Thursday, 14 January 2016

On satire and political cartooning

So, is Charlie Hebdo lampooning the sort of rightwing, low effort mindset that would see a drowned toddler as a potential sex attacker?  Did their Boko Haram kidnap victims cartoon satirise the sort of mindset that could only see the young women as potential 'benefit bludgers'?

The trouble with these sort of cartoons is they are open to misinterpretation - and some people will not understand the satire and will see them as racist and /or grossly insensitive.  I suspect the CH cartoonists think that is also part of the joke. They intend their cartoons to be lampoons of the sort of right wing, low effort mindset that turns even helpless victims into a threat - but the joke is also on the humourless and the literalists who fail to understand the satire.

This Nisbett cartoon, printed in the Christchurch Press, sparked off a row in New Zealand, with a lot of people seeing it as reflecting and reinforcing negative ethnic stereotypes. 

Race Relations Commissioner, Susan Devoy, declared it to be 'tasteless but not racist.' It is not the only one on this theme.

Following the Charlie Hebdo logic - Nisbett could have defended himself by claiming to be lampooning the sort of racist, right wing, low effort thinkers who believe all poor brown people are feckless boozers, smokers and gamblers.  

He was of course doing no such thing. Far too often he turns his cartooning skills on the powerless and in so doing reinforces harmful, negative stereotypes.  

This is not speaking truth to power. It is shielding the powerful by turning attention on the powerless and exposing them to ridicule and hostility.

What makes me believe the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are not meant to be interpreted as attacks on kidnap victims or drowned toddlers is that the magazine's raison d'ĂȘtre is to speak truth to power.  Unfortunately the way it chooses to speak may be misinterpreted as attacking and stereotyping power's victims.

I'm a simple soul. I like my political cartoons to be unambiguous. They may be subtle and multi-layered, they may be stick figures or superbly executed drawings but the best of them are without guile. 

I don't like the use of ugly caricatures - unless they are of bigots, rich bastards or white hunters - in which case, there's no such thing as 'too ugly'. 

Bottom line for me is - I get what CH is trying to do but I really don't much like their way of doing it. 

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