British editorial cartoonist Martin Rowson (The Guardian) reflects on the Bush era:
In 2004 the re-election of George Bush filled almost every atom of my being with dismay, despair, fear, loathing and disgust, at what this implied about the future of America and the world. I say almost every atom, because deep down in my reptile brain, the cartoonist in me knew that four years of Dubya could never be enough.
This highlights several of the fundamental contradictions contained within satirists. Obviously, if our satire worked and all those creeps we lampoon just stopped, the world would be a perfect place, we’d have nothing left to satirise and I’d be painting kittens in teacups, probably on velvet. But worse than that, quite often cartoonists get caught in a kind of satirical Stockholm syndrome, where we come to love the things we seek to destroy. In other words, Bush was just a joy to draw.
Infuriatingly, Steve Bell established the Bush-as-chimp shtick before any of the rest of us, and it’s considered bad form to nick other cartoonist’s tricks. Even so, Bush still offered more than any caricaturist could dream possible: there’s the eyebrows writhing round his crinkled forehead like demented chinchillas, and beneath them eyes so close together they seem in constant danger of fusing into cyclopism; then there’s the mouth, offering either a dumb, Mad magazine shit-eating grin or elongating into a truly simian pant hoot as he tried to articulate human speech. Add to that his pointy ears and flattened, beaky nose, and even if he’d been a Nobel Peace laureate of impeccable liberal credentials, we’d still have loved drawing and stretching every single feature.
Rowson acknowledges that there is not much Bush can do about his appearance, that he received much criticism via email from the President’s supporters, and even suggests that such direct lampooning “was more than justified by the way he behaved”. And there is a certain merit to this argument. After all, there is a vicious streak in American political tradition, and the British are known to often be raucous about their own affairs. At home in the States, “peanut farmer” is a disparaging term, and while there is a certain distaste about noting Reagan’s senility, he was followed by the shrimp vs. the wimp, Bubba, and the chimp. All in good fun, so to speak.
The challenge facing political cartoonists in this sense seems a difficult one. I’m brought to mind of an old Doonesbury strip, an episode from the travails of the Doctor Whoopee enterprise when recounting the world’s miseries with AIDS and other diseases: Things are looking good? Afraid so. On a Monday before a fateful Tuesday in November, 2004, Daily Show host Jon Stewart pleaded with viewers to make his job more difficult. Certainly, then, we can understand when Rowson writes, “But either way, while honing up on McCain and Obama, in preparation for the delivery of fresh meat, I’m still going to miss the dumb son of a bitch.”