The Guardian’s Martin Rowson uses slave imagery in cartoon about Obama and U.S. budget deal

There’s a line by Woody Allen’s character, Alvy Singer, in the movie Annie Hall, I’ve always loved:

Allison: I’m in the midst of doing my thesis. 
Alvy Singer: On what? 
Allison: Political commitment in twentieth century literature. 
Alvy Singer: You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper, stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself. 
Allison: No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype. 
Alvy Singer: Right, I’m a bigot, I know, but for the left. 

That line came to mind when I came across Martin Rowson’s latest work for the Guardian.

First, a little background:

Rowson is the political cartoonist most used by the Guardian.

His views seem to be quite consistent with the Guardian’s ideology and, as an artist, he is, to put it mildly, not someone who has mastered the fine art of subtlety.

A Rowson piece on the 2010 Flotilla episode contextualized the incident by using Biblical imagery to convey what he evidently felt was Israel’s savagery – an included an IDF soldier aiming his automatic weapon at a unicorn. Another soldier is seen stomping a dove of peace to death.

Here is the cartoon titled Biblical Stories Retold“, (and accompanying Guardian headline), which Israelinurse commented on in July of last year.

Now, here’s Rowson’s most recent work, which comments on the U.S. budget deal, and what he evidently feels was the political victory by Republicans and the Tea Party Movement – and the Koch Brothers, American billionaires and outspoken anti-Obama activists who have funded Tea Party Groups. 

First, it’s quite difficult to imagine that Rowson didn’t fully understand the American slavery connotations of depicting a chain tied around the African-American President’s neck – being pulled by a group of white people.

Tea Party activists are simultaneously pulling a chained Obama and pushing the Koch Brothers up a steep hill – at the top of which we see pigs (Rowson’s typical imagery when portraying rich Republicans, reinforced by an image of the animal associated with the GOP, the elephant) pushing corpses into a dirt pit, which is no doubt Rowson’s characteristically subtle allusion to what he feels will be the injurious effects of the (budget-deal) agreement to cut funding from social programs.

While this blog is not concerned with the American political debate, it’s fascinating to observe the depths to which Guardian contributors will go to demonize targets who they see as their political opponents – be they Israelis or simply Americans on the wrong side of the political fence.

Most disturbing, however, is the cartoon’s implicit suggestion either that a black President is acting like a slave by making political concessions to his political opponents or that Republican activists are treating America’s first black President as a slave.

Indeed, the former narrative has been advanced quite explicitly by the extreme left political cartoonist, Carlos Latuff.

Either way, the viciousness and gross racial insensitivity of such imagery is simply undeniable.  

But, as Alvy said, it’s ok, because Rowson’s doing it for the left. 

12 replies »

  1. “While this blog is not concerned with the American political debate, it’s fascinating to observe the depths to which Guardian contributors will go to demonize targets who they see as their political opponents – be they Israelis or simply Americans on the wrong side of the political fence.”

    Get real – this is a cartoon! There is a British tradition of viciously satirical political cartoons going back some two hundred years. The Koch brothers use their enormous wealth to persuade poor US citizens to vote in favour of lower taxes for the rich and worse services for themselves. US politics is all about who can buy the votes – not least when it comes to Israel/Palestine issues. People like the Kochs deserve to be lampooned as savagely as the cartoonists can come up with. As for the slavery connotation – I saw the cartoon in this mornings print edition and it simply never occurred to me…..

    • So, as far as you’re concerned, the chain around Barack Obamas’s neck is of no particular significance

      Rowson had no purpose in drawing it.

      You’re either being horrible dishonest or clueless.

      And, no doubt, you’d also defend Rowson’s characterization of Israeli soldiers as portrayed in the first cartoon I cited?

      Yup, we Israelis are so hateful and malicious that we’d murder a unicorn, or even a dove of peace.

      Yeah, I clearly don’t posses Rowson’s sophisticated satire.

      • Forget for a moment Obama’s colour. The Tea Party, a minority of a minority (in terms of Congress, Senate and presidency taken together) have forced a resolution to the deficit problem that is profoundly contrary to the interests of ‘middle class’ US citizens. Obama has been dragged from compromise to concession to denial of all he stands for. He finally took a responsible position to protect the US economy; the Tea Pary doesn’t give a damn about economic collapse and have said as much The collar and chain image is entirely appropriate. The slavery connotation, which I don’t believe Rowson intended, adds nothing to the general point being made.

        I don’t want to discuss the other cartoon in detail, although I agree with the general point it is making.

        You just don’t get the point about satire; some of the best isn’t sophisticated at all.

        • And, of course, you (and the Martin Rowsons of the world) know what’s in the best interest of the poor and middle class more than the poor and middle class themselves.

          It’s this damn elitism – that those who had the advantage of attending elite private schools and Ivy League colleges know what’s best for those not so fortunate – that is appalling.

          To argue that Rowson simply had no idea what the chain represented is just absurd and disingenuous. He fully well understands the history of American slavery and chose to analogize a quite ordinary democratic political compromise (a dynamic fully consistent with liberal democracy) as synonymous with a racist institution which treated blacks as chattel.

          Rowson’s cartoons (whether depicting Obama as chained by white racists or Israelis as murdering the dove of peace) are simply far left agitprop – the drawings of a far left ideological extremist who simply can’t fathom that there are those in the world who actually don’t share his views.

          • Adam your point about the ‘elitism’ of the modern day, self-proclaimed, left is well made. Most of these ‘Bar-stool Bolsheviks’ only get their hands dirty when they fall over drunk leaving a wine bar.
            If Rowson efforts are what passes for satire these days then the noise you can hear is Juvenal spinning in his grave and about to explode.

    • Of course! If they couldn’t SELL their votes the americans would all be voting for US recognition of Hamas and the delegitiemisation of Israel, along with the spineless, racist Guardian Left. I knew there had to be an explanation.

    • That’s all very well but I don’t see any caricatures of “The Prophet” for some reason or other.

    • @Sencar

      You say: “I saw the cartoon in this mornings print edition and it simply never occurred to me”

      And there lies the problem. Egregious conduct by the media, and the Guardian, over time, has so numbed you to not appreciate the sensitivities of others, so long as it fulfills an ideological function (your ideology), that you have been easily fooled into thinking that the left cannot possibly be racist. Yet that is what they clearly have become. By trying to infect Israel by putting it beyond the pale, the media has become a victim of its own making.

      It is no coincidence that first Johann Hari, and now Robert Fisk of the Indie ( find themselves in the dock for reasons other than to do with Israel and have brought journalism into disrepute, simply because thay have not adhered to a code of practice to report fairly. Instead of reporting the news, they have become the news!

  2. On a lighter note, one of my favourite “lines” in Annie Hall has no words at all:

    It comes at 1:20.