A recent cartoon and the reporting on controversy around it by fellow Sequential contributor got me thinking about a subject that comes up a lot these days.
By Max, aka Salgood Sam – artist and publisher.
I reference a lot of stories here, mostly providing links to more in-depth reports of them, you may want to read through before following them all. But I do recommend following them, that’s kind of my ultimate point.
ED: TL:DR: Not a critique of the cartoon or cartoonist, as much as a defence; And politicians calling for things to be removed from the internet. Whoa, just no.
It’s become common place for cartoons, memes and other kinds of media that either strikes some as tone-deaf, insensitive, or possibly outright trolling, to become the subject of calls to be taken down, removed from existence.
I want to be careful to note that not all reactions take this track, many simply make what I think are fair game critiques of the content.
I’m not at all concerned with that, by all means we should be able to respond to things we see in the public media landscape and comment on their merits, or lack of. And there’s a lot of reasons to pay attention to the story around Jody Wilson Raybould’s demotion and subsequent resignation that have to do with women’s issues, violence against them and first nations, and the abuse of first nations people in Canada. But they are probably not all obvious to most.
And I think some elements of call-out culture have lost all sense of scale or perspective generally. Public figures and politicians tend to follow social trends and reflect them so when things get out of perspective like that it’s a concern. So I was not shocked, but very disappointed to see this tweet when I looked into the controversy commented on by our own Bryan Munn’s post.
This is absolutely unacceptable- I don’t care about the political satire. This image of an Indigenous woman bound and gagged needs to be removed from the Internet. @Twitter please remove this post immediately. Shame on you Michael de Adder @deAdder https://t.co/juu1IoCLxM
— Tracey Ramsey (@traceyram) February 15, 2019
Tracey Ramsey verified @traceyram
“This is absolutely unacceptable- I don’t care about the political satire. This image of an Indigenous woman bound and gagged needs to be removed from the Internet. @Twitter please remove this post immediately. Shame on you Michael de Adder @deAdder”
Ramsey is an MP for the Essex, and a NDP Trade Critic & Deputy Labour Critic. So this is [I presume given she’s NDP, my party of choice] the Canadian equivalent of a social democrat calling for the censorship and purging of a political cartoon over ‘offensive’ content. I suspect she’s probably not the only one who did, but she’s the one I noticed first.
First, here’s the cartoon again in question, just in case for those who’ve missed it somehow.
Cartoon for February 15 #RuleOfLaw #LavScam #cdnpoli #JodyWilsonRaybould #justintrudeau #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/S7m66aO86z
— Michael de Adder (@deAdder) February 15, 2019
So we don’t have the same degree of institutional free speech as the US in Canada but the basic idea is still held up. We make exceptions for hate speech for sure, and private companies like Twitter can always choose to pull content at their discretion, that’s not the same as government censorship. But this is an instance and example where that Venn diagram can get ugly.
No, as a government member it’s not ok for you to post “This image of an Indigenous woman bound and gagged needs to be removed from the Internet”.
Not because there’s nothing problematic with the image, but because it’s far far more problematic when people in government start making this kind of populist call to curtail political cartoonists and free speech generally.
And yes, I do understand, on both fronts what’s problematic to many about de Adder’s cartoon.
First the image of colonial oppression is being referenced, and the image of violence against women. And Michael de Adder has made statements about learning from his mistakes regarding this already.
But the mistake here I don’t think was in the image itself. His mistake was in assuming a level of mindfulness and knowledge on and around the story in question by the public. So If I may be so bold to presume to unpack it, here’s what I saw in that cartoon, when i liked and shared it myself.
The boxing arena and why a violent setting.
This is a meme Justin introduced to his political career early on, when he got into a ring with first nations Canadian Senator, Patrick Brazeau, and won the match too famously. It was a charity match but their was also a big element of both politicians trying to prove something at the time.
Justin had a pretty boy image, he wanted and needed to be seen as a manly man fighter to fortify his political bids in our still frankly pretty patriarchal society.
Some note then was taken of the fact Justin has a Haida raven on his shoulder, the boxing match was the first time many people saw that. It’s been noted that it’s problematic and the symbolism of Justin beating up a first nations Senator with that on view was, not loved by many first nations to say the least. Though on the other hand some did like it?
In any case, that meme of a fighting ring is not coming from the narrative of women as victims but from Justin as pugilist and rather tone-deaf himself at times on first nations issues. So, hence I suspect, the Boxing Ring.
Note that in de Adder’s cartoon the fight is implied but hasn’t started, we’re seeing an implication of violence, not the act of it. Unlike this one, that depicts the ‘After’ to de Adder’s ‘Before’. ED: Point being the ideas were out there, more than one artist hit on them, and If we’re going to take issue with the implied violence i’d find this version of the idea more of an issue.
Limited study of the #SNCLavalin Affair announced by Liberal dominated justice committee | @TheSpec Editorial Cartoon: https://t.co/csJIV37S8K pic.twitter.com/FwzaP2aRUN
— Graeme MacKay (@mackaycartoons) February 14, 2019
So why is she bound?
What do we need to see this for?!
Well as Wilson Raybould said from the start and Justin himself and other liberals have reminded her in interviews often, she they feel, is bound by solicitor-client privilege when it comes to talking publicly about just how much pressure she felt was being put on her in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Jody Wilson-Raybould has said only, “As the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, I am bound by solicitor-client privilege in this matter.” – macleans
So, that’s pretty straight forward no?
I think it’s also fair to suspect a bit of playing to the masses was involved in picking her for the job. And they really didn’t want her overturning that image.
You see, back in 83 B.C. Chief Bill Wilson, her father, said this to Pierre Trudeau.
That clip was played when her job was announced by a few Canadian media outlets, I very much doubt the Liberals had NOTHING to do with it resurfacing at the time. The story plays on the heart strings and plaid strongly into the pro feminist pro first nations pretense of the Justin Trudeau election narrative.
So here’s a more recent clip with Chief Bill Wilson, commenting on the demotion of his daughter. In that and elsewhere he’s made overt reference to the handling of his daughters demotion as an act of symbolic violence against her and first nations people. A slap in the face and worse.
“She upholds integrity and dignity and the rule of law and she gets kicked in the teeth” – GlobalNews
She’s unable to respond to this, if she’s going to respect the laws of the land of the settler government. She’s bound by our laws not to protect her reputation while facing the puppy dogged ‘I just don’t understand and I’m very disappointed’ media play of her leader.
And thus, the notion of a figurative violence being done to Jody while she’s unable to in any way really fight back was established.
And I think this strong condemning of the Trudeau government’s handling of this story is merited. Those images were packed into Trudeau’s legacy from the moment he climbed into a ring with Brazeau and buddied up with Wilson Raybould to make good on the prediction of their fathers back in the 80s. And pulled from it I wager to render a succinct critique by de Adder.
Her placement as Justice minister, while I hoped was done with genuine intent, read frankly a bit as part of a deft Red and Feminist washing of Trudeau’s cabinet. It could have been more had more been done with that. But I don’t feel like more was. And while her run in the office seems to have had issues mostly I feel like it’s probable that what really got her demoted was her consistent critique of the Liberal government’s lack of action on Reconciliation.
Not playing ball with the SNC Lavalin case is probably just icing from their perspective. Insiders are calling her ‘difficult’ and etc, which reads like a character assassination job really, but I have to wonder if that just means she was doing her job and fighting for the causes they put her in office to stand up for.
To many in the first nations community this is part of a running narrative with Justin, from Brazeau to Wilson Raybould, and so much more. So, I think you can now if you didn’t before, see some of the meme DNA I assumed to be a part of the cartoon Michael de Adder presented.
One should probably decode this cartoon as not condoning the image of a woman bound, figuratively or in fact in the cartoon, or exploiting it without fair reason.
It’s not that this cartoon that has NOTHING to do with violence against woman as some have claimed, but the ties to that topic involve a knotwork of subtext you need to know a lot of back story to unpack. I do think that’s exploited in the image but justifiably so, it’s using its weight to communicate the degree of hurt expressed by Wilson Raybould’s father and given her expression regarding his support one can presume her as well.
And in respect to the extreme stance taken by Tracey Ramsey, I am of the opinion, that if your opinion carries weight in our society, you have a responsibility to make sure it’s informed. Even if that involves untying a lot of knots and coming to find your initial response might need to be mitigated. And it should not include calls for expunging or censorship.
Can we be critical of it? OF COURSE, again, i don’t have an issue with that. I do find the pile on nature of critique these days to be troubling, and it does not make me pleased at all to see private parties taking it to extremes. But limiting that would = an unfair limit on speech too.
For the headline of Bryans’ report he referred to the comic as ‘Shitty’, I disagree. He’s free as a contributor to the site of course to express that opinion, but ‘Shitty’ was not in the text, it was the headline and I cut it with a notion as to why — I don’t want ad hominems to define the headlines we present to the world on Sequential.
On a rhetorical level I also think ‘Shitty’ is a poor and mostly informationless critique. He made a more articulate case in the text and while I don’t agree with his perspective on this case that’s fair!
But what really motivated this rather long by our site’s typical standards Op-ed, was seeing a politician, from my own left leaning ‘side’ as it were, using their platform to call for the excising of this cartoon from the ‘internet’ entirely. This is something that should concern any cartoonist or author, anyone in the media at all. And anyone who thinks we should have some modicum of free expression.
This was an unfortunate stance to role model for their constituency. I understand where the feeling came from but I think she was projecting her personal dismay over the image, but doing so in an official capacity – sic. The part where it involved calling for a takedown, not the kind of thing I think an MP should be doing.
Footnote: at this time, no one has removed the offending cartoon, and while he’s taken note of the issues raised, he’s continuing as he should to cover the story. IMO Michael de Adder is not just one of the few working political cartoonists we have in Canada, he’s one of the best in the west, typically very thoughtful and insightful. So I don’t write any of this fearing for his future, I just felt it needed to be said.
Cartoon for @TorontoStar #lavscam #GerryButts #iPadPro #cdnpoli #SNCLavalin https://t.co/oNhSOmT4XH pic.twitter.com/2e9yjPM1VB
— Michael de Adder (@deAdder) February 19, 2019
Edited for clarity grammar and typos at 11:11pm