In the 47 issues we examined, we recorded 1,810 characters in 639 cartoons by 70 cartoonists. 94.7% of these characters were judged to be white (thus 5.3% were non-white), and 70.6% were judged to be male (29.4% female) (Table 1). For reference, about 72% of the US population is estimated to be white (this categorization includes Hispanics) and about 51% is estimated to be female. ...
This problem of underrepresentation of minorities and females should be an easy fix. Cartoonists can simply draw more female and minority characters. This would amount to more than just pandering. ... For his part, Robert Mankoff can also begin to encourage cartoons featuring more women and minority characters.I'm not a New Yorker cartoonist, and I do try to diversify the people in my work, but doing so can occasionally distract from the joke. Take for example, the two white guys in this 2001 cartoon:
The PNIS study (I warned you about the acronym) notes that female cartoonists tend to draw more cartoons about females than male cartoonists do. I would note that female New Yorker cartoonists also tend to draw more autobiographical cartoons than male New Yorker cartoonists do. Still, Roz Chast, for example, is less likely to be accused of sexism if she draws a cartoon in which a female character appears in a not-so-flattering situation than if, say, Christopher Weyant drew the same cartoon.
Sexism and racism aside, there are other considerations when casting the characters in a cartoon. Crowden Satz, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and other publications, took issue with the PNIS study in a Facebook post today.
For humor to exist, the reader's brain has to be, very quickly, jarred out of its rest position. Setup + unexpected twist = funny. So what happens if, in addition to the gag, the characters don't fit expectations in the setup? Such as, for instance, the overbearing executive is played by a slim woman rather than a big fat old white guy? Well, the humor train gets derailed. One's brain pauses to say to itself "Hey, look at that character. Why is there a slim woman yelling instead of an old guy? What's going on? Is she the boss or what?"The third installment of the study examined this tendency of cartoonists to draw white males in certain professions (bosses, mobsters, doctors) and white women in others (secretaries, molls, nurses).
One of the professions included was "God," represented 100% of
Divorced from this context, the reader might be left thinking that maybe the cartoon was about one of the Supremes having just died.
One could, I suppose, draw Morgan Freeman in the role of God; but he's played other characters in the movies, too, including some decidedly unholy men that the reader might have seen on screen more recently than the Bruce/Evan Almighty flicks. Still, it might work, if every cartoonist in the country were to agree that cartoon God would henceforth always be Morgan Freeman.