me!

So, how did this happen? Dunno. Another of the Canadian cartooning clan wrote me this morning:

I defend trite characterizations and shop-worn stereotypes being a cartoonist of course…but it aren’t my style…mebbe too trashy Sara Silverman for Star edpage methinx.


Fair enough.

This much I do know: since John Honderich reasserted control at the paper by seeing to it that the publisher/editor tandem of Michael Goldbloom and Giles Gherson was removed and replaced by Jagoda S. Pike and J. Fred Kuntz (those initials certainly add weight, don’t they?), talent is draining out of the place (Peter Scowen, Sue Grimbly and Jennifer Wells to name but three—all gone to the Globe). The redesign is, um, challenging, and the Sunday Star, which showed considerable promise under former Postie Alison Uncles, has been gutted.

In short, the place is a mess.

Meantime, whereas the Star’s cartoon was their only “opinion” on the Black matter, the Globe’s editorial yesterday was well written, concise and the soul of probity (and not just because I agreed with it…okay, maybe a titch). Any way you look at it, where three years ago the Star looked to at least be making an effort to transcend its parochial self, at the moment it’s back to business as usual. That’s fine for the grandees that own the place but shit for the rest of us.

• Prison rape isn’t funny [Ottawa Citizen]• Letters to the Editor: This is funny because…? [Toronto Star]