Left “Barbarians” Killing Satire, Oz Cartoonist Says Sometimes its good to be offensive

CAPTION: A self-portait of controversial Aussie cartoonist Bill Leak.

Cartoonist Bill Leak both delighted and caused offence last week with an Oped piece in “The Australian”  He complained eloquently about “authoritarian barbarians of the New Left” and increasing damage wrought by political correctness.

Bill Leak
Bill Leak

A cartoonist who famously takes no prisoners, his work for the Australian newspaper led to at fatwa against and forced him to leave his home, hidden by News Corporation to protect him and his family. So you can understand why he is agitated by what he sees is growing timidity among other Aussie cartoonists “with some honourable exceptions” he says have caved to pressure so they can be liked on Facebook and Twitter.

For obvious reasons, Leak is mostly focused on the limits being placed on humour and satire about Islamic extremists. Among his comments Leak said (abridged):

Progressive fundamentalists now are trying to dictate what’s permissible when it comes to cracking jokes, just like the barbarians of fundamentalist Islam, cartoonists have found themselves on the frontline. We used to be instinctively anti-authoritarian and cynical, which made it almost impossible to offend us, and was the reason Australia became a breeding ground for great cartoonists. But it’s not any more because, instead of manning the barricades against this plague, our cartoonists, with a few honourable exceptions, rushed to embrace it. As ­George Orwell said: “You cannot be really funny if your main aim is to flatter the comfortable classes.” But they do. They want to be cool, they want to be popular; liked on Facebook, followed on Twitter. So at a time when their duty to ­offend has never been more pressing, they go out of their way to ­appease the offendirati by making their cartoons as inoffensive, as ­insipid, as possible.”

New Zealand Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson is a good friend of Leak.

“Bill takes no prisoners with his work. I agree with a great deal of what he says, and sometimes I don’t. His comments regarding the PC brigade are correct though.
Satire is about the human condition and all its foibles, hence it is always at someone’s expense. So not everyone laughs. It’s knowing where to start, and more importantly, where to stop these days.
Bill will always use language that will cut and divide. It’s deliberate. I have laughed endlessly with him. And sometimes, I’ve thought – shit – I’d never get away with that.  

Rod Emmerson - a mate and an admirer
Rod Emmerson – a mate and an admirer

He has been attacked in Australia. But Emmerson is clear that he is not a racist. Leak has a wide view of what is politically correct. In my view, some of his cartoons are offensive. But publish and be damned is still an important principle especially for cartoonists. They have a privilege that normal journalists don’t have to use humour and satire to cut to the bone of a topic – and force you to take a position,. Leak was talking about Australia. But in New Zealand there is a sense that keyboard warriors are defining what is acceptable and unacceptable to say.


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3 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">Left “Barbarians” Killing Satire, Oz Cartoonist Says</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">Sometimes its good to be offensive</span>”

  1. I don’t know Bill Leak’s work, so I can’t comment on the specifics. What does upset me is alleged humour or satire that punches down. Fearless and edgy humour should punch up, skewering the pretensions of powerful people. If the joke is at the expense of people who are already marginalised, then that’s just viciousness, and it takes no courage whatsoever.

    1. I know the point you are making – and I’ve uttered it myself several times. As I say – I find myself offended by some of his cartoons. But as a journalist I think we are getting to the point where self appointed or media appointed people are defining what can or cannot be written about.I have the privilege of access to the media to do be the same – but I’m saying its wrong to say its wrong to stop free speech. The argument about Bill Leak is really that the man is under threat of a fatwa – and yet there is no outrage from keyboard warriors

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