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Archive for May, 2009

…get stuck in with a bit of French revolutionary iconography.
Martin Rowson, The Guardian, 15 May 2009

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.
Steve Bell, 13 May 2009
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.

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Steve Bell, The Guardian, 7 May 2009

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.
Daumier, Rue Transnonain

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.

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Yes icon

Tom Toles, 26 January 2009

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.

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Daumier's 'Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries'

Ah, the joy of the first proper post. I sat for a bit, pondering which of the many cartoons I have come across would be ideal to start off with. And then I realised that the answer was right in front of me – in the header on this page, in fact.

In most situations, the received wisdom tells you to write about what you know. Being a French cartoon from 1848, I know this image rather well at this stage. It features in my thesis, has turned up in several of my papers, and is probably the most famous cartoon to come out of the Second Republic (the various representations of Napoleon III and his promoter Ratapoil aside, but more about them in due course). In February 1848 several days of street fighting in Paris escalated into a revolution, replacing the constitutional monarchy with France’s second attempt at a republic. This cartoon appeared on 4 March 1848 in the French satirical daily Le Charivari, and was drawn by that paper’s most famous contributor, Honoré Daumier. Its title, ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’, loosely translates as ‘The Parisian kid at the Tuileries Palace’. The caption, in a similarly loose translation, means ‘Oh! it’s so comfy here!’

Those are the basic facts, though this is by no means a basic image. In it, Daumier, a committed moderate republican, offers his support to the newly-founded Second French Republic by portraying the revolutionary people of Paris in a joyous, friendly, non-threatening way. The image purports to depict a scene from the invasion by the revolutionary crowd of the Tuileries palace in central Paris following the abdication of the king, Louis-Philippe.

At the heart of the image is the classic nineteenth-century figure of the gamin de Paris or ‘Parisian kid’, seen perhaps most famously in Delacroix’s painting of the 1830 revolution, ‘Liberty Leading the People’ and in the character of Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The gamin is a street kid, a mixture of mischief and decency who turns up in a lot of contemporary images of revolutionary activity. While it can be argued – particularly by those keen on the idea of Daumier as a constant advocate of left-wing ideas – that the gamin represents the final triumph of the people over monarchical rule, it is also clear that his purpose here is to lend the revolution, and particularly the republic it created, a cheerful, friendly face. Revolutionary activity is, according to this cartoon, less a matter of bloodshed, violence and wanton destruction than a pleasant, mildly raucous street party to which everyone is invited.

In the context of the early days of the Republic, the promotion of this rather happy-clappy image of the revolution and the new regime was of key importance in ensuring its future survival, given the violent connotations the idea of the republic had acquired in France as a result of the Terror during the first Revolution. The Second Republic, keen to distance itself from the dictatorial reputation of Robespierre and his contemporaries, needed to bring the majority of the French populace round to its side in other ways. Negating the presence of violence and control in representations of the republic’s founding moment, the government felt, would be a key part of this process.

What is also intriguing about this image in a more general sense is its status as a cartoon of high quality issued in support of the powers that be. Usually, good satire is oppositional satire (and usually left-wing, at that). Of course, there’s always the matter of whether ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’ even counts as satire at all. But that’s another discussion entirely…

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