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The art of controversy
by Jake Highton
Oct 02, 2013 | 1107 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power"

By Victor Navasky

Alfred Knopf, 200 pages, 2013

This book is barely worth publishing but Victor Navasky is “somebody,” editor, publisher and owner of Nation magazine for 30 years. His writing is poor. His reporting is poor and his judgment is poor.

A far better book is “Killed Cartoons,” by David Wallis (2007). Wallis punctures the persistent myth of the liberal media. His target is censorship: excellent editorial cartoons never published by the gutless Establishment media. Wallis demonstrates that nearly all opinion editors should be in another line of work — like clerking or accounting.

Navasky does print David Levine’s great cartoon of Henry Kissinger “Screwing the World” (1984) despite the opposition of Nation staffers, who called it a sexist stereotype. The cartoon showed Kissinger in bed on top of a naked woman. She had a globe instead of a head.

The cartoon was not about sex. It was about Kissinger, secretary of state and national security adviser for President Nixon. He was shown raping the world, his face a mixture of ecstasy and villainy.

Navasky did not evince the same courage about the Danish cartoons satirizing Muhammad in 2005. He does not show them. (The Philadelphia Inquirer did.) In one cartoon Muhammad is shown wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, the fuse lit. In another, Muhammad is standing on clouds in heaven shouting to suicide bombers: “Stop, stop! We ran outs of virgins.”

It is no excuse to say that nearly all American newspapers did not print them either, fearful of the furor they caused. (More than 100 people were killed and 500 injured in mêlées around the world.)

Navasky offered a multiple-choice quiz as to why he did not republish the Muhammad caricatures: a) Fear of retaliation by Muslim extremists; b) Fear of booksellers wanting to avoid controversy; c) Respect for Muslim sensibilities and desire to avoid needless provocation; d) The cartoons are available on the Internet, only a Google away.

His answer: all of the above. All invalid reasons. The readers cannot judge them without seeing them. Then Navasky adds foolishly: “I have looked at the cartoons and they lack distinction.”  Let readers decide that.

Religious leaders are hardly sacred figures to satirists. Moreover, the vision of artists should never be censored.

Another omission: no mention of Paul Conrad of the Los Angeles Times, the country’s best editorial cartoonist from 1964 to 1993.

Conrad, vitriolic, trenchant and mordant, was in a great tradition: Hogarth and Gillray in 18th century Britain, Frenchman Daumier and American Nast in the 19th century, Britain’s Low, American Levine and Conrad’s American contemporaries, Herblock, Mauldin and Marlette, in the 20th century.

Navasky’s book is marred by irrelevances, larded with clichés like “stay tuned,” unnecessary “of courses” and school-boy admonitions (“patience, dear reader”). He writes of the theories of cartooning like some PhD academic rather than a newspaperman: “The Neuroscience Theory,” “the Image Theory” and the “Content Theory.”

He notes that the National Gallery in London sells more reproductions of Leonardo’s drawing, “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist,” than any other picture in its gallery. He does not show it.

The book contains one gross error: Picasso’s “Guernica” is given as 1907 not the correct 1937. Navasky is even a poor proofreader.
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