The Grey Lady Shoots the Messenger
Toon Musings: The Grey Lady Shoots the Messenger
When last I graced these pages, I wrote about a botched political cartoon: a ham-handed attempt to criticize the fraught relationship between Bibi Netanyahu and our own grifting, dim-witted, wannabe fascist president. Due to an episode of editorial malfeasance, this cartoon appeared in the international edition of the New York Times and the resultant furor over its perceived antisemitism has still not died down— on the contrary, the repercussions continue.
In my previous piece, I argued that the cartoon’s message was too apt to be misinterpreted, especially by those who traffic in outrage, fake or otherwise. I even posed some helpful suggestions to improve the cartoon in question. Did anyone take my sage advice? Of course not, because I am a voice howling in the wilderness. I’m comfortable with that; most folks have no voice at all and must depend on the unkindness of strangers like myself.
The first yawp of protest to the unaltered cartoon I noticed was a think piece written by a social media professional and assistant professor of communications who thinks political cartoonists are out-of touch and should be replaced by meme-makers: that memes should replace political cartoons, and that the imagination, mastery of metaphor, insight, and artistic skill should be replaced by some anonymous yobbo with the ability to swipe a photo and the typing skills to add a pithy caption. Memes can be entertaining, but can you name a meme-maker that you follow, whose insight you admire? Of course you can’t, because:
1.) They don’t sign their work.
2.) What they do isn’t work.
Anybody can make a meme in about a minute. Here, I’ll show you:
Then, the New York Times, which published the offending cartoon in its international edition, decided to make amends by forswearing the use of any editorial cartoons henceforth. To reiterate: the august paper of record, so-called ‘America’s newspaper’, having stepped in a bucket some years ago by quietly ceasing publication of editorial cartoons in its domestic edition, stepped on a rake by publishing an anti-semitic cartoon in its international edition, then stepped in another bucket by severing ties with the syndicate that supplied the cartoon they chose to publish, then just pitched itself down a well by deciding to stop publishing any editorial cartoons at all, thus firing the two remaining cartoonists on staff—neither of whom drew the offending cartoon. Brilliant, New York Times… simply incandescent!
I had pretty much resigned myself to serving up my original opinion on the matter and then Leaving It Lay, but to my delight, the matter began to fester, and people whose passions and/or livelihood depend on editorial cartoons began to pipe up and be heard. The story now resembles one of those whale carcasses that’s baked in the sun too long, and I’ve given up trying to stay ahead of the explosion; it seems the tired old profession has some life in it yet. Here is a list of smart people discussing exactly how the august and pompous New York Times has beclowned itself. For those ‘cut-to-the-chase’ types, The Guardian’s Martin Rowson sums it up for you. For those who don’t like to read, a number of cartoonists are happy to oblige. Ann Telnaes, for example, or these folks. Or these folks.
In my first piece for Escape Into Life, I wrote about the murder of five cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Cartoons have the power to convey ideas, and emotions quickly, simply and effectively to a broad audience. Boss Tweed, the notoriously corrupt machine politician said in a famous quote, “I don’t care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures.” We’re currently languishing under the yoke of another Boss, with other up-and coming Bosses vying for power all around the world: Orban, and Duterte, and Erdogon, and Bolsonaro, et.al. For the New York Times to abandon such an effective weapon in the face of this onslaught, whether due to cowardice, or laziness, or stupidity, or an arrogant excess of pomposity, or a combination of all these, is the height of irresponsibility, and a betrayal of civilization.
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring forgotten ruins, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures