Satiric social criticism versus propaganda

Blank cartoon (The New Yorker) Jan 8 2015

The victims aren’t yet buried nor the suspects apprehended but the tsunami of backlash crescendoes. There are many questions involved in this barbarous episode including not just Islamophobic cartoons in a country persecuting Muslims but also the character of art–in this case cartoon art.

Art is not sacrosanct nor artists immune from social responsibility. Political cartoons reached apotheosis with HonorĂ© Daumier skewering politicians in 19th century France & bottomed out in “pickaninny” caricatures of Black infants in 20th century America under Jim Crow. The difference between them is striking because the former is satire & social criticism & the latter is hateful propaganda.

Political cartoons by their very function exaggerate what they are skewering. Daumier’s contempt for French politicians is undisguised but his caricatures are not grotesque. Pickaninny caricature has sweet-faced infants suspended by one arm over a crocodile pit.

The Civil Rights & women’s movements of the 1960s-1970s threw cartoon art for a loop because new sensitivities were required. Many cartoonists have let their consciousness lag behind their art form which means a good share of caricature is unusable by progressives if you want to post on political figures like Obama, Clinton, or Netanyahu. They’re too racist, misogynist, antisemitic. And many cartoonists continue to mask social hatred behind caricature–like the sweet-faced infants in Jim Crow “art”.

This cartoon is from the recent The New Yorker magazine. Is the cartoonist proclaiming the death of cartoon art without the possibility of vulgarity, over-sized noses, & giant breasts? Because Daumier did thousands of caricatures subtle in their skewering, devastating in their critique, & damning of their venal subjects. Just saying.

(Cartoon from The New Yorker)

Again on Charlie Hebdo

It’s now clear to those of us unfamiliar with Charlie Hebdo before the massacre that it was a xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic journal that pandered to the most reactionary political forces in France. It wasn’t so much satirical as it was scurrilous hate-mongering. That doesn’t mitigate one iota the outrage of the massacre.

Those who want to change the world don’t have to be pacifists or sheep led to slaughter. Self-defense is a human right, as Palestinians well show. But we don’t use the death squad methods of terrorist states like Israel, the US, Mexico, & so many other regimes because thuggery & barbarism are incompatible with social transformation.

The way to shut down racist journals is to create a movement–like the massive protests held in Paris (& around the world) last summer in solidarity with Gaza. The way to oppose their xenophobia is to build solidarity with Afghanis, Iraqis, the Black community in the US, the disappeared in Mexico. The only way to defeat social hatred politically is to out-mobilize its proponents.

So many achievements of the US Civil Rights Movement have been reversed but not the essential lesson that a united massive social movement can change the world.

As for who carried out this massacre? It wasn’t Islam. And that’s all we know.