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THE POWER OF POLITICAL CARTOONS

In one session at the June convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Victor S. Navasky, the author of The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power and the former editor of The Nation, began by explaining what got him started on the book project. It was the now infamous David Levine cartoon that showed Henry Kissinger, an ecstatic expression on his face, in flagrante delicto with a woman whose head is the globe of Earth — ergo, Kissinger is screwing the World.

When Navasky insisted on publishing the cartoon in The Nation, his staff rebelled. We react more quickly (and more emotionally) to caricatures than to photographs, he said. But Navasky, although permitting a long staff discussion of the cartoon (including an encore with Levine present), published it anyhow.

He decided, upon reflection, that what most enraged the cartoon’s critics was that it was a cartoon, a drawing intended to be funny. Making fun of something was offensive, apparently. And Navasky concluded that a similar sentiment inspired worldwide Muslim protest against the notorious Danish Dozen, cartoons of Muhammad published in 2005 in a Danish newspaper, ostensibly to demonstrate freedom of speech and the press.

AAECsalt0002He showed several cartoons that were famous for getting their cartoonists in trouble: among them, Art Young’s wanted poster for Christ; Robert Minor’s “Perfect Soldier”(which is also a perfect cartoon blend of word and picture, neither making much sense without the other); David Low’s Hitler cartoons (which inspired Hitler to demand that Low be fired); Jews depicted as vermin in Nazi magazines; Zapiro’s celebrated picture showing South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, about to rape Justice.

Navasky explained the basis of powerful person’s annoyance at being cartooned: Hitler, he said, simply didn’t want to be portrayed as an ass.

Navasky concluded with some questions that he didn’t answer:

In a medium deploying stereotypes, how does one deal with racial stereotypes?

Where do editors draw the line about what to print and what not to print?f

How does one reconcile the situation in which, typically, pictures can be more powerful than words?

More about the AAEC Convention is served up in Rants & Raves Op. 313 at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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