From Press Freedoms to Flashpoints in the Firestorms of Editorial Cartoons

Sponsor: Freedom of Expression Division
Sat, 11/21: 2:00 PM  - 3:15 PM 
Virtual Event 
Room: Zoom Room 08 
The editorial cartoon is a touchstone for matters of free expression in the journalistic tradition. Since their early inception in the politically charged engravings of eighteenth-century pictorial satirist William Hogarth to the present day, editorial cartoons have shown forth as signifiers of comic irreverence and mockery in the face of governmental authority as well as the more generalized cultural politics of the times. This paper argues that it is more important for scholars, commentators, and ordinary citizens alike to take stock of comic zeitgeists than to dwell on the comic exploits of any one editorial cartoon or cartoonist. In so doing, attention is paid to the notion that conflicts in value judgments over the comic license help to inform how and why editorial cartoons can occupy two spaces at once: the disclosure of folly as the foolish conduct of public officials and the stupidity of institutions that make it worthy as an object of ridicule and the denunciation of comicality in journalistic opinion making that goes too far with its co-called right to offend. As much can be seen in the days of famed French printmaker and caricaturist Honoré Daumier who was imprisoned for six months from 1832 until 1833 after portraying Emperor Louis-Philippe in the L Caricature. It can seen, too, in what many commentators today have referred to as "cartoon wars," which have led to everything from high-profile firings of cartoonists (including in the U.S.) through bans and imprisonments of artists in Middle Eastern countries to the 2015 shootings of cartoon artists at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. But what happens when editorial cartoons emerge as flashpoints in conflagrations that double as cultural clashes? Simply, as this paper will argue, the broader comic spirits in certain historical moments enable our discovery of the social, political, and cultural standards of judgment being applied to the carte blanche of journalism and the comic license of those using graphic caricatures to freely editorialize their takes on the world-or not.


Christopher J. Gilbert, Assumption College  - Contact Me