Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Worthy Cause, Unfortunate Logo

In part one of a one-part series I'll call "Worthy Cause, Unfortunate Logo" I present the following image from the Child Abuse Team (C.A.T.) of the Portland Police:

Where once there was a picture of Garfield, there now is this alt text

This is the only copy of the graphic that I've been able to find on the Internet and it's sort of blurry and unimpressive. But I see a more striking, four-foot tall version of this in a police station window every time I walk between the bus stop and my office downtown.

Now, to be clear, child abuse is very bad, so props to Garfield creator Jim Davis and Paws, Inc. for trying to harness the hydra-headed, globo-corporate Garfield brand to promote something that's good for children instead of Embassy Suites or whatever. And in a lot of contexts I think pairing a picture of Garfield with the phrase "STOP CHILD ABUSE" would have the desired effect.

Here, though, with Garfield seeming to aim a punch at the middle of the viewer's forehead? I see three possible, conflicting interpretations of how Garfield and text work together and I don't think the first is the most plausible:

  1. Garfield is raging more or less abstractly against the existence of child abuse as a pattern of behavior. The words represent his own point of view.

  2. Garfield is violently punishing a child abuser, quite possibly within a prison setting. The text cheers him on with perhaps unseemly enthusiasm.

  3. Garfield is abusing a child. The helpless logo-narrator implore us, the viewers, to stop him.

After thinking about this for about fifteen seconds twice every workday for three weeks I'm putting my money on the second option. Who knows, though? This sort of ambiguity of meaning enriches most art, including cartoon art, but for child welfare advocacy I think it just muddies the water. And not to pretend to be Mr. Policy Wonk but I think the message should emphasize education and coordinated police and social services intervention, not threats of cartoon cat violence. You can't just kick the problem off of a tabletop like it's your owner's mute, oblivious dog.


Blogger Don said...

Perhaps a garfieldminusgarfield.net version would shed greater light on the true meaning of the logo.

5/05/2009 10:31 AM  
Blogger nate said...

Possibly, though I think Garfield Minus Garfield aims to say more about Jon's psychological state than anything else. (They don't seem to run strips of spiders flattening themselves or whatnot.) It's awesome that they have a Jim Davis-approved book, though.

5/05/2009 9:54 PM  

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