My colleague at the Evening Standard, the excellent cartoonist, Christian Adams, has been having a bruising time of it since his cartoon in yesterday’s paper was published. It features two leprechauns, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, capering around a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – the pot bearing the legend: “no backstop”.
It is quite plainly a jab at the illusory, fantastical and delusional notion – his view – that the Irish backstop can simply be magicked away, as both candidates intimated when they visited Northern Ireland yesterday. Plainly, the people being caricatured were Boris and Jeremy, not the Irish, nor indeed leprechauns. It was an Irish trope used against English politicians and visually striking. It was indeed a pro-Dublin government, anti-Brexit cartoon.
You can guess what happened, can’t you? Twitter lit up; usual grounds, usual suspects. Except that quite a lot of the offended were Irish. One reproduced a Punch cartoon, Victorian vintage, showing the usual ape-like Irishman, with the caption: “still at it after all these years”. Except the gentleman in question was a caricature of an Irishman, not a caricature of two Englishmen.
Then there was an even more pained piece in the Irish Times, which opined that:
“a leprechaun trope in a cartoon about an issue pertaining to Ireland – even if British politicians are the target of the cartoon – should have set off alarm bells… Satire, whether in literary form or in cartoons, is generally regarded as something that “punches up” – in other words, a weapon of the powerless against dominant groups and people … Most people feel it is insensitive to use it against the powerless – and, particularly, against vulnerable minorities – and it is always controversial to do so…. The troubled history of our relationship with our formerly dominant neighbour makes satire at our expense emanating from the United Kingdom similarly problematic.”
Oh give it a break. If there is one thing that will be the death of the political cartoon, it is hyper sensitivity, a willingness to take offence, to perceive offence, to smell offence, where none is intended. I am Irish. When Christian Adams showed me the picture, I did not get on my high horse on behalf of the leprechaun community, or the Irish; I could see who the caricature was aimed at, and it wasn’t leprechauns.
Cartoonists are rare and valuable beasts, certainly the ones who can draw. They are also an endangered species. Not long ago, the ghastly and craven New York Times actually banned all political cartoons because it got so much flak about one featuring the president and the Israeli prime minister. Michael de Adder, a Canadian cartoonist, actually got fired the other day because of his cartoon of president Trump, with golf clubs, saying: “Do you mind if I play through?” next to the bodies of that poor dead El Salvadorian father and his little girl. It was beautifully drawn and deadly effective. So effective, he lost his job.
That will not be the fate of Christian Adams, thank God. But not for want of idiots raising Cain about political commentary in its most effective form, as picture. It’s satire, you fools.