The story was posted last week by the Saskatchewan regional office of the CBC, under the headline “2 PPC candidates tweet cartoon of Jagmeet Singh wearing turban with bomb on it“. Naturally, it evoked memories of the Danish cartoon controversy, and without seeing the cartoon I wondered, who the heck would draw that?
From left to right is a facial depiction of Jagmeet Singh by Theo Moudakis, altered to show a bomb in his turban, my caricature face of Justin Trudeau, John Fewings caricature of Andrew Scheer, and then another drawn by me of Maxime Bernier. I’ve linked my drawings to their original cartoons.
Turns out to be one of those Photo-chopped amalgams of various unauthorized repurposings to create what has increasing become acceptable in online political discourse: the meme.
Those who follow this blog know that we in the editorial cartooning world don’t take kindly to the strange behaviour that compels people to make and share their efforts to create these ugly renderings. I have written much over the years against this practice over and over.
While the source of the above is unknown, two candidates running for the PPC, Rob Lussier (Brandon-Souris), and Mark Friesen (Saskatoon-Grasswood) chose to retweet an inflammatory message linking Singh to terrorism, and continue to stand by them as an appropriate line to supporters. Obviously, the xenophobic tactic of spreading fear about Sikhs or Muslims or anybody that happens to wear a turban being aligned to terrorism is a racist one. The unauthorized use of the work of others is a secondary offence to a more serious one of spreading hate.
Alas, this is the peril of posting work on the Internet. When satire is turned around for partisan gain, or worse, used to spread hate. Be they chopped up editorial cartoons or photographs, memes are unsigned, repurposed imagery cluttering the online world. Yet, they’ve become a subject of study as they become permanently part of the election cycle (practically perpetual outside of the usual 6 week campaign period.) So when my local paper posts an article under the headline Why political memes matter to this federal election reporting scientific exploration, it gives credence to the concept of memes.
Over the past few years write-ups have suggested that memes have become the political cartoon of the era and that the work editorial cartoons draw face an ‘existential threat’ from advertisers and memes.
Amongst the chatter within the tiny group of people who still draw editorial cartoons for a living there is universal disdain for these perspectives. While memes are generally frowned upon there are, admittedly, some pretty hilarious memes, non-political memes that is, which are quite effective in getting a point across, quick and dirty, with a wide audience. Which is, ironically, the basic goal of an editorial cartoonist in drawing a cartoon.
The difference, however, when it comes to political memes, is that they’re used for ideological or partisan purposes, as opposed to satire. The top rendering is a case in point, and indeed all of the other repurposed photo-cropping of editorial cartoons I’ve awarded Jackass awards to are partisan regurgitations. Meme creators are anonymous, the images they use are ripoffs, and only a fraction of time is spent whipping up memes as opposed to editorial cartoons.
Editorial Cartoonists are mistakenly regarded by some as being partisans. We’re supposed to skewer the people with power, to punch up, no matter what political party happens to be in charge of the levers of government. At the same time, we shouldn’t necessarily work as agent provocateurs for the opposition. I think editorial cartoonists are expected to satirize and draw out folly along all sides of the legislature. To shoot editorial cartoon barbs from a constant point of the political spectrum and align oneself to a particular party, is in effect being partisan, creating propaganda, as opposed to satire. One need only look through a editorial cartoonist’s body of work to differentiate a satirist from a propagandist. Take this so & so as a prime example. Those of the latter group might as well call themselves political meme creators.
Political memes will never take over editorial cartoons, because propaganda will never replace satire. Can we just stop making the comparisons?