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Be My Big Fat(wa) Valentine

With Danish flags and Western embassies burning across the world, a dozen people dead in Afghanistan and Pakistani police firing tear gas on students protesting the Mohammed cartoons, many editors are refusing to reprint the images, which a Danish newspaper first published in September, and which have been reprinted numerous times, particularly in Europe.

Here in the United States, cartoonist Garry Trudeau defended the right of publishers to delete material they feel is inappropriate, and insisted he would never use images of the prophet, nor imagery that mocks Jesus.

"It's not censorship, it's editing," Trudeau told the San Francisco Chronicle last week--a comment that had fellow cartoonist Steven DeCinzo accusing the Doonesbury creator of being "mainstream."

"Of course Garry Trudeau won't draw Mohammed, because he probably knows his editor won't touch it," says DeCinzo, who is equally unimpressed by the Sentinel's claim that its decision not to publish wasn't intimidation, but a matter of "good taste."

"That's tantamount to making Islamic extremists their managing editor," DeCinzo observes. "Taste is so subjective. Now, all the City council has to do is threaten to blow up Metro Santa Cruz and another critical story or cartoon will never be printed. I disagree with the idea that this is not censorship, that this is just editing. You can call it whatever you want, but you're still attacking freedom of speech."

DeCinzo worries that protests against the cartoons are a continuation of the fatwa that Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini placed on Salman Rushdie on Feb. 14, 1989, for Rushdie's depiction of the prophet Mohammed in The Satanic Verses--a fatwa that musician Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens) indirectly supported and which Iran's current spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed in early 2005. Concerned that some folks would like to see an ideological war between the West and Islam explode, and acknowledging that a lot of educated Muslims are horrified by the post-cartoon protests, DeCinzo appeals to Muslims across the world to "Go ahead, write, make speeches, do political cartoons. Express your rage that way. And I promise to do the same--as long as my editors aren't cowards."

"The power in a cartoon lies in the ridicule, so you must be willing to accept a reaction which might be violent," DeCinzo warns. "That's the idea behind freedom of speech. If you don't allow venting, have no way to express your rage, it will come out in other ways."

That said, he sees cartoons as a nonviolent vehicle for change.

"If you're talking about trying to address social injustices, incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption, sometimes the only alternative to enacting legislation and changing current laws is to do a political cartoon," DeCinzo explains. "It's one of the most nonviolent ways of expressing unhappiness with people, places and things."

Admitting that, as far as he is concerned, "religion is based on accepted lunacy and is no different from someone who believes that Elvis Presley is still alive and has been seen in Las Vegas," DeCinzo notes that he's more inclined to believe or accept intelligent writings of Muslims in regard to excess and decadence of the West.

"But if you burn down buildings in protest of a cartoon, you're losing, not gaining, a supporter. It'd be like Earth First shutting down Santa Cruz to make a point. They'd be alienating believers."

As for his own cartoon plans, DeCinzo says the current debate is "bittersweet for me because there are all kinds of metaphors. So, I could do something about Muslims and Mohammed every day for two weeks and use it as fodder for a lot of different debates in our culture."

Asked for an example, DeCinzo doesn't miss a beat. "The mullahs up on UCSC campus."

Mr. TV

Unlikely as this sounds, his real name is Jason Hypercleats. That at least is the story according to street performer Mr. TV, who has been gracing the streets of Santa Cruz for the past month or so with a wacky show involving a giant TV frame, dolls, puppets and a bunch of homophonic props, including a rock (Iraq), a shrub (George W. Bush), a chain (Dick Cheney), grains of rice (Condi Rice) and an EP, for whenever Mr. TV wants to say something "off the record," ha ha. Yes, Umbrella Man could have some serious competition on the Keep It Weird front, as Mr. TV stages Daily Liar news, a Postcard From Hell show and his Saving Ryan's Privates war movie.

A resident of Redwood City who got started down the street performer path at Venice Beach in 1998, Mr. TV sometimes sleeps in his van, and thinks of himself as "the Beatles of Street Puppeteering."

Hoping that his critique of the dangers of TV will one day get him his own TV show, Mr. TV says trying to break into that particular industry is worse that the proverbial dog-eat-dog world.

"It's more like dogs not returning other dogs' phone calls."

Mr. TV says he hails from Little Rock, Ark., where he, like everybody else in town, was related to Bill Clinton, whom he likes to call "Sex between the Bushes."

Claiming to be a libertarian, Mr. TV says he had to stand up for himself just the other day when someone began heckling his show.

"This guy started heckling me, so I told him, 'Well, your boyfriend liked it,' at which point the guy got mad. At which point I said, 'I was going to do an impression of an asshole, but you beat me to it,' at which point the heckler called the police."

When the police arrived, another guy, who was in the audience when the heckling began, told police that the heckler, not Mr. TV, was to blame.

Police are now looking for a heckler in Santa Cruz.

As told to Sarah Phelan

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From the February 15-22, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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