What can the religious cartoonist learn from all this?
Well, who would have thought that cartoons, religious ones at that, would dominate our news reports in February 2005. I haven’t commented up until now, though I’ve been reading and thinking about it a lot.
My take on it is essentially as follows. The cartoonists in question were stupid to accept this commission and the papers were stupid to publish the cartoons knowing full well the offence they would cause. People who are upset and angry have every right to be. Like Bigbulkyanglican I wonder whether some newspapers are out to deliberately cause offence. But on the other hand I don’t think that publishing such material should be illegal, and Western governments are right not to step in. In my opinion anyone who threatens or uses violence because a cartoon has been published immediately loses the right to have their view taken seriously.
You don’t really need links as the news is everywhere, but here are a few of this evening’s reports from the BBC and the Times:
BBC: Mandelson enters row over cartoon
BBC: UK Muslims voice cartoons concern
Times: West tries to calm tensions as militants threaten kidnaps
Times: Cartoon wars and the clash of civilisations
Times Comment: Drawing the line
Ruth Gledhill has also written on the subject here:
Ruth Gledhill – Times Online: Religious hatred and Muhammad cartoon
Meanwhile in the USA another cartoon has caused controversy, this time amongst the chiefs of the US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. The Daily Cartoonist has the story and links to this Buffalo News report: Toles’ cartoon attacked by Joint Chiefs of Staff.
So, what does the religious cartoonist respond to all of this? Avoid causing offence at all costs? Well, no. But one does have to recognise that there is a right and wrong way to use a cartoon. There are legitimate targets and non-legitimate ones and if you’re not careful you can hit the wrong ones. As my fellow Church Times cartoonist Noel Ford put it today on a forum I follow; “Cartoons should be used in the manner of a sniper’s precision rifle, not like an indiscriminate blunderbuss”. You have to consider your readers, the message that you are trying to get across, along with (controversially I know) whether the joke is funny or not.
A lot of the work I do is about as uncontroversial as it gets. Talking vacuum cleaners and observations on the shape of various pews probably aren’t going to upset many people. Then there are some pictures where there is the chance that someone could be mildly bothered by the cartoon, though most people aren’t. Take my recent Itch cartoon, which, had it been drawn immediately after a church service and had the preacher had been aware of the fact could have caused them to think their 12 hours of preparation had not been appreciated. Or ‘They’re not drunk‘, which could be seen to be making light of a remarkable Biblical event.
I do sometimes draw when I’m angry, but usually have the sense not to immediately publish what I’ve drawn. It often isn’t my best work anyway. The employees of the DVLA in Swansea were very nearly on the recieving end of a most stinging portrayal this week, but escaped owing to the fact I read the small print on their forms and realised that the information contained therein was only mildly misleading rather than a blatant lie.
I have been tempted to make some of my Anglican work rather more critical then it has been. I was very careful with the Windsor Report series to make it so that both sides would enjoy it rather than slanting it with my views. It just felt the right thing to do at the time and in hindsight I’m glad I did it that way. It was an unexpectedly popular piece and hopefully lightened what was otherwise a dark few days for many Anglicans. I do wonder though whether I play it safe a little too often, not wanting to offend anybody. After all the readers are the people who buy my work, so I have a lot to lose. But perhaps, if you’re not sure that you can hit the target accurately it is best to be quite selective about the targets you choose to aim at.
(Update: See also ‘Why I’m not linking to the Prophet Muhammad Cartoons‘)