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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 02/15/2011

IS THIS OFFENSIVE? 'Mother Goose & Grimm' goes to Chernobyl

By Michael Cavna



Hyperbole, of course, is one of the primary arrows in the satirist's quiver. Sometimes it takes the absurdly rendered view to restore clarity to an issue.

That certainly seemed to be Mike Peters's approach last week when two of his "Mother Goose & Grimm" characters (Grimm and Attila) went wandering around the opening of a would-be Chernobyl amusement park. The strip's weeklong series on gags pivoted on the effects of radiation a quarter-century after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine had a catastrophic meltdown. (Estimates vary widely on how many deaths to attribute to the fallout, from dozens to thousands.)

Last week, however, Binghamton, N.Y., resident and local radio host Daniel Jan Walikis wrote to the Press & Sun Bulletin to object to the cartoons.

Wrote Walikis: "Mike Peters has exponentially exceeded the boundaries of what is acceptable to all persons of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American origin. To poke fun at and make light of the victims and the continuous suffering as a result of the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, is entirely unacceptable and goes far beyond the pale."

In seeking an apology for Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans, he continues: "There is absolutely no comedy and fun in the pain, suffering and the agonizing death of thousands of people in Ukraine and Belarus since 1986."

On Monday, Peters defended the week of strips.

In a letter that Peters sent to the editor of the Press Sun & Bulletin Press Sun & Bulletin (and which he also sent to Comic Riffs), the cartoonist writes: "I did these strips because I was outraged that the government of Ukraine was asking tourists to come to Chernobyl for vacation. When a nuclear power plant implodes like Chernobyl, it takes a lot more than 30 years (maybe 300) to become safe enough to bring kids.

"I was hoping that the strips would interest my readers enough to talk about it and learn that this story is true. ... It's hard to make these things up."

In December, CNN reported that Ukraine "will lift restrictions on tourism in the zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 2011, formally opening the scene of the world's worst nuclear accident to visitors."

Peters won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1981 and launched "Mother Goose & Grimm" in 1984.

Two years ago, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation objected to a "Mother Goose & Grimm" strip that invoked the character Juan Valdez. At the time, Peters shared his reaction with Comic Riffs, saying: "I am totally amazed at this. I'm an editorial cartoonist. I expect bad things from my editorial cartoons, not from my comic strip."

What do you think -- do you find the strips offensive? You can view the week's worth of strips right here.

By Michael Cavna  | February 15, 2011; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  The Comic Strip  | Tags:  Mike Peters, Mother Goose & Grimm  
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"goes far beyond the pale."
That's pretty funny, given that most of Ukraine is /within/ the Pale of Settlement

Posted by: wiredog | February 15, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I recall David Letterman doing a Top Ten list within a month or two of the disaster and it was funny then. I can't find a direct link online but I found one referring to it as well and they recalled a few items I remember as well. It was the "Top Ten Headlines in Pravda" and included the following:

* KGB Declares May "Indoor Activities Month"

* Lead hats, stylish and practical

* Thousands of Ukrainians delighted with surprise vacations and bus rides.

And that was when it was still headline news. I can't believe that 30 years later this is pushing the envelope.

Posted by: WoodleyParker | February 15, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Is this offensive? Well, someone was offended, so the obvious answer is "yes". I think the question you meant to ask was, "Is this offensive to a majority of reasonable people?"

My opinion? No, it's not offensive; but only because of the context as stated by Mr. Peters. Without the context, it's doesn't even make sense. Why would you write a comic about something that happened 30 years ago, unless it was to make a statement of some sort? With all due respect and sympathy to Mr. Walikis and Ukrainians the world over, Mr. Peters is on their side.

Posted by: meruhl | February 15, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

What I find offensive is your repetition of the false claim that thousands of people died. What happened, you missed the Greenpeace press releases prediction 200,000 deaths?

57 people are known to have died from Chernobyl.
4,000 cases of thyroid cancer were partially ascribed to the fallout - but thyroid cancer has like a 95% survival rate.

The predictions of large numbers of deaths have been shown to be be incorrect. The LNT model has been disproven.

Posted by: Duncan5 | February 15, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

MeltdownLand Theme Park - ideal vacation destination for the nuclear family. Just be sure to take all your photographs as soon as you arrive, before the film fogs up.

Ukriane's policy of trying to convert a hazardous disaster site into a tourist attraction merits the lampooning that Peters is inflicting upon it.

Posted by: seismic-2 | February 15, 2011 11:57 PM | Report abuse

I find this extremely funny. People get too easily offended these days. I have a few ideas for my own strip that I know I can never use because of the backlash I would receive... so all 4 of my viewers will never see them!

Posted by: FugCheese | February 17, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I find this extremely funny. People get too easily offended these days. I have a few ideas for my own strip that I know I can never use because of the backlash I would receive... so all 4 of my viewers will never see them!

Posted by: FugCheese | February 17, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

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