the most caricatured president ever?
January 26, 2006 10:12 AM   Subscribe

'He's God's gift to today's political cartoonist': Misunderestimating the President through Cartoons, an exhibition of the work of leading political cartoonists from both the UK and the United States focusing on their depictions of George Bush, opens today in London at the Political Cartoon Gallery. Watch the video report from Channel 4 and read essays on the history of political cartoons.
posted by funambulist (8 comments total)
I didn't know there *was* a Political Cartoon Gallery in London, but it's so very high on my places to see the next time I'm there. Not just because of this exhibit, but because I love political cartoons as both an art form and as a way to make timely political statements. The essays should keep me busy for a while too. This is just what I needed today. Yay, you.
posted by dejah420 at 10:49 AM on January 26, 2006

Related article in the New Statesman by Martin Rowson, cartoonist for the Guardian, Independent, and other papers, whose work is featured in the exhibition:
... 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.

(see also Rowson's essay from the gallery's website)
posted by funambulist at 10:59 AM on January 26, 2006

technical note 1: if you click on the New Statesman link, make sure you leave the window/tab open and do not reload the page - without a subscription they only allow you to view one article a day and only once

technical note 2: the Channel 4 video may not work on a Mac
posted by funambulist at 11:03 AM on January 26, 2006

Cracking post, thanks. I love Martin Rowson's work, and Steve Bell is as much a part of my morning routine as the Today programme (couldn't live without either). Hogarth, though, remains unparalled.

dejah420 said 'I didn't know there *was* a Political Cartoon Gallery in London, but it's so very high on my places to see the next time I'm there.'

Same here - I'm half-tempted to arrange a trip down south just for this show.
posted by jack_mo at 2:37 PM on January 26, 2006

Related article in the New Statesman by Martin Rowson,...

Good stuff, thanks!
posted by dejah420 at 2:41 PM on January 26, 2006

I really enjoyed this post, funambulist - thank you!
posted by madamjujujive at 9:08 PM on January 26, 2006

Great post. I'm going to try and get to this exhibition one lunchtime next week.
posted by MrMustard at 1:10 AM on January 27, 2006

If any of you manages to go, please report back :)

(I wish they made a book to go with the exhibition!)
posted by funambulist at 1:38 AM on January 27, 2006

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