WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT?
                          Martyn Turner’s cartoons in the Irish Times in 2003


                ...
Whoever reads the Irish Times on a regular basis, either on paper or on the internet, is familiar
with Martyn Turner’s car...
The issues in Martyn Turner's cartoons in 2003


                                      3%
                              12...
13-02




                                             20-03

     Another characteristic of Turner’s choice of topics is ...
11-04




                                                 18-12



As far as the personalities are concerned, Turner’s fa...
Caricature consists in the deliberate distortion or exaggeration of the features or manners of a
given personality in orde...
03-03


The British Prime Minister is invariably represented with a pear-shaped face and huge mouth, lips and
teeth, blood...
10-01




                                                06-06
The Taoiseach is often accompanied by the Tanaiste, Mary H...
04-06




                                               10-07
Gerry Adams, in his turn, who complained to Martyn Turner i...
28-11
Saddam Hussein’s thick moustache and eyebrows and strict countenance give the former Iraqi
President a tyrannical, r...
Other interesting caricatures drawn by Turner include French President Jacques Chirac (03-03),
California Governor Arnold ...
15-03




19-03




 12
22-07
Throughout his almost 200 cartoons published in the Irish Times last year, Martyn Turner’s favourite
target was, wit...
particularly concerned about such as racism, doping and violence in sports, AIDS or the environment,
as in the following c...
02-12




                                                  24-10


     What major conclusions can we draw from this brie...
it hurts, ridicule or satirize, they are bound to insist more on the negative than on the positive, which
means that they ...
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Turners Cartoons In The Irish Times 2003

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  • Dear Jean,

    I read your thesis, which was helpful to me in writing a book on the Irish Times called: The Irish Times: Past and Present.

    I was wondering if you still retained an interest in the subject and if you are aware of books on the newspaper which have been published since your thesis. Apart from my own book there has been a book by Dermot James (From the Margin to the Centre) and a book by Mark O'Brien (The Irish Times: a history).

    If you have any views which you might wish to share with me, my email is:

    john.martin.f@gmail.com

    Regards

    John Martin
       Reply 
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
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Turners Cartoons In The Irish Times 2003

  1. 1. WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT? Martyn Turner’s cartoons in the Irish Times in 2003 Jean Mercereau, Escola Superior de Educação Jean Piaget/Nordeste, Portugal Let me start by confessing something: I am no specialist of cartoons. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the political evolution of the Irish Times, and then extended my field of research to the whole of the daily press of the Republic of Ireland. When confronted with this humour/tragedy antagonism as theme of the next Spanish conference of Irish Studies in Malaga, however, it struck me that political cartoons in general, and Turner’s in particular, probably have at least as much to do with tragedy as with humour. According to the Cambridge Dictionary of English, humour is “the ability to be amused by things”, and applies to any situation that is comic. If we accept this definition, then it took a great deal of humour to find anything amusing in the main events that made the top of the news agenda last year, both on an Irish level with, for example, the threat to the Friday Agreement following the victory of the Democratic Unionist Party in the elections to the Belfast Parliament, or on the international scene with, for example, the US led war in Iraq and its aftermaths. (Cynics would argue, of course, that the worse the year for the world, the better for its cartoonists.) All the while, however, Martyn Turner did find something to laugh about – or at least to make readers laugh about - on an almost daily basis. The objective of this paper is to analyse Turner’s cartoons in order to determine who and what Turner made fun of, how he did it and, above all, what was his message beyond the simple comic effect. To illustrate my paper, I didn’t resist to the pleasure of showing you some of Turner’s cartoons (after having been allowed to do so by Martyn Turner himself, who owns the copyrights and assured me that I wouldn’t have anything to pay for it). 1
  2. 2. Whoever reads the Irish Times on a regular basis, either on paper or on the internet, is familiar with Martyn Turner’s cartoons which appear if not every day, at least three or four times a week in the opinion section. Martyn Turner was born in the South of England and moved to Belfast where he concluded a Degree in geography in 1971. He has been cartoonist for the Irish Times since 1972, and was editor of the Northern Ireland review Fortnight in the 1980s. He is usually considered the best Irish cartoonist of his generation, although it is true that there are few cartoonists in Irish newspapers (two notable exceptions today being Aongus Collin in the Evening Herald and Sunday Tribune and Ian Knox in the Irish News) and has been awarded two doctorates from Irish universities. Martyn Turner shares his time between County Kildare and France (at any rate, far from the Irish Times’ offices) and makes a point of not even reading the Irish Times’ editorials (simply because, he argues, “life is too short”). Indeed, Turner, who was once reported as stating that “the most difficult thing about being a cartoonist is convincing your wife that you are working when you are staring out the window”, seems, like other cartoonists, to cultivate deliberately an image of dilettante, somewhere between, at best, an immature adolescent and, at worst, a dangerous threat to democracy. His art, however, is no joke, and relies on the capacity to present much debated issues from another perspective in order to create a comic effect. From what events did Martyn Turner inspire himself in 2003? Like any other cartoonist, Turner is dependent on the news for inspiration in order to be as relevant and widely understood as may be and to have an immediate impact. Consequently, most of his cartoons dealt with the events that concentrated the attention of the media: international news (90 times, 71 of which on the war in Iraq), domestic issues (86 times) and Northern Ireland (25 times), as the following chart shows: 2
  3. 3. The issues in Martyn Turner's cartoons in 2003 3% 12% Domestic issues War in Iraq 9% 42% Other International news Northern Ireland Other 34% Irish issues, then, are the most often chosen by Turner for his daily cartoons, with special emphasis on the economy, politics and society. Besides strictly national issues like the budget, strikes, legislation (for example the ban on smoking), demonstrations, the bin charges, education or health, I’d like to insist on one of Turner’s favourite topic: Ireland’s neutrality, to which he devoted half a dozen cartoons strongly denouncing the Taoiseach’s hypocritical attitude, such as these: 30-01 3
  4. 4. 13-02 20-03 Another characteristic of Turner’s choice of topics is probably the way he associates issues which are not usually related in any way by the common observer, thus allowing him to draw unexpected parallels and to denounce attitudes beyond punctual events. This often happens, for example, with Northern Ireland and Iraq: 09-04 4
  5. 5. 11-04 18-12 As far as the personalities are concerned, Turner’s favourites are the following: Number of occurrences of personalities in Martyn Turner's cartoons in 2003 40 35 35 31 30 25 20 20 13 15 9 10 5 0 Bertie George Tony Gerry Saddam Ahern Bush Blair Adams Hussein 5
  6. 6. Caricature consists in the deliberate distortion or exaggeration of the features or manners of a given personality in order to make him or her seem ludicrous. In Martyn Turner’s cartoons, this is indeed the treatment given to all the characters: Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein, Gerry Adams and, above all, George Bush. For example, the American President, usually considered quite difficult to draw because of his fine features, is recognizable to his prominent ears and expressionless face, probably more because of his alleged intellectual capacities (or lack of them) than because of any particular physical resemblance. His lack of expression and apparent innocence sometimes make him look like a schoolboy lost in an adult world. 19-04 6
  7. 7. 03-03 The British Prime Minister is invariably represented with a pear-shaped face and huge mouth, lips and teeth, bloodshot eyes as well as big, and exceptionally low, ears, which make him look half way between a convincing salesman and a bloodthirsty psychopath. 03-05 08-04 Bertie Ahern, who appears no less than 35 times, is invariably represented with a round face, red nose and double chin which give him a candid, naïve expression and a lack of strong personality, as well as a human, although somehow irresponsible, air. He is, in a way, the country boy (bumpkin) who’s come up to town to sell his cow or pig and finds himself playing at being Prime Minister. 7
  8. 8. 10-01 06-06 The Taoiseach is often accompanied by the Tanaiste, Mary Harney, whose physical appearance doesn’t change much from one cartoon to the other: a short, overfed and expressionless schoolgirl 8
  9. 9. 04-06 10-07 Gerry Adams, in his turn, who complained to Martyn Turner in the past about his cartoons, is often represented with a masked terrorist at his side, and his face is almost reduced to an invading dark beard, prominent teeth and huge glasses, which combine to make him look like some sort of crazy scientist. 23-10 9
  10. 10. 28-11 Saddam Hussein’s thick moustache and eyebrows and strict countenance give the former Iraqi President a tyrannical, ruthless face 04-01 07-02 10
  11. 11. Other interesting caricatures drawn by Turner include French President Jacques Chirac (03-03), California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 08-08 the United States’ number 1 public enemy Bin Laden (03-01) and DUP leader Ian Paisley (see above, 28-11). Beside the strictly visual effect which contributes to humour by creating comic situations, most cartoons rely either on irony in the sense that their literal meaning is the opposite of what is really intended by the author, or on satire, as the capacity to mock and denounce the vice, folly or evil of a given personality, action or idea in order to make it appear ridiculous. In both cases, unlike what happens with plain humour, the laughter created is neither kind nor sympathetic but, on the contrary, critical and derisory. Most cartoons concerning Bertie Ahern and, to a lesser extent, Gerry Adams rely on irony in the sense that the character represented says something that is interpreted in a completely different way by the reader. But Turner at least seems to give them the excuse of sincerity, good faith or even sometimes innocence. Not so with Tony Blair and, even less, with George Bush, who are most of the time the object of satire. In their case, there is the same contradiction between what is meant by the character and how it is perceived by the reader, with the big difference that both the American president and the British prime minister are granted no mitigating circumstances and are often presented as deliberately cheating, lying or fooling public opinion. Turner’s tone may even become quite cruel, or even openly aggressive, whenever he expresses his outrage or indignation at some events related to Bush or Blair and their attitude in the war on Iraq, for example in the following cartoons, which are probably among the most scathing attacks on the United States’ policy on Iraq: 11
  12. 12. 15-03 19-03 12
  13. 13. 22-07 Throughout his almost 200 cartoons published in the Irish Times last year, Martyn Turner’s favourite target was, without any doubt, George, not only for the number of cartoons devoted to the American President, but also because the style used to deal with him. Besides, he makes no secret of his personal feelings against George Bush, and answered for example, when asked the eternal question about whether he considered it possible to laugh about everything, or, in other words, if some things are too tragic to be “cartoonable”: “I think it is possible to laugh about everything, some things are so awful that you can only but laugh at them – take George W Bush for example”. Despite their comic function, the objective of most cartoons is obviously not only to create laughter but to transmit a message. In that sense, the author’s own vision, values and opinions are of course essential to provoke a reaction in the readers, whether it is agreement or anger, and to bring some issues which are not usually considered newsworthy to the top of the news agenda. Turner himself explains: “I am, of course, influenced by what is in the news, as I have to be relevant and understood but from time to time, if possible, I introduce subjects that are of interest to me but which may have a low news profile – for years I have been interested in, say, third world issues, ecology and nuclear power and have done quite e few cartoons on those subjects even though they rarely make the top of the news agenda”. Last year, for example, Turner led the reader to think about issues he feels 13
  14. 14. particularly concerned about such as racism, doping and violence in sports, AIDS or the environment, as in the following cartoons: 31-01 29-03 14
  15. 15. 02-12 24-10 What major conclusions can we draw from this brief study of Martyn Turner’s cartoons published in the Irish Times last year? Firstly, his choice of topics closely followed the news agenda, with few exceptions which are mostly due to his efforts to bring some topics to the public’s attention. Secondly, Turner clearly expressed his personal opposition to the United States’ administration, and to President Bush in general, by attacking both (as well as Tony Blair) with a particularly harsh tone when most other politicians – including Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams and even, to a certain extent, Saddam Hussein, are awarded some leniency. Thirdly, while Turner obviously diversifies his techniques meant to create comic effects, relying successively, for instance, on caricature, irony or satire, his real meaning always appears quite clearly to the reader, who is therefore invited to share the cartoonist’s own feelings of outrage, revolt or derision. As Turner himself put it in the introduction to one of his books in 1996, “the cartoonist’s function is the reverse of the tragedian’s: we try to extract something from the misery out there that will keep the audience smiling – if not actual laughter, then at least a grunt of agreement or a laugh of desperation”. These characteristics are hardly surprising, political cartoons being, by nature, subjective, personal and biased. Because they are not meant to praise but to criticize, annoy, provoke, itch where 15
  16. 16. it hurts, ridicule or satirize, they are bound to insist more on the negative than on the positive, which means that they are always on the bordering line between healthy criticism and destructive cynicism as far as the political system in general, and politicians in particular, are concerned. Accordingly, Martyn Turner’s cartoons are published in the opinion section, and may well contribute to the personality of the Irish Times at least as much as controversial columnists such as John Waters or Kevin Myers. Whether they may actually have any effect is quite another matter. The most enthusiastic supporters of cartoons consider them powerful ideological weapons, like Dave Astor, for example, editor of Editor and Publisher magazine, who wrote last year: “If the newspaper is to be the watchdog of the government, no one can bark louder than the cartoonist”. Turner himself is less enthusiastic about the potential role of cartoonists, and doesn’t see it as such a devastating weapon, although he is quite confident in its effects: “All I would say is that cartoons work sometimes and sometimes they don’t. Some cartoons make a difference but not many… but there is the Chinese torture effect… drip drip drip … maybe it was the cartoons that eventually got rid of Nixon – let’s hope they do the same for Bush”. 16

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