by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It is the opinion of Serena Williams’s husband — and, we assume, Serena Williams herself — that a recent cartoon in the Melbourne Herald Sun depicting the African-American tennis star as a musclebound, pouty diva is “blatantly racist & misogynistic.” The conclusion is shared by a number of prominent voices on social media. The cartoonist, Mark Knight, maintains his innocence, and last Wednesday his paper ran a defensive front page seeking to prove to readers that Knight practices a style of caricature that is hideously unkind at the best of times.
Racism and misogyny are perceived as much as intended, so there’s no real point in attempting to objectively adjudicate Knight’s drawing either way. What the backlash does remind us, however, is that there is not much public appetite for editorial cartooning these days. The medium simply does not fulfill the expectations of modern commentary. …
… At its peak, editorial cartooning operated from a pretense of what is today scorned as cowardly “both-sidesism,” that is, the belief that the political world is an inherently preposterous place with much to deride in every direction. All public figures were clownish idiots in their own way who deserved to be mocked for their distinguishing failings.
Editorial cartoonists have been as biased as any other flavor of political commentator, with favored targets, blind spots, and the rest. Yet they’ve also faced unique pressure to document the passing scene with a wide satirical net. Any prominent sociopolitical moment must be reduced to a witty visual summary, regardless of whom it stars. A drawing must be created that depicts conflict, debate, and tension as goofy, irreverent, or entertaining.
Today, however, there is little market for political commentary that possesses any degree of ironic detachment.