Comicbook curmudgeon Harvey Pekar once famously said: "Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures."
You can even set the world on fire.
Much has been written in recent days about the cartoon pictures published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and a huge amount that has been written is either a load of shit, or it just misses the point completely.
Let’s see if I can be the voice of reason for a change. Before I get my rant on, a couple of things to get out of the way: I absolutely, totally and wholeheartedly support Freedom of Speech in all ways, shapes and forms. I might not like what you’ve got to say, but I support your right to say it. But, and it is a huge big ol’ booty of a but, no matter what Jyllands-Posten says, or how they are spinning the hell out of this, this really has very little to do with Freedom of Speech.
Freedom of Speech is the Big Honking Red Herring in all of this. Just because you can publish anything, it doesn’t mean that you should. Or that this Freedom should automatically override other important concerns like sensitivity and quality control, two things lacking in this situation.
Secondly, for the purposes of context, the cartoons can be seen here.
Lastly, let’s have a quick look at the dictionary definition of cartoon. Ready?
1. A drawing depicting a humorous situation, often accompanied by a caption.
2. A drawing representing current public figures or issues symbolically and often satirically.
OK. Pre-amble over, this is what I think:
The cartoons are a bunch of crap. In every conceivable way. Badly drawn. No discernable satiric intent. And, here’s the kicker: They Just Aren’t Funny. Offensive things can be funny, and vice versa. Just doesn’t happen to apply in this scenario. There’s no getting around this one: the shit ain’t funny.
For a cartoon to succeed on any level, it has to be either Funny or Satirical. Neither of those elements are present here.
I find it nigh on impossible to discern any kind of tangible satirical intent behind the cartoons. And the reason I can’t find any satirical intent is because there is none! I’ll prove it to you:
Imagine a cartoon where there’s a drawing of Jesus Christ stringing up a couple of black guys from a tree, with a burning cross in the background. Offensive, right? Not funny. Or satirical.
But, the cartoonist protests, there are devout Christians in the Ku Klux Klan! At this point, any sane newspaper editor would have shown the cartoonist the door.
Know why? Because it is blatantly offensive in so many ways. Some extremists are Islamic, but not all worshippers of Islam are extremists. See? It may be a subtle distinction for your average Danish newspaper editor, but it’s pretty damn obvious to me.
The most contentious cartoon portrays Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. It paints all Muslims as suicide-bombers, which is a blatant falsehood. Just like my Jesus example, which paints all Christians as white supremacists.
Muslims the world over have every right to be outraged. Obviously, I think death threats and destruction are not a proportional response. It’s excessive and tragic and just continues to perpetuate this solitary skewed image of Muslims, because it’s the only one which gets into the news cycle.
But cartoons attacking any other strata of our Burning Global Village, be it blacks, gays, women, Jews, Christians, whatever, would just not have seen print in newspapers the world over in the same way. No editor would even consider publishing such things.
And that is the great hypocrisy at the heart of this whole situation. In a nutshell: Newspaper prints cartoons. Angry Muslims riot. And people then turn around and go: “See? Those Muslims are violent! The cartoons were right!”
Depressing and dispiriting on so many levels.