Rants and Whimsy

Cartoons and Offence

July 28, 2015


I occasionally listen to podcasts. They’re usually skeptical podcasts, because there are some good quality ones out there that discuss things that make you feel smarter. I’m looking at you Skeptics Guide To The Universe. At some point in this skepticism ear-gasm I discovered “Skeptics in the Pub” and realised there was even a Greenwich chapter. I like skepticism. I like listening to smart stuff. I adore pubs. Why did it take me so long to join the fray?

Well, you may remember that day at the beginning of July when you were walking down the road and were suddenly obstructed by bulbous lumps around your ankles. The day it was so hot that your tits melted off. Yep, that was the day I chose to sit in a pub with my husband and a pack of fabulous skeptics listening to a lecture about cartooning.

Was it worth it? Hell to the yes. Martin Rowson, cartoonist at The Guardian among other things, was discussing cartooning and offence, which you’ll appreciate, is a bit of an interesting topic given the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo in January. My husband, Mark, has been greatly influenced by Martin as a cartoonist since his publication of Lower than Vermin in the 80s (I’m more of a Tristram Shandy girl myself) so we decided to drop along, give a few pounds to the skeptics as a donation, and hear what the man had to say.

Now, this is isn’t the first time I’ve written about cartooning. There are some things that are greater than a simple hobby. Some things take over your life, develop their own persona and make you realise the man you married isn’t just the man you married but also his alter-ego cartoonist character who’s a bit of a prick but he’s funny and can draw so worth keeping around. (Seriously, he can whip up a Christmas card for those people we forgot to get one for at a moment’s notice and they always think it’s amazing because it’s hand made and don’t suspect a thing).

I digress. I’m just trying to say that I’ve always been fond of cartooning. I remember enjoying my art history lectures on Daumier, but it wasn’t a passion until I met Mark and went through his library of cartoon books and started meeting other cartoonists with him. How I feel watching cartoonists chat to each other is possibly something akin to men watching lesbian pornography. I shouldn’t really be there or be involved, it’s not my area of expertise, but the more I learn the more I like. I try to be involved but I just don’t have the skill set to be part of the action. Yes, that was a terrible comparison, but it’s 6am so bite me.

Martin went through a little history of cartooning and mockery with his presentation, from cave paintings to some of his own present day examples. It’s amazing how much power a few lines carefully arranged on a sheet of paper to evoke a sense of recognition can be. It’s interesting how angry people become when the medium is so visual.

For instance, if I were to blog and mention that <your name> loves putting pineapples up their bottom, you’d probably be a little upset. I’d get some confused and angry comments. However, I’m sure you’d be at least 6 times more incensed if I went to the trouble of drawing a nasty little caricature that was recognisably you putting pineapples up your bottom. While we can all easily imagine you putting pineapples up your bottom, a visual would somehow offend you more than the words.

As we all know, people on the internet love being offended and taking action on this offence, whether by firing off a few angry tweets or going the full hog and emailing death threats. The medium is so immediate that folks feel they should tell everyone about their offence like it matters, right now while the anger is still fresh! One wonders though, if they had to get off their arse and actually write something, print it or pen it, go to the post office get a stamp put it in an envelope and send it, would they get bored halfway through the process and go eat some cheese instead? Probably. Well, I hope so. How long can you really stay angry at someone you don’t know because they drew a picture of someone else you don’t know with large ears?

The offence taken at political cartoons is particularly interesting, as many political cartoons are supposed to be somewhat offensive. If ire wasn’t raised they wouldn’t be doing their job. Caricatures are gruesome, shit is smeared liberally (not literally) around the canvas and politicians are mercilessly mocked. But this is a good thing. Politicians need to be mercilessly mocked. They have so much power over our lives and our livelihoods that they need to be reminded that they’re not gods and that the people still hold the power. Ok, maybe just the power to mock and draw you at stool, but that’s still power!

Martin spoke about the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the big decision of what to cartoon the very next day. All eyes were on political cartoonists; who would draw Mohammed? Who would be too afraid? Some idiots almost felt they were owed a drawing of Mohammed in the paper in order justify their own political leanings and to hell with the danger that would bring to the cartoonists, their families, and the people who work in newspaper offices, both here and in the middle east. Instead of calmly thinking things through or asking why, they scream “I’m offended” from the rooftops.

People seek validation for this offence they’ve taken. It seems to come from a strange, mistaken belief that every thing should be for them. Most people you see in everyday life can see a picture they don’t like, or an article they disagree with on a trivial level and just get on with living. But if you think the world revolves around you then things you don’t like have to be changed, until presumably the world is full of only things that you agree with and everyone has the same opinion. Sounds pretty dull, huh?

Being offended can be good. It can spark you into action to change the wrongs you see in the world, but the action you take has to be sensible. Telling someone you don’t like their cartoons when thousands of others clearly do is pretty pointless. It’s merely sharing a nasty opinion with someone who isn’t interested in hearing it. Having a reasoned political debate with someone over a subject raised in a cartoon is better, unless your only argument is that you’re terribly offended and the cartoonist’s mother is a whore. Not useful to anyone.

Replying to someone who has raised a valid point is fine. It sparks healthy debate. Replying to someone who just wants the world to know they’re offended only feeds the fire. They realise they’ve been heard, they’ve made a mark rather than just shouting into the abyss. I first realised this fact when I was a teenager dealing with boys. There is nothing worse than not having an answer or being ignored, especially if you’ve just sent a text message to someone you fancy. It’s much worse than getting a nasty answer or having an argument, because that gives you new information, something to feed off and something to try and justify any shitty behaviour you might be planning. When you don’t get an answer you’re left to stew in your own juices without any feedback or acknowledgement that you’ve even made a ripple.

It’s understandable to a degree. We all have a need to be heard, to feel like our opinion matters. That’s why we blog, that’s why people cartoon. We need to say “hey, this is how I feel about this”. Then we build connections as other people come out of the woodwork and agree or debate with us. Laughing and mocking something only works if others laugh with you. I think that’s why people kill cartoonists, because it’s a very effective way of getting a message across.

To sum up, please stop killing cartoonists. They’re bloody fantastic. Even the ones who draw you with pineapples.

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