Thursday, April 28, 2005

That Kissinger Caricature

The Corsair was an intern and, briefly, a factchecker at The Nation back in the summer of 1995, and this story from Victor Navasky, A Matter of Opinion, brought me back to how much I loved those quasi-disfunctional staff meetings:

"One day in February 1984, David Levine called me. David is known to his fellow artists as one of the great realist painters, and is known in the media community as one of the geniuses responsible for the witty but wicked cross hatched pen-and-ink caricatures that since its outset have helped define the look of the New York Review of Books.

"This was around the time of the Kissinger Commission Report on the Caribbean Basin, and he had done a caricature of Henry Kissinger for the (NYRB), to accompany an essay by James Chase on the Kissinger Report. But Bob Silvers of the New York Review of Books, felt it was "too strong" to go with Chase's meditative essay, and said they would publish it later. David was not so sure about that, and anyway, wanted to publish it now. The cartoon, he told me, showed Kissinger on top of the world in the form of a naked woman on bottom. She had a globe where her head should have been, the Caribbean basin for a face, and they had an American flag for a blanket. Were we interested?


"David, I said, it will get me in all sorts of trouble with my staff, but send it over. Why will it get you in trouble with your staff? he asked. I don't know, I said, but I know it will.

"The cartoon arrived an hour later. It was, as expected, a brilliant caricature, but it was more than that. Kissinger in bed and on top had these thick lensed horn rimmed glasses and a look on his face that mingled evil and ecstasy as he did his dirty business with the world woman under the cover of the American flag. I called David and told him we were putting it through. Two hours later a petition arrived on my desk, signed by two thirds of the people in the office. Many of the signatures were followed by little comments. 'Sexist!' one had written. 'Why isn't he doing it to a Third World man?' asked another.

" ...My favorite moment came when Christopher Hitchens, who had written a column about the Kissinger Commission, said he thought that the Kissinger character was ravaging the woman; it wasn't an act of sex but an act of rape, a comment on the American empire's abuse of power. One of our younger woman staff members responded, 'But if you look at the woman's hand, it seems to be gripping the mattress in what could be the grip of passion.' The white suited Christopher, who enjoyed posing as the office roue, leaned over, gripping the young woman's hand, and said, 'Trust me, my dear, it is not the grip of passion.'"

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