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Cartoon Culture Gone Sour
Last uploaded : Wednesday 1st Jan 2003 at 04:00
Contributed by : Carol Gould



Cartoons have been the mainstay of a free press but in times of evil they have been used to defame ethnic groups and individuals. The repugnant Joseph Goebbels used satire to defame the Jewish people.

Conversely, Benjamin Franklin would have loved the proliferation of witty and tasteful political cartoons in this era of computer and digital technology.

Notwithstanding this, we at this magazine have become increasingly worried about the nature of material used in British cartoon culture. American cartoonists have been coming up with thoughtful and usually hilarious reflections on the current White House and Cabinet. One awaits with eager anticipation the many spoofs of the Bush team -- even if one is a staunch supporter of the Republican administration there is fun to be had at the expense of the men and women who make up the ‘War Cabinet’ just as there was mirth to be derived from the Clinton gang.

The British cartoonist has taken to parodying the Bush White House with increasing ferocity and perversity. This came to a head on 23 December 2002 when ‘The Guardian’ published a large cartoon by Cole (‘after Frued’ as he calls himself) entitled ‘Lap Dog,’ depicting a grotesque-looking President Bush in drag lying on a couch draped in an American flag. He/she has one large breast exposed, from which is spewing milk. The milk is being lapped up by a dog lying against his/her semi-bare leg; one assumes the dog is Tony Blair. The man/woman Bush is holding a copy of ‘The Guardian’ with the headline ‘British Forces War Alert.’

As it happens, my neighbour’s son had been called up to the Gulf and the usual emotions of a departure at Christmas had affected me, even though I am not family. I found the cartoon depraved and insulting. The troops who have left for that region may not wish to go but they are doing their duty and showing great courage. They are likely to have to endure many different injections for horrific illnesses, as we sit and eat our Christmas turkey. This cartoon went beyond the realms of decency and lent nothing to the debate on Iraq. I cannot imagine any American newspaper depicting a British leader, no matter how despised he might be, in such a degrading context.

On Christmas Eve Day 2002 ‘The Independent’ published a cartoon by Dave Brown showing President Bush dressed as Santa Claus with his posterior up in the air on which is printed ‘Merry Xmas.’ He has a grotesque face and is carrying a sack filled with missiles and is saying ‘Ho ho ho.‘ Again, I see nothing in this that brings humour or irony to the Iraq debate.

Though not a cartoon, the front page of The Daily Mirror, which throughout the year has been relentless in its attacks on America, shows President Bush holding a dog on whose face has been superimposed that of Tony Blair. The caption is ‘Warkies!’ (Let’s go for a walk.’) Inside is a long article by John Pilger describing the destruction that is being wreaked upon Iraq by British and American air raids. This is acceptable in a free society -- John Pilger makes some valid points -- but there is never any mention of the constant harassment being endured by these same pilots from relentless Iraqi bombardment in the no-fly zones monitored by the United Nations.

So what are we trying to say here? We enjoy press freedom but in what direction is the world going? Why is Bush the perpetual villain and not Mugabe, Gaddafy, Arafat, Saddam or Assad of Syria? Bush may not be the President many Americans and Europeans wanted but is he the personification of evil? I think not. The ugly and sadistic websites and chatrooms that have cropped up since the ascension of Bush Junior go beyond healthy debate on his foibles. They pray regularly that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld be ‘soon drowning in pools of their own blood’ but spend precious little time in debate about the appalling regimes that oppress women and children around the globe.

I abhor satire that degrades Western leaders who, even in the bumbling manner of Dubya are trying to keep the forces of medieval extremism at bay, and we beseech the editors of papers like ‘The Guardian’ and ‘The Daily Mirror’ to look into their hearts and re-evaluate who the real goodies and baddies are.


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