Pro-Michael Leunig, Anti-Cancel Culture

…The commissars of cancel culture have also gone for cartoons and animations of late, though the reasoning has varied. The cartoonist’s history is filled with grotesque caricature: the blackface Bugs Bunny from 1953 who pretends to be a slave; the same character who ends up, in 1944, on a Pacific island filled with unsympathetically depicted Japanese figures. (That’s war propaganda for you.) In 1968, the studio pulled a series of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons in what came to be known as the “Censored Eleven” for reasons of offensiveness.

In recent times, the creepy skunk Pepé Le Pew, accused of supposedly contributing to “rape culture”, has been given the excision treatment. Dr Suess, the pen name for Theodor Geisel, has received his share of retrospective punishment, with the foundation bearing his name withdrawing six books. Call it, suggests Philip Nel of Kansas State University, a “product recall”. “They’re not being banned. They’re not being cancelled. It’s just a decision to no longer sell them.”

© Warner Bros.; © Dr. Seuss Enterprises

This month, Australia has made its own modest contribution to cartoon cancel culture by taking aim (the word is appropriate) at one of its favourite scrawling sons. Michael Leunig, a declared “national treasure”, was gently let down by the editor of The Age after sketching a cartoon seen to be a bit on the nose of vaccination policy, notably in Victoria. The paper chose not to run the work, featuring a tank equipped with a needle as a gun barrel pointing at the equivalent of the “Tank Man” figure made famous during the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. As matters transpired, this proved to be one cartoon too many.

© Michael Leunig