Vitaly Podvitsky is a cartoonist rom St. Petersburg, Russia, working for RIA Novosti and Sputnik International. His cartoons give a Russian perspective on world news.
This post is a guest contribution by Italian cartoonist Emanuele Del Rosso.
Lately I’ve been thinking quite a lot about a Woody Allen’s sketch on Nazis, from the movie Manhattan.
Still from Manhattan.
At the opening of an exhibition, Isaac Davis, the protagonist, is having a chat with some other guests, and says: “Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? […] We should go down there, get some guys together, ya know, get some bricks and baseball bats, and really explain things to 'em.” At this point another guest replies: “There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times, just devastating.” And Isaac goes on: “ Whoa, whoa. A satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point of it.” Then the other guest sticks to her believe that satire “is always better than physical force.” But Isaac disagrees, saying: “No, physical force is always better with Nazis.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, lately. The sketch is a perfect example of what I believe satire is. The conversation suggests violence is better than satire to deal with Nazis, but, because this is a sketch, physical violence over Nazis is named, but it is never applied. The suggestion of physical violence is itself satire, as within the sketch it is suggested that Nazis are too stupid for satire to be effective. I found it really clever.
But the problem Woody Allen raises, the question if satire is effective on Nazis, still stands and takes the shape, for me, of this broader and trickier question: Is satire ineffective when applied to a certain kind of people?
Of course I believe in the power of satire – I’m a political cartoonist myself, I couldn’t think otherwise – in its power of making people think, pointing out the contradictions and ineptitude of the targets.
On the other hand, as Emily Nussbaum wrote in the New Yorker, it is jokes and humor that helped a neo-fascist strongman to sit in one of the most important – if not the most important – chairs in the world. “Nazis were humorless,” she says, and “jokes were a superior way to tell the truth.” But now all has changed, and it is easy to hide behind a joke, or to justify having said or done something awful by simply saying that it was meant as a joke no one understood. Say I'm insulting, as Berlusconi did, another minister, calling her a monkey for her African origins: a joke, dudes! Say I’m mocking a reporter with health problems, imitating his moves in front of the world, and say I’m the President of the United States: c’mon, it’s a joke! No one should take these things so seriously, and if you do you’re a humorless Nazi.
The problem is that, going this way, making political cartoons becomes a drag. It is true that with people like Trump in the Oval Office there will be material for thousands of cartoons, but the problem he poses for the effectiveness of such cartoons is, I’m afraid, quite clear.
First of all, it is impossible to mock him. Caricatures come too easy, because he is a real clown and people don’t care. After all, mocking someone's appearance is exactly what he is blamed for, so doing the same cannot really help – I’m surprised many cartoonists are not getting this. Concentrating on his on his wavy hair or his orange complexion is useless. Many satirists made this mistake, from The Simpsons to the New Yorker. He’s OK with that, everyone is OK with that, and rightly so.
Cartoon by Mike Luckovich.
But then, there are other things that are not OK. On those, satire should focus. We can try to focus on his racism; or on his machismo; or on his xenophobia. But he’s so adamant and blatantly open about them that it is impossible to make people realize he has crazy positions. His racism sticks out like his shiny hair, ridiculous enough to become funny. His machismo is equally funny because of his unappealing appearance and makes him look like a loser. But a loser he is not, as he is the 45th President of the United States.
What he does, the danger he poses, is absolutely not funny.
We have moved beyond the realm of constructionism, where you bend reality to your believes, where what you say true becomes real. That was the position of the US administration under George W. Bush: America is a superpower and what we say is true, and you journalists have to comply to our standards of truth. Now we are in the realm of fake news, where nothing – or everything – is true, so what’s the point of getting riled up over some racism or some machismo? It can be fake. Power doesn’t shape reality, just messes with it in a comical way. Jokes are a weapon at the disposal of the bad guys as well.
Moreover, in the realm of fake news, satire can be fake too – or it can be applied on fake believes. It's useless to try to ridicule a fake character, overtly incapable of anything and still OK with that, and still voted in office by millions. It looks like there’s no shame in being dangerously ignorant and aiming for power. And this is, I have come to think, the big failure of the liberal intelligentsia – among which political cartoonists are often counted.
And so, what do you do with someone like Trump, or European leaders like Farage, Le Pen or Salvini, that is beyond satire? This is a real question, because I do not have an answer to this. Every time I want to draw about this topic, I find myself overwhelmed by the awareness that nothing will work, because we passed so many thresholds my imagination almost cannot cope. There is no grip on reality, and we seem to be OK with the monsters generated by the popular rejection of reason.
Again, a New Yorker cartoon summarizes how I feel.
Cartoon by Robert Leighton.
I often think about that Woody Allen’s sketch. I really do. And I ask myself if going on with intelligence, trying to find other ways of confronting this brain tumor that is tearing civilization apart, is the right way to go. Maybe these people are immune to intelligence. But maybe they are not immune to bricks and baseball bats.
What? I’m just joking, dudes!
Cartoon by Marian Kamensky.
In 2015, we reported on FECO, the Federation of Cartoonists Organisations, and the questionable cooperation of FECO with the Iran House of Cartoon, one of the organizers of the infamous Holocaust Cartoon Competition.
In December 2016, FECO France decided to leave FECO and to change its name to France-Cartoons. Here is an excerpt from their statement, which can be read in full here.
You have all followed, with great interest or not, the gloomy affair of the holocaust contest organised by the Tehran House of Cartoons and the inappropriate presence of the international Feco president among the competitors. That second “Holocaust Contest” was directly targeting the green Charlie cover “All has been forgiven” and the sorrowful gatherings after the Charlie slaughter.
We asked for explanations from the Feco international board and succeeded in having the president resign. Elections were duly set up. It seems that the candidates list had neither been submitted to the Feco-France vote nor to the Feco-Israel one nor to the Feco-España one and perhaps some more. Those elections were rather odd since the former resigning president happened to become a vice president without having ever been a candidate.
After a unanimous consent at the General Assembly, we agreed we had to leave the Feco International.
Last week, the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation (PCO) in the United Kingdom decided to leave FECO:
After a great deal of thought by the PCO Committee and through consulting our members, PCO [UK] has decided to leave FECO forthwith.
This is a very sad decision, but has been brought about by FECO’s involvement with a Holocaust themed cartoon contest offered by the Iran House of Cartoon, known Holocaust deniers.
PCO cannot allow itself to be associated in any way with holocaust denial.
Perhaps, looking into the future, when FECO reorganises so that it is no longer associated in any way with holocaust denial PCO might apply to re-join. In the meantime PCO intends to maintain good relations with individual cartoonists’ organisations such as France-Cartoon, formerly FECO France. But as of now we do not consider ourselves a member of FECO.
To our knowledge, FECO has not yet publicly responded.
Fearmongering to justify the arms business. Cartoon by Tomas.
The World Peace Foundation has for some years been pursuing a project to expose the myths that are used to sustain a bloated, corrupt, and dangerous global arms business. We are teaming up with the WPF to produce cartoons that illustrate the 7 myths that sustain the global arms trade:
Myth 1: Higher military spending equals increased security.
Myth 2: Military spending is driven by security concerns.
Myth 3: We can control where arms go after they’re purchased and how they are used.
Myth 4: The defense industry is a key contributor to national economies.
Myth 5: Corruption in the arms trade is only a problem in developing countries.
Myth 6: National security requires blanket secrecy.
Myth 7: Now is not the time to challenge the global arms business.
(Bonus) Myth 7.5: Nothing can be done about it.
For a short explanation of these myths, read this PDF. For more information, visit www.projectindefensible.org. Check out all submissions in our project newsroom.
This is our second project with the World Peace Foundation. In 2012, we created a series of cartoons about peace in the 21st century, inspired by the visuals used by the international peace movement in the early 20th century.
Together with the The Netherlands Consulate General in Miami and the Florida International University we are organizing a series of cartoon workshops on a range of topics, including migration and the environment.
The workshops are given by Garrincha and challenge students to think about problems and potential solutions visually, resulting in cartoon ideas or sketches that our uploaded to our user newsroom. The best ideas are selected by our cartoonists and made into professional cartoons.
Here are some examples from the project:
Student idea: Doctor driving past an immigrant yelling: 'You are stealing our jobs!'. The immigrant looks blindly as he cuts someone's lawn.
Sketch by Josh Eisenberg, cartoon by Gezienus Bruining.
You can see many more cartoons in the project newsroom.
The end of the project will be marked by an exhibition of the best cartoons and the ideas they are based upon, which will take place in Miami in May 2017.
Questions of copyright is a monthly feature in which we share some of our questions and concerns about how and where cartoons from Cartoon Movement are used without our permission.
In this edition we highlight two websites that are something of a mystery to us.
The first is one is the recently launched (we think) mjcob.com, which defines itself as an ‘art community’, has been reposting almost all of our cartoons, as soon as the are posted in our newsroom. We tried to contact them, but they do not have contact information on their website.
The second one is toonsonline.com, which has been around longer. This is another cartoon aggregator site, posting many cartoons from around the world. We have contacted them several times, but never received a reply.
Both websites do credit the artists whose work they post, but neither of them asks artists for their permission, nor do they link back to Cartoon Movement, which seems to be a big provider of content for the two websites. The purpose of these websites is rather mystifying; there seems to be no revenue model or general mission. If anyone reading this has more information on the purpose of these website or who is behind them, we’d like to hear from you.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Cartooning for Peace, Cartoon Movement and other press cartoonist associations pay tribute to all press cartoonists who defend media freedom by means of their cartoons.
How you wield a pencil can still lead to violent reprisals. Only too often, cartoonists pay a high price for their irony and impertinence. The threats they receive are barometers of free speech, acting as indicators of the state of democracy in times of trouble.
It is hard to say whether cartoonists are more exposed since the attack that killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2015. But they continue to be subjected to political, religious and economic pressure, to censorship, dismissal, death threats, judicial harassment, violence and, in the worst cases, even murder. As a profession, they are clearly threatened.
“Since the Charlie tragedy, many cartoonists have lived under constant political, religious and economic pressure, and pressure from non-state groups as well,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Accusations of offending religion are too often used as a tool of political censorship. It is essential to remember that international law protects cartoonists because it safeguards the right to express and disseminate opinions that may offend, shock or disturb.”
Cartooning for Peace president Plantu (Jean Plantureux) said: “Many cartoonists bear witness, in their battles and in the harassment and threats they receive, to the importance they assign to their efforts to raise awareness. Since the Charlie terrorist attacks, other tragic events have confirmed that, more than ever, we need to pursue our fight for freedom, one that is also waged with the pencil.”
RSF, Cartooning for Peace, Cartoon Movement and the other press cartoonist associations have compiled the following profiles of cartoonists who have been dismissed, arrested, imprisoned or threatened because of their cartoons.
The chosen cartoonists are Zunar, who has been hounded by the Malaysian authorities for years and is be tried at the end of January; Tahar Djehiche, an Algerian cartoonist who was given a jail sentence for insulting President Bouteflika; Musa Kart, the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet’s well-known cartoonist, who is now in jail; and Rayma Suprani, who was fired from the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal over her cartoons about the government and now lives in exile in the United States.
Sometimes just reposting a cartoon can lead to prosecution and imprisonment. This is what happened to Tunisian blogger Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 2012 in connection with his Facebook posts.
Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, the cartoonist better known as Zunar, is a symbol of the fight for freedom of expression in Malaysia and the government’s bugbear. Because of his cartoons denouncing the corruption in all layers of Malaysian society, he has been subjected to various kinds of persecution for nearly a decade including repeated detention, arrests of assistants and supporters, a travel ban, the closure of his website, the confiscation of his cartoons and a ban on his cartoon books.
When the opening of a Zunar exhibition was disrupted by his critics in November, the police intervened, confiscated the cartoons and ended up taking him into custody. In December, he was arrested again when he organized a sale of his books to compensate for the financial loss resulting from the exhibition’s cancellation. As a result, he is now being investigated as a threat to parliamentary democracy. He is already facing up to 43 years in prison on nine counts of violating the Sedition Act, which violates freedom of expression by making it easy to prosecute journalists and cartoonists for supposedly “seditious” content.
The pretext for Zunar’s prosecution was nine tweets critical of the government. His trial has been postponed twice in the past two years and is now due to start on 24 January. Last year he received the Cartooning for Peace Prize for his courage and determination.
Rayma Suprani is a Venezuela cartoonist who worked for nearly 20 years for the Caracas-based daily El Universal. Her cartoons criticized poverty, the lack of social justice and abuse of power under President Hugo Chavez, and under his successors after Chavez died in office in 2013. She had often been subjected to threats and pressure but in September 2014 she went “too far” in one of her cartoons. It portrayed public healthcare in Venezuela – which has been undermined by the crisis in the petrodollar economy – as an electrocardiogram that began with Chavez’s well-known signature and then flatlined. She was immediately fired by El Universal, which had just been acquired by someone more sympathetic to the Chavista government. Deprived of her source of income, she fled to the United States, where she continues to use her pencil to fight for freedom of expression.
MUSA KART (Turkey)
During the wave of arrests that followed last July’s failed coup in Turkey, the police detained a dozen employees of the leading opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet on 31 October. They included editor Murat Sabuncu, the newspaper’s lawyer, and its well-known cartoonist, Musa Kart. The head of the Istanbul prosecutor’s office said they were suspected of committing crimes on behalf of the Gülen movement (which is accused by the government of orchestrating the coup attempt). “For years I have tried to transcribe what we live through in this country in the form of caricatures and today it seems that I have entered one of them,” Kart said at the time. “What explanations will they give to the rest of the world? I have been taken into police custody because I drew cartoons!”
Musa is currently waiting behind bars for a trial date. His colleagues from all over the world are drawing cartoons in solidarity, some of them even being published in Cumhuriyet at the spot originally reserved for his. He is no stranger to harassment from the regime. In 2014, following the publication of one cartoon referring to a money laundering scandal involving Erdogan he faced 9 years imprisonment.
TAHAR DJEHICHE (Algeria)
The Algerian cartoonist Tahar Djehiche posted a cartoon on social networks in April 2015 showing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika being buried under the sand of In Salah, a Saharan region where the population has been protesting against the use of fracking to produce shale gas. His aim was to draw attention to the environmental dangers of shale gas production by this means in Algeria, but he was charged with insulting the president and “inciting a mob.” He was acquitted in May 2015, but was convicted on appeal the following November and was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 500,000 dinars. Many international organizations have condemned this absurd and incomprehensible decision, especially as it is still not known who was responsible for the appeal.
JABEUR MEJRI (Tunisia)
A 29-year-old Tunisian blogger, Jabeur Mejri was prosecuted in March 2012 for posting cartoons and satirical texts on social networks at a time of continuing tension just over a year after President Ben Ali’s removal, when anything to do with religion was extremely sensitive. The cartoons, in particular, were deemed to have insulted Islam. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison and a fine of 1,200 dinars on charges of disrupting public order, causing wrong to others, and violating morality. He was strongly defended by human rights groups, which regarded him as one of the first prisoners of conscience since the fall of the Ben Ali regime. After two years in prison, he was finally pardoned by President Moncef Marzouki and was released in March 2014. He was arrested again the following month on a charge of insulting an official. After a second pardon in October 2014, he left Tunisia.
Christophe Deloire, Reporters sans frontières
Plantu, Cartooning for Peace
Ann Telnaes, The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
Joel Pett, Cartoonists Rights Network International
Tjeerd Royaards, Cartoon Movement