Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tales of the Enlightenment

Meet bar owner Mike Norman, who’s come up with the wickedly clever idea of peddling T-shirts featuring a knock-off of the “Curious George” character peeling a banana, with “Obama in ‘08” underneath. Norman, 63, the longtime proprietor of Mulligan’s Bar and Grill in Marietta, Georgia, acknowledges the imagery’s Jim Crow roots, but says the shirts aren’t meant to offend. He claims to see nothing wrong with depicting a prominent African-American as a monkey. “We’re not living in the 40’s,” he said. “Look at him…the hairline, the ears — he looks just like Curious George.”

The usual battlelines involving free speech on the one hand and allegations of racism on the other are at play of course. Norman (who Anderson Cooper referred to on his program as “a stupid jerk”) figures that he’s providing a public service of sorts, reminding people they have a right to offend. “This is my marketing tool,” he said. Apparently, proceeds from sale of the shirts are being donated to charity. I’m sure the folks at the Muscular Dystrophy Association will be thrilled.