Wednesday, June 25, 2014

least funny cartoons ever

I mean these cartoons (all from the early months of the Bulletin, 1956) are so truly dreadful in two ways at least, that this is almost like one of those tv shows where you don't have to do anything except point and snicker (or make that fingers-down-the-throat gesture) and say 'Look! Look! What were they thinking?'. I must say, leafing through the bound volume of the Bulletin for 1956 I was almost - almost - impressed at the awfulness of the cartoons within. They were so universally and concertedly unfunny, I was compelled to start looking for a pattern, some kind of quirky underpinning that made it make a little more sense. Anyway before I say anything more, have a look at these shitty, racist cartoons if you haven't already:

(Yes, I know what you're thinking, the genitalia of the man on the left is obscured by an enormous rock somewhat reminiscent of an erect penis and there is a snake directly below it, but don't start pulling this apart, Sid Black clearly wasn't that complicated or interesting a person). 

(Update twelve hours after initial post: there is one pattern in these three at least: person on the right expounds to person on the left. I don't know what to make of this, if anything, except that it shows great laziness and stricture in terms of form). 

It's been a while since I read Donald Horne's very interesting memoirs so I'm just operating from memory here which is always dangerous but as I recall, when Horne became editor of the Bulletin (Wikipedia tells me this happened in 1961) he was taking on a rudderless, unpopular, conservative piece of trash that had washed up somehow in Frank Packer's stable for no good reason and which was either to be resuscitated under his aegis or shut down. I vaguely recall Horne talking about some of the ghostly presences on the Bulletin at this time who were going through the motions for lack of something better to do with their lives. Horne mercy-sacked quite a few of them I think and turned the magazine into something decent.

He notoriously ditched the 'Australia for the White Man' banner on its masthead (which I think was really anti-immigration, not anti-Aboriginal, but who knows) and I doubt that any of the material above would have run in the Bulletin under Horne, but of course it was just very different days, so who really knows. What interests me about these images is, firstly, the lie they put into that 'why weren't we told' story that even my own grandmothers were buying into (or propagating, I suppose) in the 90s when Australia's great shame of indigenous dispossession and genocide was being 'debated' (like you can debate something like that: it was and is what it was and is). But from what I can gather a cartoon like the three above ran in each issue of the Bulletin in 1956 and no doubt many other years either side. If you need it explained to you - at least as I understand it - the joke is that these primitive people are talking like ordinary white people, as though they were as good as or as smart as such people. There was also of course the chance for a bit of sneaky nudity, which is another bizarre and perverse aspect of the way many white Australians liked to see/perceive indigenous Australians.*

One thing I would also add though, which is not an observation intended to detract from the racism of these images, is the peculiar way the 'joke' of Aboriginal people talking like white people (the middle one's also about how ugly the woman being addressed is, but let's leave that aside as just one more element to a panoply of horrors) morphed into a joke about Australian white working class people talking as though they were as good as middle class people. John Clarke, a very talented and deservedly beloved comic has done this a lot (he did it in New Zealand, he did it here). The idea of Australians talking about intellectual things was one of the least hilarious moments amongst many unfunny bits of Monty Python. May I say this is all just one more piece of evidence in my many numerous pieces of evidence re: the preposterous transposing of racist rhetoric into the discussion of working class people. I wrote a book about it maybe you've read it (or read a review of it and think you've read it - that seems more common).**

I could go on about those ghastly cartoons above. I could also go on about the incredibly stolid and unwaveringly poor cartoons in the rest of the Bulletin that year. But I'll just include one more completely shit cartoon here, it's not racist it's just sexist and cringeingly unfunny.

Now 1956 was of course sixty years ago, and folks were different then. And there's no point in trying to pick something like this apart - whatever, someone thought it was worth publishing, they're all dead now presumably but even if they weren't they wouldn't be able to explain in a way that made sense to you or I.

And I am reminded of the Rik Mayall as Kevin Turvey joke about Margaret Thatcher: 'why does Margaret Thatcher wear barbed wire underpants? She doesn't, it's a joke.' By which I mean, start trying to pick apart something like this and it all falls to bits, but who looks more foolish, someone who is merely trying to paint a funny little scenario, or someone who is taking it all too seriously?

I started listing all the things that were stupid about this cartoon, but anyone can see those, why bother. I can't let the caption go, though (it would be a slightly better cartoon without any caption at all, of course; it really doesn't need one). Since there is no proof that the driver causing this catastrophe is a woman, what are we to make of the speaker on the right? We can't give him any credibility; he is not even giving his own supposition any weight. Surely we can only assume that the joke is, women are appallingly bad drivers and a danger to themselves and others to the degree that they will drive full-pelt at a drive-in screen (or at anything with the word 'Drive-in' above it, because they are so open to suggestion) and yet they are allowed behind a wheel. So... women do what they see on signs, with no regard for safety or sense? Or... women just drive too fast at things generally? Or... ???

It doesn't help that to make the greatest visceral impact in the nonsense joke, the cartoonist has had to put the drive-in cinema screen unfeasibly low to the ground, which would make it impossible for most people to see the film. But I guess that's poetic license.

Actually, to my perturbation the more I look at it, the more there is of interest in this ghastly cartoon, which tells us something about how times have changed. When was the last time in history, do you think, when two men could go to the drive-in together and it not be assumed they were more than friends? I reckon the early 70s, and even then, it would be in the eye of the beholder. It doesn't help that the bald speaker's companion seems to be a scoutmaster.

Anyway, sorry about these horrible cartoons. I feel dirty too.

*I note the three cartoons at the top are ostensibly by two different cartoonists, but I find it hard to believe they're not all from the same pen. Not just the addresser/addressee setup, but the hands, arms, composition, including the dropped horizon... was Sid Black so prolific that he had to submit cartoons (really, let's face it, the same cartoon) under different names? Little biographical detail is easily available on Sid Black but that's OK.  
**The exception that proves the rule was Joseph Furphy's Such is Life, which came half a century before these cartoons and does show a lot of apparently uneducated and stateless white Australian men talking like the finest intellectuals. That is a truly great book but it's such an anomaly it can't be factored into the above in my opinion. 

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