Political Cartoons: The Lowest Form of Communication
In theory, political cartoons should be a means to get a controversial point across in a concise, effective and humorous way. In reality, most usually convey less information than, say, grunting or gesturing.
Whether you agree or disagree with the message is irrelevant, as these cartoons are often shitty ass vehicles for any message. Taken on average, political cartoons are the least effective way of making a point aside from suicide bombing and Internet petitions.
And the even less effective suicide bombing Internet petition.
Here are some examples of poor communication methods used by political cartoons that often fail to convey even the simplest, non-controversial ideas:
Pictures Requiring Excessive Labels
Usually the whole point of using a cartoon is that the picture is supposed to get the message across, and you use as few words as are needed to help people understand the picture. Some cartoonists, however, seem to think their readers are literally retarded.
Sure, you have to label the politician, and maybe "Vermont's Disabled," I guess. Also, if you are really afraid your audience is too dumb to know that a politician screwing the disabled is probably doing it economically--and not literally feeding them to wild animals--then go ahead label the wolves "economic adversity."
But dear god, why do you have to label them "wolves"?
So the guy in the suit. Is he wealthy? I can't tell. I need at least six clues and I only see five.
I bet you could pick out at least one of those labels that could have been illustrated with, I don't know, a drawing. Hm, unconnected TV, hmm, hmm, how could I illustrate that? There's no way you could get that from a drawing. Oh wait.
And did that jobless guy write a note to himself to remove the water from his pool to use it as a tent?
Again, it doesn't matter whether you agree with the message. It's important that we not get caught up in that. The issue is that it's irritating no matter what message they're trying to convey. As someone with no ability to draw things, let me demonstrate what happens when you use too many labels to convey even a simple, non-controversial message (in this case: "fire hot").
If the unnecessarily explanatory labels make you feel like your intelligence is being insulted and the apparently unrelated labels confused you, then that means I have done my job as a political cartoonist.
"Technology... uh... Exists"
From the below comic, you can gather that "Facebook" is something the kids use (but parents don't), and that they "friend" each other on it, and that's about all, because that's probably all the cartoonist knows.
You see, there are three steps toward making a statement with an illustration:
1) Identify the subject you want to talk about.
2) Figure out what you want to say about it.
3) Figure out how to say it in picture form.
When it comes to new technology, many cartoonists valiantly struggle to lift themselves onto Step 1 and then collapse exhausted upon it, all their energy spent. There is a deadline coming and there is no time to figure out what "Facebook" or "Twitter" or "iPhones" are all about, much less what you can say about them. You are aware they exist and have been able to find the name of one function. WHAT MORE CAN ONE MAN DO?
This poor guy has not even managed to overcome Step 1 and figure out the name of the products involved:
This guy is halfway through Step 1:
He has figured out what an iPod does and what an iPhone does enough to give his character reasons not to use them (I mean, a phone, who needs that). He is not entirely sure what an iPad does, so before anyone figures it out, he will distract you with a pun that is not really a pun. Hopefully you will be too busy going, "iGive up? Really?" to notice he does not know what iPads are used for.
Here, let me give it a try:
If you've spent time arguing with people on the Internet, you know that "straw man" is something you can yell at people arguing with you, and you might even know what it means. If not, it means you create a caricature of your opponent and put stupid arguments into its mouth that you can easily demolish; arguments they never made.
Evolution versus creationism arguments are the most fertile ground for this kind of thing. From the creationist side:
I think these comics completely close the case on the debate. Evolutionists are stupid, rude hypocrites and creationists are polite and patient in response to them. Well, that settles 150 years of debate! Just look how frustrated evolutionists are when you trot out simple factual arguments!
Hell, check out the guy in the last panel of this one; this hoodie-wearing evolutionist is on the verge of physically attacking his opponent:
It's almost like God put them there to ask setup questions for you to roll out your carefully prepared statements. If that isn't proof of a Creator, I don't know what is.
Wait a second...
Hmmm... looks like I was wrong, apparently it is the non-religious who state their thoughts calmly and rationally while the religious spaz out and take offense for no reason. Dammit, what am I to believe?
Oh, wait. Apparently the religious are filthy cavemen from the Stone Age throwing rocks impotently at spaceships. You'll certainly never catch a single religious person ever using technology or inventing anything. They'll just grunt and chuck rocks.
Once more, this debate always hits close to home, so you might find yourself actually siding with one comic or the other, regardless of the technique. Let's put that aside for a second and apply the straw man technique to a less controversial subject, like that your son Tommy should eat his vegetables. When he refuses, instead of talking to him, just draw this cartoon and hand it to him.
Most child-rearing experts don't recommend dealing with parent-child conflicts this way. And even if you don't care about the target's feelings, it's sure not going to convince them you're right. It will amuse other people who already agree with you, and that's it.
Is that the goal? If you want to make yourself a shiny trophy saying how smart you are compared to the other guy, just go order one. They have catalogs. Why disguise it as an argument?
Related: Who'd They Vote For: 'Mad Men'
Why Do You Need A Picture?
Ever since Plato, people have been putting their boring ideas into dialogue form to try to interest people in reading them. While Plato spiced up works like his Symposium with a lot of sexual innuendo and explicit man-on-man flirting (I'm not exaggerating, look it up), modern political comics often just have two people sitting there with big speech bubbles that the artist can put his opinion in.
This one has an entire essay listing everything that is wrong with the Democrats, in the speech bubbles of one man who I believe is cooking or something. I myself often memorize pre-written blog posts and recite them in their entirety to people I'm doing chores with, but I didn't realize how common it was.
If you think the entire comic can't be a straight-out essay and he must be using the conversation to make some kind of point, feel free to take a look at the original.
Meanwhile, here's a man who is so proud of the song parody he has written about the BP oil spill that he posts the entire song in unreadable size, including repeated choruses.
He didn't even bother to draw a picture because you don't need a picture when you've got dazzling wordplay that would make Weird Al shit his pants.
This is the same cartoonist with a shorter deadline:
For this next one, I've taken the liberty of replacing the original punch line (don't worry, you're not missing anything) with one that I think makes more sense in the context of a comic where two characters are supposedly talking to each other.
After his loyal straw man donkey does him the courtesy of setting him up, the elephant abolishes him from his mind and drifts off into reciting what appears to be the artist's compiled notes about Obama's unsavory associations. His friend becomes a distant and unfocused memory as he focuses on the daunting task of jamming as many talking points as he can into a speech balloon that had only been designed to contain realistic conversation.
A Child's Wisdom
To top that, sometimes these straight political speeches are put into the mouths of cute animals or small children, to try to give the vibe of wisdom coming from the mouths of babes. One particularly terrible offender is Diversity Lane, a comic where a hateful female child with the face of an ageless malevolent being is able to see through the foolishness of her liberal hippie parents (guardians) with the clarity of a child's innocence. Or possibly using the power of the elder god incarnated in her.
In the first two comics, the children use simple, innocent questions to handily demolish common claims by climate scientists: that global warming models predict no snowstorms ever again, and that specific models of cars cause local weather patterns. In the last strip, the she-beast scores a point against Obama using a complexly worded tenuous analogy, in that charming way young children often do.
This strip appears to be implying that three major religious groups are retarded and naturally inclined to violence. Which religions I'm not entirely sure because I'm not clear what major religion wants to blow up the entire planet. Probably Presbyterians. Never trusted them.
You can see why they used the technique here: If an adult said this, they would just be an asshole maliciously stereotyping people with broad generalizations. But a kid and her horse, they're just calling things like they see them.
In the real world, kids that say actual childishly misunderstood things get indulgent chuckles. Kids that try to make smug pseudo-deep statements, whether about politics or anything else, are usually going be less endearing to adults:
Yes, I acknowledge that there are political cartoons out there that don't hit any of these pitfalls and get their message across clearly and intelligently. I don't want to say you'll have better odds of being struck by lightning, but I will anyway.
Check out more from Christina, in The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women (Like Me!) Make On The Internet and The 5 Miserable VFX Jobs That Make Movies Possible.