Although his now infamous cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed were published over four years ago, Danish caricaturist Kurt Westergaard is clearly still feeling the aftereffects of the controversy the images caused. The news that a Somali man broke into Westergaard’s home yesterday, seemingly intent on killing the cartoonist, demonstrates the continuing power of the cartoons to inflame the passions of some Islamic extremists.
This morning, Karl emailed me this, erm, ‘beauty’ from independent US cartoonist Jeff Danziger.
For those who missed it, Danziger’s cartoon refers to the overwhelmingly favourable ‘Yes’ vote the Lisbon Treaty got in the second referendum last Friday. As the sinking ship of the Irish economic success story heads for the depths in the background, the canny Celtic Tiger, replete with shamrocked hat and patter straight out of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, climbs aboard the European Union’s vessel in a bid to extract some much needed cash.
I’m posting this cartoon because I’m both bemused and perturbed by Danziger’s decision to resort to the rather nineteenth-century style portrayal of the Irish (though admittedly he does innovate somewhat with the use of the Celtic Tiger imagery. How novel! Noone’s ever done that before. Oh, hold on.). My ire at this cartoon doesn’t stem from the fact that I am Irish – I am not one of the precious types who gets uptight when our ‘culture’ is ‘insulted’ (bedad and be-the-hokey). Rather, my problem with this cartoon is that it shows a distinct lack of taste and imagination on Danziger’s part. I can’t understand the motivation for utilising iconography and references so obviously (and deliberately) reminiscent of stuff like this:
This is a cartoon by Thomas Nast from 1876, depicting the twin threats to the American nation – black slaves and Irish immigrants. (Danziger, for the record, has a bit of a track record with the old racial insults – he got into a bit of trouble previously when he drew a cartoon of Condoleezza Rice as the black ‘mammy’ in Gone With The Wind, and for a cartoon depicting an archaeologist working on a Native American site unearthing a roulette wheel.) Danziger’s use of the stereotyped chancer Irishman aside, even the feel and look of this cartoon echoes the style employed by nineteenth-century cartoonists like Nast and contributors to Punch. While the ‘Paddy’ cartoons of the nineteenth century are genuine products of their time, however, Danziger’s image just seems entirely anachronistic in this day and age – and just a bit lazy.
I’m sure there will be some out there who will argue that Danziger is being ironic, and playing with stereotypes, and so on. And of course, cartoons are supposed to have layers to them – it’s often that that makes a cartoon great. The problem is that this image is, as far as I can see, decidedly one-dimensional. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to find me crock of gold. I hear it’s somewhere around Strasbourg.
A few years ago, the Bibliotheque nationale de France (the French national library) began an ambitious project of digitisation, involving countless out-of-copyright texts, photos, prints – and, eventually, newspapers. They began to focus on digitising ‘The Daily Press’, using newspapers from as far back as the revolutionary period up to the early part of the 20th century.
I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of the Gallica project (as the digitisation project and database is called). It helped me with random references for the thesis, as well as eventually allowing me to read some of the ‘serious’ newspapers from the period from the relative comfort of my own desk. But the caricature journals always remained available only on microfilm in the library itself (not that I minded – any excuse to go to Paris). Until now, that is.
Finally, the good people at Gallica have got around to beginning to digitise the world’s first daily caricature journal, Le Charivari.
They’ve only got through its first two years so far (1832 and 1833), though some would argue that this early period contains some of the journal’s best images by Daumier, Travies, Grandville and Gavarni. The above picture is a screenshot of a drawing by Travies from the 15th March issue of 1833, as viewed through the zoom facility on Gallica.
It’s clear that the digitisation of Le Charivari will offer those interested in cartoons, caricature and their history with a brilliant new resource. The Daumier Register has done a sterling job in collecting and digitising high-quality reproductions of Honoré Daumier’s work, but through digitising the whole newspaper I feel that the BNF will (perhaps unknowingly) encourage researchers and those interested in the images to consider the relationship between text and image more than they may have done previously. It’s important that these cartoons are not just assessed as ‘pretty pictures’ or as stand-alone productions, but rather are considered in their original context.
*As an aside – in trying to come up with a decent title for this I’ve done what many 19th century satirical or popular writers and artists did when describing something that’s popular, and added ‘orama’ to the end of the topic in question.
…get stuck in with a bit of French revolutionary iconography.
A particularly bloody and rather good cartoon from the ever-gothic Martin Rowson. I like how this cartoon highlights both the ludricrous heights to which the expenses furore has risen – and, moreover, the fact that while abuse of public funds is never a good thing, the controversy is serving to act as a distraction from the far more sinister machinations of high capitalism (which has assumed the role of the tricoteuse at the foot of the guillotine).
Funnily enough, Karl told me that the day this was published there was a chap on News 24 describing the uproar over the expenses scandal as being akin to the storming of the Bastille. Naturally I won’t go into why that analogy is so totally and utterly wrong, as we’d be here til Christmas – instead I’ll just file all this stuff away for future research on the idea of the French Revolution in British popular culture in the past century or so…
Meanwhile, Bell continues to mix cartoons and photography in a fascinating way.
There will be more on cartoonists taking photographs (or, if you wish, photographers drawing cartoons) on here soon, but for the moment I’m bemused by the reactions to Bell’s Israel-related cartoons. As an aside, I think the empty podium in the image on the right is great.
Naturally, it’s a divisive and contentious issue so it’s only natural that those who comment on the cartoons (The Guardian having provided its cartoons page with a user comment section) should have rather clear-cut and often quite extreme views on the situation and, indeed, on the cartoon commenting on it. While it is fairly clear where Bell stands on the issue of the Middle East, his cartoons on the topic – as his work so often does – offers commentary that is both prescient and unsettling.
Personally, I am of the opinion that what sets really, really good political cartoonists apart from the rest – those who deal in the ‘big head, tiny body’ area of caricature – is that unsettling quality that they can bring to an image. Good political cartoons make you think. That’s why, for me at least, the rather more unanimous positive reaction from the comments section to Bell’s cartoon concerning potential punishment for expenses-abusing MPs (which appeared in the Guardian the next day) is so interesting.
Cartoons that we can all agree on and have a good laugh at = good.
Cartoons that provoke thought and might cause discussion = bad.
The ever-brilliant Steve Bell (in spite of what the occasional moaners about his ‘toilet’ humour in the comments section on the Guardian site might say) has, once again, pushed the boundaries for editorial cartooning with today’s image.
His cartoon is a response to the attempts by pro-Israeli lobbyists to put a halt to changes in the White House’s Middle East policy. Bell himself explains the basis for the image thus, as part of the body of comments made on the cartoon:
Just a point of information. Moeran is quite right. This is a photograph I took of the Qalandia, or Kalandia checkpoint on the north side of Jerusalem. All Palestinian inhabitants of the northern West Bank (should they be fortunate enough to get a pass) have to come through this thing in order to get to Jerusalem. Thus a large proportion of the working population in the Arab part of Jerusalem are detained for at least an hour, morning and evening, longer, or for much longer depending on the whim of the security forces. As you can see it is not a pleasant place to be. It reminded me of a meat processing facility. There are checkpoints like this all over the West Bank, though perhaps not as solidly built as Qalandia.
I do not want to get into the politics of this image one way or another in this discussion of it. What interests me here, rather, is how Bell takes his frequent habit of reproducing – and détourning – photographic images in his cartoons to the next level, by using an actual photograph (which, as the quote above demonstrates, he himself took) and subverting it in order to make his point. Curiously enough, the sheer reality of the image, in all its photographic starkness, reminds me of a justly famous and equally political lithograph – Daumier’s ‘Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834’, drawn in the wake of the brutal suppression of a riot in Paris.
As I noted above, Bell’s detractors may (without reason, I feel) criticise what they perceive as his reliance on ‘toilet humour’ (‘scatological’ is just that bit better a word, isn’t it?) – but to me he consistently takes his cartooning, and the very idea of what constitutes cartooning, in different, intriguing directions. Today’s image is another clear example of that.
I was perusing around a while back and saw that the Political Cartoon Gallery (run by the Political Cartoon Society) are currently hosting an exhibition of Obama-related cartoons. I won’t make it to London before 13 June, sadly, but it should be an intriguing exhibition.
On a closely related note, back in March I gave a paper here at UCD discussing satire and regime change in France in 1848 and in America in 2008/9. With a bit of editing, it may turn up here at some stage.
PS The above cartoon is by Tom Toles and appeared in the Washington Post on 26 January 2009.