by Riber HANSSON / Sweden

Riber Hansson / Sweden

A cartoonist should basically be in opposition to people of power. The idea of democracy is that we are not supposed to be in agreement. In a free society we don’t agree and we should not. Irreverence is a prerequisite for democracy and satire is its very essence. Satire, irony, caricatures and humour are the tools of the political (editorial) cartoonist. Satirizing cartoons can be both more or less provocative, but in the end it’s not what the cartoonist draws that upsets readers, so much as what the reader chooses to see. A cartoonist must stand by his or her drawing, but cannot be held responsible for his public chooses to interpret it. Satire itself is never more dangerous than its target. Regardless of the cartoonist’s intention, it is ultimately the viewer who supplies emotion to the image.The explosiveness of any image is proportional to the target’s need for censorship!

When I many years ago started drawing political cartoons for one of the leading Swedish daily newspapers, I felt excited to imagine that the drawings probably should be looked at, by Swedens most important politicians. It felt like I had a personal channel into the centre of power, where my pictures were direct messages to the portrayed politicians. A very naive idea of course. Years later a Swedish party leader when opening a cartoon exhibition said: Before I open the morning paper, I am worried how I will be presented in today’s cartoon. The only thing that worries me more, he said, is that I should not appear at all in it. It was of cause a joke, but probably with some truth in it. And it confirmed what I think today: when the cartoonist put a needle in a politician, the politician usually reacts as on stimulating acupuncture. The politicians don’t care about cartoons, they care about poll ratings. Therefore the drawings should turn to those who are voting.

Many demand respect, but often fail to listen to other’s opinions. To demand irreverence is something else completely. Irreverence is a prerequisite for democracy and satire is its very essence. This fact makes satirical cartoons a type of litmus test for democracy and freedom of expression, where reactions expose intolerance. To strike at those below from on high is most common. By definition, satire strikes back at the powers that be from below – whether they be religious, economic, or political powers. Freedom of press is superfluous to those in power. Power will unscrupulously protect its domain with any means at its disposal. Power is smart and cowardly. It will always seek refuge behind the obstacle to scrutiny that taboo provides. That’s why there can be no room for sacred cows where freedom of press is concerned.

The word freedom gives associations to boundlessness, but freedom is based on tolerance, an aspect that is rarely considered. Perhaps tolerance and its limits should be that which is emphasised when discussing freedom of expression, freedom of the press and censorship. I consider the following quotation to be pertinent in this regard: “The limits of tolerance are naturally defined by the principle of tolerance itself: you should not tolerate actions that unduly limit other’s right to freedom of thought and action” (From the Swedish National Encyclopaedia).

Satirical cartoons are created in the spirit of freedom of press and of tolerance. They demand tolerance of irreverence and reject demands to accept intolerance. Some will always find political satire uncivil, unfair, arrogant and provocative and will therefore challenge its validity. But by definition, satire’s black, biting humour stands firmly on the side of the weak against those who rule them.

With their pen-strokes, most cartoonists endeavour to contribute to a better world.


(author is renowned Swedish editorial cartoonist)


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