Can political cartoons survive in an age of sensitivity? Or: Too Many Snowflakes?

By Alan Rusbridger:

Imagine having a job which involves deliberately causing offence. Imagine going to work to ridicule, belittle, savage and generally humiliate others. We would shun such bitter and twisted people, right? 

Not if they were cartoonists. Unless we were ourselves unlucky enough to be in their crosshairs, we might well laugh with them. We might enjoy the discomfort they cause. They might even succeed in reframing how we see a person or issue.

On the other hand, we might be offended. We might think the joke fell flat, or that they had gone too far. We might consider a particular drawing tasteless in the extreme. The mockery might even conceivably push us to an extreme—even murderous—response. 

A cartoonist is, in other words, a tightrope walker.

Alan Rusbridger, former editor at The Guardian and thus cartoonist Steve Bell’s former editor there, takes us on a journey through British political cartooning – from Hogarth and Gillray to Low to Rowson and Bell’s recent travails and wonders…

Are we now living in an age when the right not to be offended trumps the right to offend? Does it seem needlessly cruel to ridicule people in public life?

Read Rusbridger’s essay at Prospect magazine.

While the Rusbridger item is British based the trend he writes about is worldwide. In the U.S. The New York Times stopped printing editorial cartoons when a foreign edition printed one that brought criticism, the large Gannett group backed off opinion pieces, and newspapers regularly apologize for political cartoons that had passed editorial oversight.

feature image is from the latest Private Eye cover

2 thoughts on “Can political cartoons survive in an age of sensitivity? Or: Too Many Snowflakes?

  1. We need to speak truth to power, no matter what happens and no matter who gets offended.

    That’s the real job of any editorial.

  2. Only that foreign edition of the Times had editorial cartoons to begin with. The Times is too snobbish to have such low-class fare. (Said by a proud New York Times reader.) The only cartoons have been pictures in cartoonists’ obituaries. (And a special section a few years ago)

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