No more big ears

September 13th, 2012 by Brian Leave a reply »

Growing up, whenever I looked at political cartoons in the newspaper, I felt like the caricatures of politicians were these grotesque creatures with misshapen features. And every politician has big ears, I guess. That, to me, means political cartoons. There are still some of those around, but the essence of the political cartoon has changed with new media. The current trend is  to take a photo, whether of an angry cat or goofy chocolatier, and add some sarcastic text to it.

That’s not too new by Internet standards. Our current junior high students don’t know what it’s like to live in a world pre-I Can Haz Cheezburger. What’s new, though, is the huge influx of political versions of these pictures. These new political cartoons are more prolific because of three factors:

  1. Accessibility of creation tools
  2. Accessibility of audience
  3. A sense of duty for the artist

If you have Microsoft Paint or even Word, you can add text to a picture. Since the picture is already created, the words are usually the only thing that needs to be added. The site someecards illustrates this perfectly in that the pictures are already there for you to pick.

Distribution is even easier. The artist doesn’t have to impress any acquisition editors at a newspaper or get big enough for syndication. Nope. You just need a social media account to blast out whatever idea you have. Since Facebook is already established and has a variety of reasons why people will log in, that’s why you see the majority of these new political cartoons on Facebook. Most people check their accounts for updates from friends, someone posts a political cartoon, and the reader can then share the photo. do nothing, or comment in disgust. Even if the cartoon was created on another site, it will end up on Facebook. Since newspapers are losing subscribers, you’ll see more and more of these cartoons be the norm for political cartoons because of the ready-made audience.

The sense of duty in creating/sharing the picture is what intrigues me about the new political cartoons. Where a paid political cartoonist needs to produce something each week or more frequently, the new cartoonist does it without much promise of getting recognition. Maybe they’ll win a bunch of likes, but not if someone just makes a copy of the image and posts that. There’s an unspoken understanding of copyright with these images, many of which borrow and remix other images. It boils down to the image being shared to get a laugh/get the idea out there. But it’s the sense of duty of the people that re-post, that take that idea and feel the need to educate others about it, which is missing in current newspaper cartoons. The new artists are unpaid campaigners in a world where social media is gaining more and more influence.


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