An Artist’s advice To Brendan O’Neill, Failing Cartoonist

Brendan O'NeillRecipe for a cartoon caricature of a British Marxist:

  1. One young to middle aged native White male Brit; Irish ethnicity is especially tasty due to inherited grievances against the British Crown and Government;
  2. Roman Catholic background and resentment of same will expedite the marination process (disclaimer, we are only speculating about the subject’s ethnic and religious background);
  3. Stew in own juice during adolescence; protract adolescence indefinitely by removing to virtually any British university’s departments of Social Sciences, journalism or any related studies; mix and stir with similar vegetables;
  4. Feed the subject (he’s being cooked alive, you know) a steady diet of stale, desiccated intellectual biscuits left over from the 19th century –the standard fare of the intellectually bankrupt British intelligentsia – heroic materialism (Brunel and Marx have the same flavour), opportunistic employment of the rhetoric of “progress”, and the kind of over-serious obsession with irony which so often makes the British a self-parodying nationality;
  5. Return to pot and stir in whatever remains in the bottle (imported from Russia circa 1930s) of the Leninist fallacy of attributing “motives” to arbitrarily designated “classes”; remove any insurgent recognitions of doublethink – let the subject believe he really CAN read minds even though he’s a materialist!
  6. Serve with self-parodying supercilious expression, chin cocked downward, eyebrows arched, eyes narrowed, lips pursed;
  7. As a cartoonist I would make especially good use of those eyebrows’ very unnatural – dare we call it? – “posturing”.

Meet Brendan O’Neill – or a caricature of a common type whom he resembles – the self-described Marxist editor of “Spiked” magazine, the successor of the now extinct, puerile London based rag, “Living Marxism”. His recent article, “China-Bashing, A Cartoon Pursuit” (via China Digital Times), endeavours to caricature in broad strokes the personalities, minds and motivations of those – yes, “those”, you know, “THEM” – who protested against the Olympic Torch in London. He has lambasted the “cartoonish” nature of the protesters, and of their employment of visually and rhetorically blunt instruments of propaganda, including their targeting of “China’s cute, cartoonish mascots” for abuse and contempt.

As an occasional cartoonist, one who has studied not only the techniques but the history of cartooning, I agree with Mr O’Neill that cartoons, and caricatures, are very much at issue in the myriad disputes and political demonstrations surrounding China’s Olympic Torch. But, Mr O’Neill, doesn’t your article sketch caricatures of the protesters in the same overly broad, blunt ways that your article purports to excoriate? And take it from someone who has some expertise in drafting cartoons and caricatures: Mr O’Neill, you’re a sloppy artist, not only poorly instructed in the art of caricature (in which apparently you’re an autodidact), but evidently untalented too. The evidence of this is that your caricature of the protesters was not only intellectually sloppy, but even worse, it demonstrated an almost preternatural lack of, and contempt for, any sense of humour.

Mr O’Neill (cue Ned Kelly whacking O’Neill on the head with a cartoon mallet), don’t you understand, that you SHORT-CIRCUITED your own rhetoric when you wrote, “It (the London protests) was cartoon politics; it was about AVOIDING serious debate…”?

Among your exhibits-in-evidence are Ben Cohen’s (of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream) “‘jihad’ (his words) against China’s cute, cartoonish Olympic mascots: Beibei the fish, Jingjing the giant panda, and other big-haired symbols of the Games. …Darfur activists are literally taking action against Chinese cartoons!”

Yes they are, Mr O’Neill! But there is nothing “unserious” about those cartoons. Otherwise, why does Beijing take its own cartoons so seriously? Your glossing over this incongruity is what short-circuited your own rhetorical desideratum of “seriousness” regarding the information and propaganda wars over the Beijing Olympics. The expert propagandists in Beijing understand all too well – as you and your kind evidently do not – how propaganda is inseparable from exaggeration, posturing, and (at its best) cartoons and caricatures. The Olympic Torch relay was designed and planned in Beijing, by expert propagandists, and so were the cartoonish Olympic mascots. The propaganda war began in Beijing; it began with cartoon characters; and as Beijing’s hubris has developed into an unintended consequence for Beijing’s propaganda campaign to become a caricature of itself, you, Mr O’Neill, are way out of line when you proffer your desideratum of “serious debate” about Beijing’s own campaign which has degenerated into cartoonish self-caricature.

There is nothing “unserious” about political cartoons or caricatures. Beijing’s propaganda experts understand this, even if their impoverished sense of humour renders their techniques ineffective outside their own closed society. What they, and you Mr O’Neill, object to is not “cartoonishness” per se, but the growing realisation that Beijing is not very good at it.  Just like they’re not very good at practicing Marxism or any kind of authentic socialism – which, like cartoons, are imports from the West – but that’s another story.

The real source of grievance for Beijing and its apologists, is not cartoonishness or unseriousness (what could be more “unserious” than Beijing’s atheists calling the Olympic Flame “sacred”?) – no, what aggrieves Beijing and its apologists is the realization that they have become caricatures of themselves, and that their mostly Western critics are much more skilled in the use of symbols – both serious and comical – than the leaden, mind-numbed intellectual and aesthetic heirs of Mao’s self-parodying humourlessness have become.

The open societies of the West have long enjoyed and benefited from the most artful, most effective, most SERIOUS cartoonists and caricaturists the world has ever seen. Here are just two exemplars, proffered as appetisers for anyone “seriously” interested in this topic:

  1. British cartoonist James Gilray; here is one of his exemplary, and instructive cartoons from 1808, featuring Napoleon.
  2. American cartoonist Thomas Nast (circa 1870s) whose series of political cartoons caricaturing New York’s “Boss Tweed” was instrumental in provoking the public outrage which resulted in the ruin of Boss Tweed’s political empire of graft.

Mr O’Neill, you and your kind can prattle all you want about the “unseriousness” of such cartoons, but their purposes and effects remain very serious indeed.

But then one must wonder, “How ‘serious’ are Mr O’Neill’s own symbols and rhetoric?”  Not very, if his own political “Manifesto Club” of which he is on the steering committee, is to be believed. Its website says,

The Manifesto Club is a pro-human campaigning network…


…erm? What? WHAT the…..? Pray tell, in God’s name – or for that matter in Marx’s name – WHAT is the least bit “serious” in the self-description, “pro-human”? And Mr O’Neill, please explain how that self-description is any more subtle, more thoughtful, or more serious than the rhetoric the anti-Torch protesters used? And you accuse THEM of using blunt rhetorical instruments and painting with too broad a brush? Thou untalented artist, re-draw thyself!


This entry was posted in Beijing Olympics, Ned Kelly's Pub, Wall of Shame and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to An Artist’s advice To Brendan O’Neill, Failing Cartoonist

  1. Pingback: Brendan O’Neill the cartoon character, Part Two « Under the Jacaranda Tree

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