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Send in the Clowns?

December 8, 2019 in Comment, Events

Cartoon by © Rupert Besley

Rupert Besley writes:

[a personal viewpoint, not purporting in any way to represent the opinions of the PCO]

For the first time in my life I’m seriously wondering if humour might not be doing more harm than good. That’s a worrying thought and no conclusion I would ever wish to reach. I get to this point down the following route.

The expert analysis of recognised independent think-tanks all seems to agree that Brexit, hard or soft, will leave the country’s economy worse off than before and that those who will suffer most are those already hardest hit and at the bottom of the pile. And yet the parties pursuing this course (Conservative and Brexit) are those that have been riding high in the polls and especially so in the least well-off areas.

I can think of only one explanation for this and it comes in three parts.

Firstly, television has turned politics into a celebrity contest. The two-second conclusions of grassroots opinion foisted on us each day by television news are by their nature superficial and short. Vox pop verdicts may do people a disservice, but from them it seems that large numbers of voters are deciding not on policy or even party but just on the personality of each leader.

Next, no such Johnson-Corbyn dance-off begins on an even footing. The UK press, predominantly in right-wing hands, has seen to that. Boris Johnson, one of their own, is portrayed as loveable chump, accorded the status of national treasure and first-name recognition. The cameras love him, as he does them. For years the most widely read papers in this country have found space each day to vilify Corbyn (surname only), made out to be some kind of crazed communist blend of racist and terrorist. (The shame, perhaps, is that he himself does not do personal attacks on anyone.)

Finally, in any such competition, the guy-in-the-pub, say-it-straight, got-all-the-answers funster image of a Johnson or a Farage will come across to many (or any who don’t know them) as more appealing than the duller, dour, more complicated and apparently humourless mode of a Corbyn.  What else is there to explain the strong personal lead Johnson enjoys in the polls, regardless of his track record? Baffled by the complexities of the political situation and bored with its repetitiveness, people are looking instead for good cheer and light relief.

I accept that we live in an age when a political leader has to have ‘personality’ and be  good on television. They need that to carry the country with them. Things were different in the world I came into. Attlee was a modest man and self-effacing. Of him it was said, ‘An empty taxi drew up in Downing St and Clement Attlee stepped out.’  Stafford Cripps was not known for his laddishness. But, as Chancellor, he is credited with laying the foundations of Britain’s post-war economic prosperity. The Attlee government, which included the likes of Nye Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell and Herbert Morrison, created the NHS and greatly expanded the welfare state. Earnest, high-minded politicians, intent on tackling the ills of the world – but none of them great for a larf.

How might it have been, one wonders, if in those post-war decades the electorate had gone instead for the characters played by the most popular comics of the day? Ken Dodd for Chancellor, perhaps. Or Charlie Drake? Arthur Askey for PM or maybe Bernard Bresslaw. I only arsked.

Daryl Cagle – a response

October 8, 2010 in Comment, News

Bloghorn Opinion logoBloghorn asked cartoonist Rod McKie for a opinion piece following our recent post about US cartoonist Daryl Cagle’s controversial view of non-new world cartoonists. Our thanks to Rod for agreeing. The following is an edited extract of his full submission and Bloghorn has added the links.

I do a lot of my cartooning work in the US, and have, in the past, described many editorial cartoons as pointless, irrelevant, and even of taking up space where (my, not your) comic strips or gag cartoons should be.

That view is of course a bit of a caricature of what I actually think, and it is caricatures that we are dealing with in terms of this debate; Daryl’s caricature of the “rest of the world’s cartoons”, and a lot of angry editorial cartoonists from the rest of the world’s caricature of Daryl Cagle, and his arrogant assertions about US political humour. As always though, when we are dealing with caricatures, there is a germ of truth in the over-simplified distinctions; some “wit” just does not translate beyond its own borders, and some editorial cartoons in US newspapers are very good, excellent even.

But I’m not going to go along with caricatures of Daryl Cagle himself. The reason I know about the plight of Egyptian cartoonist Essam Hanafy, who was imprisoned for drawing a cartoon that was critical of the Egyptian Agriculture minister, and Iranian cartoonist Nik Ahang-Kowsar, who was imprisoned for making fun of a popular conservative cleric, is because I read about them on Daryl’s site, which fully supports the work of Robert Russell and The Cartoonists Rights Movement.

What does slightly bewilder me, though, is Daryl’s defence of editorial “…cartoons about Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears with no underwear…” as a sign of a superior form of editorial cartooning, and his belief that such drawings, presumably because they are some small part of pop culture, are part of the political debate. It troubles me that Daryl seems to be celebrating a form of dumbed-down, celebrity-obsessed, anodyne, editorial filler cartoon, presumably for the purposes of syndication, as some kind of high-cultural achievement. Perhaps I am mistaken, but it strikes me that the sort of isolationist editorial cartoon Daryl advocates are those Art Spiegelman foresaw coming to a paper near you, with his description, after he resigned from The New Yorker to protest about the “widespread conformism” of the United States media, of the US media as “conservative and timid”.

As for why some cartoonists from overseas communicate their message in wordless cartoons, employing symbolism and metaphor, well that’s simple enough, LANGUAGE DIFFICULTIES. But there is also a deeper, darker secondary reason for this, and it is one that Daryl Cagle should never forget; in his country it is simply the cartoons that get “killed” when the message is too overtly political, not the cartoonist.

Bloghorn cartoon on differences in humour

I will leave it to my colleagues to point out that Daryl’s belief that editorial cartoonists in the UK, and further afield, are amateur hobbyists who get paid in turnips or some similar object in lieu of actual currency, is simply ridiculous. I will leave it to my colleagues because I get annoyed just thinking about how much some editorial cartoonists get paid, in the UK and in the US. I will leave it to my colleagues because you have no idea how much it pains me to have to support editorial cartoonists, many of whom I think are overpaid and overindulged brats at the best of times.

Bloghorn thanks Rod for time taken and invites comments below. All comments are subject to moderation and editing if we think it is needed.

Profile photo of Royston

by Royston

Phill Jupitus discusses "joke theft"

February 19, 2009 in News

foghorn_for_posting2All cartoonists have at some point seen a cartoon and thought, Hey, that’s my joke! But how often is it theft and how often simple coincidence? Comedian and occasional cartoonist Phill Jupitus discusses the business of stealing laughs at the Guardian website.

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