by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator, Friday February 15, 2019
Embarking on this investigation it is necessary to remind us all with a simple statement:
NOT ALL EDITORIAL CARTOONS ARE MEANT TO BE FUNNY
However, given the state of editorial cartooning in recent years, especially in North America, it’s not at all surprising that readers have come to always expect a funny gag to elicit a chortle or smile at the expense of a divisive politician. Think Donald Trump.
Sometimes the easiest path for some editorial cartoonists to take is to spread the laughter around equally with the aren’t-all-our-politicians-stupid gags. Though increasingly, editorial cartoon comedy has moved out of the realm of politics, and replaced by not so hard hitting commentary on crazy weather, sports, entertainment, or any other non-political arena which will offend the least sensibilities. On editorial pages across the spectrum, newspaper editors without staff cartoonists, will often opt to run syndicated cartoons which will offend the least number of readers thereby ensuring their daily routine won’t be interrupted by irate phone calls. Sadly, a rising number of newspapers have done away with editorial cartoons, running photos, or more text in their traditional boxes.
All this said, one would think the above statement goes without saying given the popularity of editorial cartoons which pull at heartstrings. Whether it’s editorial cartoon commentary on the passing of famous personality entering the pearly gates, a feel good Hallmark card cartoon greeting on any given calendar holiday, or a tear provoking editorial cartoon following headline tragedies in the news. People should understand that editorial cartoons, watered down to provoke emotion, aren’t always meant to be funny.
So here’s another statement :
EDITORIAL CARTOONS MAKE PEOPLE ANGRY
They’re also supposed to make people think. Not in a long time has a cartoon of mine garnered as much attention on Twitter – critical comments, yet a sizeable number of likes & retweets, here, and along with a similar cartoon drawn by Michael de Adder here.
The above editorial cartoon certainly demonstrated that fact, with outrage and offence clouding logical thought. One would think it easily conveys to readers a classic scenario of power oppressing the afflicted. In order to depict the power imposing its will on the oppressed, a cartoonist sometimes has to draw uncomfortable images to convey the message.
Despite references to gag metaphors in the media to describe the situation demoted cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould presently finds herself, being unable to give her account due to Solicitor-client privilege as federal Attorney-General in the SNC-Lavalin affair, the illustrated depiction of that situation was evidently too much for some readers to stomach.
I get it. This cartoon has caused anger. It’s especially galling to supporters of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He rode into office with overwhelming support, on a feminist mandate, to improve Ottawa’s relations with indigenous peoples, and to bring about greater government openness and transparency (and as a bonus, his boxing prowess, capitalized by his supporters, is in full ridiculous view.) The cartoon exposes perceived breaches on all those fronts. His brand is under attack and the mounting doubts and speculation because of it could send the Liberal Party’s House of Commons seat count downward after the coming Federal election. While many obviously understand this message, others are lashing out giving their own misunderstood definitions of what satire is:
…And just attacking the editorial cartoonist:
Which is fine. I, like all other editorial cartoonists, have been called everything from all sides of the political spectrum.
Sure, some people might think that they appreciate satire, it only works for them if the satire isn’t exposing the folly of their political heroes. What is worrying is the growing trend by readers to spread false accusations, to report or clamp down on satire, whenever they feel offended by an editorial cartoon. This is particularly true of the toxicity that spreads on a platform like Twitter.
This one takes the absolute cake for wrangling in the RCMP, as if Canada were some police state, while making a mockery of actual hate and violence promotion.
Long gone are the #JeSuisCharlie hashtags when people added their supposed support for satire with fingers clicking the mouses, but not actually understanding what satire actually is. Despite the articles, the panel discussions, the in-depth primers on the long history of the craft and the importance of freedom of expression, the actual term “freedom of expression” is being used in a pejorative way on university campuses, and elsewhere, worldwide.
The sad reality is, it’s having an effect, made evident by the fact that editorial cartoonist positions at newspapers are in fast decline. It’s not helped when those in journalism, politics, and academia thrash about demonstrating willful ignorance of satire, opting to join a chorus of virtue signallers feigning outrage on unrelated tangents which have nothing to do with the message in the editorial cartoon.
Godwin’s Law was invoked to the writer of that last doozy. Just for the record, at least one account holder was reported for threatening violence and had their account placed on suspension. A stiff 7 day cooling off period ought to give offenders a taste of a world without Twitter, ironically.
Eventually, every political movement comes to an end to be replaced by another. The pendulum swings. Some day Justin Trudeau will be gone and his party will be replaced by another. Politics will always be around, but the trends show that with the demise of print media, satire in the form of editorial cartoons will be watered down to irrelevance, unless the easily offended aren’t resisted.
My colleague Michael de Adder opted to apologize for his cartoon. The above cartoon is cited in this Huffington Post article. The Comments section are overwhelmingly supportive of the points expressed in this cartoon, and those drawn by other editorial cartoonists. An acknowledgement of thanks goes out to the many likes, retweets, and comments in support of the cartoon on Twitter.
Also, as of this afternoon, Gerald Butts, resigned his position as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister. The plot thickens.