Pricking consciences and shaming the shameless

Political cartooning is one of the last remaining avenues to shame the shameless and prick the national conscience on the big issues in life, according to Flinders academics, Haydon Manning and Robert Phiddian.

The Associate Professors in the Schools of Political and International Studies and English, Creative Writing and Australian Studies respectively, have just published the country’s first study of political cartooning.

Liberally laced with funny examples, Comic Commentators takes the reader into the satirical world of leading Australian cartoonists and explores the impact of their art.

“When we started formally studying political cartoons back in 1996, it looked like a beautifully designed research project, flicking through newspapers looking for the cartoons and being able to call it ‘work’,” Associate Professor Phiddian told Flinders Journal.

“While it was the sort of thing that risked giving academics a bad name, it became increasingly clear that political cartoons are very significant,” he said.

“Cartoons are virtually the only remaining anti-spin and shaming devices left in the mainstream newspapers at a time when spin and shamelessness are a ballooning element in public life.”
Or as Associate Professor Manning puts it: “Political cartooning is a license to mock the kings and queens of political life.”

The cover of Comic Commentators is a case in point. With allusions to the Red Nose Day charity fundraiser, The Australian’s Bill Leak sketches former Prime Minister John Howard holding a tray of noses adorned with the United States flag next to a sign saying Help the War Effort. The cartoon is titled National Brown-Nose Day.

Elsewhere, the authors note that hundreds of cartoons dealing with the 2001 Tampa crisis uniformly advocated more humane treatment for refugees but that this unanimity clearly had little impact on public opinion, which remained broadly opposed to ‘illegal immigrants’.

“Still, cartoonists were quite the most ungovernable part of the media on this topic, and remain so. At the very least, they provided support and consolation to those opposed to a policy and its media-managed execution,” the authors said.

Comic Commentators – Contemporary Political Cartooning in Australia is available from Network Books for $34.95 on link:

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