John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 2

February 15, 2010 in Comment

In the second part of his series on wit and wisdom (read part one here) PCOer John Jensen pinpoints a crucial difference between the British and European senses of humour

Cartoon competitions are a great tourist draw. In lands where overt or even covert censorship persists, an appearance is given that freedom of speech is encouraged. It isn’t.

The exhibitions are usually broad generalisations filled with visual euphemisms: there are countless brick walls, endless rolls of barbed wire, and doves of peace in need of a vet.

Words are not wanted here, so that the cartoons can speak to everyone. But not everyone appreciates the same visual language. UK cartoonists contribute to many of the exhibitions but their work is in a minority and is markedly refreshingly different to that from most European cartoonists.

Brits like humour, Europeans appreciate wit. Wit is serious stuff, humour is fun. They are two different worlds. Both worlds, the witty and the humorous, are limited by the subjects that are set: global warming, freedom of speech, pollution, sexual liberation, female emancipation, domesticity in today’s world … and on and on.

The cartoons are not only wordless, they are timeless – immediate topicality is not an option – and there must be nothing directly political. The ingenuity of the cartoonists is stretched to the limit and the limits are much the same as those felt by the surrealists: there is only so much symbolism to go around.

Eventually the terrain looks all too familiar. Beautiful draughtsmanship can’t hide threadbare ideas.

What do you think about what John is saying? Have your say in the comments below. The final part of John Jensen’s article will appear on Bloghorn soon.

5 responses to John Jensen on wit and wisdom: Part 2

  1. Tidy spoke of tulips and tank barrels, but might a part of the European/UK be caused by things linguistic ?

  2. I agree with John’s sentiments. It’s almost impossible to produce those ‘timeless, captionless’ cartoons without revisiting the cliched symbolism that these international competition themes demand.

    It’s the creative equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest. Little relevance to the domestic market.

  3. hear hear

  4. The European/UK divide isn’t a lniguistic thing. One side has been (or is) oppressed. Our side hasn’t been (nearly as much!). When you’re oppressed your humour goes underground and becomes euphemistic and weird.
    I don’t think cartoons can be compared to jazz, at least as far as imagery is concerned. Bricks, iron bars and barbed wire, no matter how ingeniously viewed, do not take you on the equivalent of a musical mystery tour.
    As for Pete Dredge agreeing with me, well, I agree with him entirely!

  5. I think we’re all agreed on that then, John. Agreed?

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