July 23, 2011

Offensive Times Cartoon

Writing about web page http://yfrog.com/kh6omcj

I know I am a couple of days late on this but did anyone see the Times cartoon from last week commenting on the Somalia famine situation and the phone-hacking scandal? In case you didn’t here’s a shot of it:


Via twitter.com/SaiPang

It’s amazing on how many levels this is a bad cartoon, several of which spill over into being actually offensive. The editor should have sent it back with multiple revisions requested, and ideally it should have been spiked completely.

Whenever I see political and satirical cartoons I am always bearing in mind something Martin Rowson of The Guardian said in a talk I saw five years ago. Commenting on the recent controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, Rowson said he felt it was the cartoonist’s job to attack those worthy of attack, and that these were the people in power, the people more powerful than the cartoonist. In the case of the Mohammed cartoons this hadn’t happened – as Mohammed is dead it wasn’t him (a powerful religious and military figure) being attacked but followers of his religion, ordinary Muslims who would be in a position of less power than the cartoonists were. Drawing George W Bush as a chimp, as Steve Bell is wont to do, is fine because Bush is a powerful man, but ordinary people with no recourse to reply are not.

And so to the Times cartoon. Obviously it is not a direct attack on the Somali people themselves, but look at the depicted children. Each identical in appearance, and looking like caricatures at that. There are almost overtones of ‘all foreigners look the same’. It doesn’t take much to make people look different in cartoons, and it doesn’t take much to make the people you are drawing look like, oh I don’t know, actual humans.

Then there’s the comparison of the famine with the phone-hacking case. Obviously both are serious. Endemic corruption in a country’s government, press and police can’t be easily dismissed as trivia and fluff despite the efforts of some, mostly journalists associated with News International and its outlets. I am not going to argue, however, that it is more serious than the famine because, quite simply, it isn’t. On the surface this makes the cartoon’s heavy-handed and poorly drawn sentiment agreeable.

But there’s more to it than that. This week only saw the declaration of famine. Official bodies have admitted this was a last resort. As the BBC reported -

The BBC’s Africa correspondent Andrew Harding says the emotive word “famine” is used rarely and carefully by humanitarian organisations, and it is the first time since 1992 that the word has been applied to a situation in Somalia.

The situation in east Africa hasn’t suddenly crept up on us. The Today program was reporting on the imminent announcement of famine a week before it was official, and the crisis itself has been developing for years in a country with no proper government and with militias keeping international aid efforts out.

Yes, the media has been awash with the phone-hacking scandal over these last few weeks, but can it be argued that it’s not a hugely important event? It’s certainly more important and more significant than the Royal wedding or Cheryl Cole’s ongoing problems with X Factor USA/Ashley Cole/breaking a nail. A truly honest cartoon would take this into account, and a truly attentive cartoonist would have highlighted the Somalia situation earlier. As it is it just comes across as a News International employee trying to divert attention from the serious wrongdoings of their bosses.

Anyway, if you only click on one link from this post, make it this one: https://www.donate.bt.com/DEC/dec_form_eaca.html?p_form_id=DEC01 Aid agencies may not currently be able to get into the affected areas, but they need to be prepared in case they do, or if the people in these areas can escape from the combination of environmental and human hostility.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Simon

    I think I agree over what Rowson said. I find just about every piece of political satire to be reliant on the most rudimentary of stereotypes and obvious of punchlines that I get turned off by it even if it has a good point. However, it does hold a lot more weight to attack those who are more powerful than us as it points people to the root of the problem rather than those who are either of lesser power or have become followers due to this powerful person. I have a bit more respect for those who do that even if their satire turns out to be shite. I’m not sure if this should generally cast aside those of lesser power and let them get off free though. I think a combination of the things with an emphasis on the powerful could work. It could seem much more rounded and highlight the enormity of the situation too rather than isolating it to just those who have powerful positions. I’m sure you could make subtle references to that without the need to include ones of lesser power though.

    Everything else you’ve written is bang on to me. It was right to have the phone hacking stuff as a story with a lot of coverage. The fact that this is coming from something which have the ability to colour our opinions on any situation going on in the world strengthen the priority to have it near the top as well.

    I’ve said power a lot here. I hope I get a ring from Captain Planet.

    Simon :)

    01 Aug 2011, 19:46


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