Monday, June 3, 2013
Al Nisbet Cartoon Controversy
The above cartoons by Al Nisbet published in the Marlborough Express
"Obviously the cartoon worked. It got reaction. You've got to push the envelope, otherwise you have namby-pamby PC cartoons. I do not apologise, because, to me, cartoons are meant to provoke reaction
Al Nisbet discussed his cartoons with John Tamihere and Willie Jackson on their radio show.
There have been calls to change racism laws after Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy made a statement that while she found the cartoons offensive and appalling but they were not deemed racist under the definition by law.
"It does not reach the levels of racism within the inquiries and complaints process within the commission."
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has commented prior to viewing the cartoons,
"By the description I was given it certainly could be offensive to people. I'm often the source of the humour in them, if you like, and I try and take it all with a grain of salt because cartoonists are notorious for taking a mile out of an inch."
"Personally, 'cos I'm a virtuous, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela type person I don't tend to mock the more helpless people in our society. But he's allowed to, he's hired as a cartoonist to have a point of view. I wouldn't have drawn it, I don't think it's particularly funny, but he's entitled to do that sort of thing."
(Listen To Tom Scott on Radio Live here.)
Dylan Horrocks' statement of Nisbet's cartoons,
"A tendency to rely on crass (& racist) stereotyping is built into the history and conventions of political cartooning, whether the cartoonist is conservative, liberal, or whatever. The best political cartoonists are aware of that and deal with it critically & thoughtfully. Whereas lazy (or nasty) cartoonists revel in stereotypes without self-awareness or ethics & then say "lighten up, it's a joke."
Colin Espiner asks the question, "Should cartoonists be allowed to offend people?"
"Funny how I never heard such a hue and cry over Bro'Town, with its cringing sterotypes of Pacifica people. But that was written by brown people who live in Auckland, right? So it's OK. Along with all of Billy T James' back catalogue. So if Al's cartoons weren't racist, were they offensive? Certainly they were. They offended many ethnic groups, plus beneficiaries and the elderly, I would imagine, given the old geezer in the background of one of Al's efforts."
"And for the record, I don't agree with Al Nisbet on food in schools. I think the programme is a fine idea. Neither do I think many people living in poverty have a wide-screen television. But that's not the point.
Like Voltaire, I'll defend Al Nisbet's right to say what he thinks and a newspaper's right to publish it."
"Those who call for Al Nisbet or the newspapers he works for to apologise for daring to offend people need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves what kind of world we'd have if we had a press that provided only bland, inoffensive, easily digestible fare. Or simply hop on a plane to China or Fiji and find out for themselves."
Ruth DeSouza has blogged about Nisbet's work and the broader issues of health and poverty.
"These despicable cartoons highlight the media’s role in perpetuating the myth that responsibility for poor health (whether it’s about people who are obese, smokers or problem gamblers) is an individual and group one rather than linked with broader issues for example colonisation, economic restructuring or the devastating social consequences of state neoliberal policies."
Ric Stevens writes about the assumptions of audiences and compares Nisbet's work with other New Zealand cartoonists. One point Stevens makes that may have been missed by folk who have not read any of Nisbet's prior work,
"Having looked at hundreds of Nisbet cartoons over the past decade, I can personally vouch for the fact that he is even-handedly nasty towards everyone."
Alex Parsons' commented on the issue with a cartoon,
My Personal Take On Nisbet's Cartoons - M.Emery
I didn't find Nisbet's cartoons particularly humourous but rather more absurd. Adults dressing as kids to get free food and families financing lavish lifestyles from the savings made on Weetbix and milk all seems a bit nonsensical to me. The relevance of the older characters in the strip appeared ambiguous and the jokes/punchlines struck me as a bit sophomoric. I get the criticisms of using the under-privileged and weaker elements of society as a poor target for humour and I understand the sensitiveness of this issue. Like a lot of people cartoons I typically enjoy point out the foibles of the wealthy and powerful.
I don't however find them offensive. Growing up half-caste in New Zealand during the seventies and eighties I was unfortunate to experience racism first hand from Maori and Pakeha, often inadvertent, sometimes overtly. As I approach 40 I feel very inured to racial stereotypes and life's given me the perspective that what is happening to people in real life, is far more important than some lines on a piece of paper.
Nisbet has indicated he filed these as part of the grind of providing daily editorial cartoons without giving much thought to the reaction they would provoke. Expressing an opinion is a core part of an editorial/political cartoonists job. If it is a contentious issue that may cause pain and hurt, then they should be prepared to answer for any backlash. Using the 'right to freedom of expression' with no explanation should not be acceptable. I believe Nisbet has responded and offered multiple explanations for his work although he certainly hasn't sated his critics.
I found some of the responses to Nisbet's work disconcerting regarding censoring cartoons like his. However unpopular the reaction to his cartoons, I believe as long as no laws are being broken and his editors are satisfied with his work then they should not suffer censorship. All cartoonists in our part of the world should be able to enjoy this freedom. I'm probably the only New Zealand cartoonist that has had his house ransacked by police officers and been taken away in handcuffs with my cartoons and sketchbooks in evidence bags. At the end of that debacle I was assured, "No matter how distasteful my work was, I was breaking no laws, and I was entitled to publish it."
As it stands the ire and national debate raised by the publication of Nisbet's cartoons may have borne more fruit than if his commentary on this issue had been more insightful and pointed.
Thanks to my father, the various cartoonists that emailed me their opinions, and responses in the NNCC FB group. Thanks to Grant Buist for drawing my attention to Nisbet's cartoons.