I've been spending my early mornings in Bangalore reflecting on the similarities between the political cartoon and the parable (and have even produced 6000 words for my supervisor to show for it!)
May I introduce you to two of my companions?
1. The first is Herbert Block - known simply as 'Herblock'. Triple Pulitzer Prize winner, Herblock's career spanned six decades and thirteen Presidents, with cartoons appearing in The Washington Post from the heart of the Great Depression until his final piece two weeks before 9/11. He loved to 'skewer demagogues' and 'puncture pomposity'. He hounded Senator Joseph McCarthy for five years - being credited with coining the word 'McCarthyism' - and bedeviled Richard Nixon for twenty five, convinced from the beginning that he was a bad egg.
I wish I could include some of my favourite cartoons here - but the whole area is heavily copyrighted and I want to respect that reality. The book pictured above is fabulous, as is 'Puncturing Pomposity', a collection of cartoons dealing with the Presidents during Herblock's era. Here is a small on-line collection - but it contains two of my favourites: "Shall We Say Grace?" and "Mugging" (make sure you see the 'RN' on the cufflinks!). Another good site is here here and the Library of Congress has stored hundreds of his cartoons here and cartoons can be searched by caption/title.
I keep wondering where Herblock would have gone in this decade since his death. How would he puncture Obama's pomposity? How would he compare and contrast the fear of Muslims with the fear of Communists - separated by fifty years - and McCarthyism with FoxTVism? How would he have waded into the Health Care debate and the greedy deregulation of the banking sector that has led to the global financial crisis?
2. The second is a scholarly account of the Danish cartoon crisis when twelve cartoonists were asked to draw Mohammed 'as you see him'. What was meant to be a prod for a few 'mad mullahs' living locally became an international incident that killed more than 200 people. The story is retold by Jytte Klausen in The Cartoons that Shook the World (Yale, 2009).
The decisive observation which Klausen makes is the way the protests didn't begin until six months after publication. She concludes that this was not some colossal cultural-religious misunderstanding that led to a spontaneous outburst of rage among Muslims. Rather it was an orchestrated political conflict carried out by powerful people in places like Denmark and Egypt which was six months in the birthing. Many, many Muslims considered it all to be “the insignificant abuse of an irresponsible provincial paper in a small country”(170). But once the political forces found an outlet in the 'new media' of satellite TV, blogs, online chat rooms and the like - it spread like wildfire and the damage done to East:West relations is still being felt.
For the record, my research interest lies with demonstrating how the cartoon and parable (not just the parable of Jesus) have various features in common. They are both narrative, comparative, occasional, paradoxical, polemical, political, artistic, subversive - and brief (!) texts.