Although this is an article about why cartoons and comics are one of the best mediums for political satire, I’m going to have to start by talking about a TV show for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.
The night before I wrote this article, I was reminded of a TV show that I used to watch regularly when I was a teenager, but had almost forgotten about. I am, of course, talking about “2DTV“. If you’ve never heard of this TV show before, it was an animated political/social satire show that was shown on ITV in the early-mid ’00s.
One of the things that really set this show apart was the fact that it is probably the only animated political satire TV series that I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of show which could very easily be turned into a comic or a series of political cartoons, without losing too much of the humour (although some of the voice-acting is hilarious). As such, it made me think about why cartoons, comics, 2D animations etc… are the perfect medium for political satire.
First of all, one of the great things about cartoons is that literally anything can happen in them. As long as the artist is skilled enough to draw it, then it can happen. Because of this, satirical cartoons can easily take things to the kinds of exaggerated extremes that other visual mediums (eg: films, computer games etc..) may have trouble doing.
For example, in “2DTV” one of the sketches is about George W. Bush (who always acts like an overgrown toddler in the show) turning the White House into a giant bouncy castle because he believes that this will protect it from terrorists. He then bounces around the Oval Office (much to the chagrin of his military advisor), before becoming bored and deciding to pass the time with a fun game of darts – with predictable results….
If this hilariously surreal scene was to be re-created on film with live actors then, even with modern CGI technology, it wouldn’t be an easy or a cheap thing to do. However, since it’s a cartoon, it requires about the same amount of effort and money to produce as any other part of the show. The same would be true if it was a comic strip, rather than an animated cartoon.
Another great thing about cartoons and comics is that they allow artists to play with the very fabric of reality itself. Since the artist and/or writer is in total control of what appears in a particular cartoon, they can depict reality in any way they want. This can be best seen in political cartoons, where the politicians are often drawn as exaggerated caricatures rather than in a realistic way.
This means that the artists can say much more about the politicians than a written description or a stand-up comedy performance ever could. For example, during his tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith was sometimes portrayed as a vampire in editorial cartoons. Not only is this funny because he bears a very slight resemblance to Nosferatu, but it was also a clever way of commenting on his attitude towards poor and/or disabled people (which could probably be described as “cruel” or “heartless”, if I’m being polite).
Yet another reason why cartoons and comics are the perfect medium for satire lies in the fact that they don’t look realistic. Because a cartoon is obviously a cartoon, the people making cartoons can sometimes get away with more than satirists working in other mediums can. After all, it’s” just a cartoon”. By lessening the “realism” of the message via unrealistic artwork, cartoonists can sometimes say things that the average stand-up comedian might think twice about.
Finally, cartoons are a fairly democratic and attention-grabbing form of satire. Regardless of your level of artistic skill, if you’ve got a good idea for a political cartoon, then all you need to make it is a pen, pencil and piece of paper (or a computer). Even if the art isn’t that great, your cartoon may still make people laugh or think for the simple reason that it’s a cartoon and the dialogue in it is funny/ thought provoking.
Cartoons and comics are attention-grabbing for the simple reason that they combine both pictures and words in an interesting way. Since most cartoons are dominated by pictures, they grab the audience’s attention quickly. Since most cartoons contain a relatively small amount of writing, they’re quick to read too. So, they have much more of an impact than – say – a satirical newspaper or blog article might do.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂