... All political cartoons, drawn from whatever political perspective, are engaged in a kind of voodoo - doing damage at a distance with a sharp object, in this case a pen. They are also about control, about transforming an individual politician's appearance through the primitive shape-shifting magic of caricature, and then taking the recreated individual and setting him or her up in a ludicrous, demeaning or damaging narrative of the cartoonist's own choosing, enabling the readers to laugh or sneer at their leaders. This is all an entirely healthy dimension of the sublimated civil war that has been going on since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and part of the unending dialectic between the rulers and the ruled that has been central to human society for much longer. So, without getting too pompous about it, political cartoons are simultaneously political assassination without the blood and a kind of carnivalesque feast of fools, cutting great men down to size and thus, in some vague, indefinable way, simply making us feel better.
We're getting into murkier and murkier psychological waters here. For instance, the very visual nature of the medium makes people react quite differently to a brutal picture of, say, George Bush from the way they do to any amount of harsh, written words. Politicians mostly recognise this, and often buy cartoons of themselves, partly as a way of reinforcing their status (or maybe even their existence: Low once observed that "politicians are all waxworks; it's the cartoonists who bring them to life"). But they also do it to diffuse the voodoo, as a kind of therapeutic potlatch ceremony, and invariably hang the bad magic in their toilets.
I have put too much shit in my cartoons for either the peace of mind of my editors or the stomachs of my readers, so I will leave that thought hanging there. To get back to my perverted love of George W Bush, however, it's clear that the political cartoon has an enduring power to amuse, comfort, outrage and disgust in equal proportion. A brief stroll through the blogosphere will reveal cartoons by Steve Bell and me illuminating legion websites. Where they've nicked the image with approval, there is usually little comment. However, in what has become known, in a felicitous phrase, as "the conservative echo chamber", the comments pour out: "sick", "outrageous", "disgusting", "de-ranged", "repellent" and (my particular favourite) "morally imbecilic" give you a general flavour of the depths of reaction to what are essentially stupid little drawings of the American leader.
So though God only knows what Dubbya would make of the cartoons on display in "Misunderestimating the President", I still love him, needless to say, for making them all possible.
« Older BBC News: British unconvinced on evolution... | Bad Landlords, across the US... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt