Cartoons and torches

Cartoons and torches

After writing history of the different reactions to the cartoon of Alejandro Salazar about the accident in the Carnival of Oruro (Bolivia). The newspaper La Razón asked me to send them my opinion and accompany it with a cartoon.

This is the image that will appear next to the text in the printed edition.

Cartoons and torches

Freedom of expression can cause discomfort, especially among those who think they can handle it.

The dust raised by Alejandro Salazar’s cartoon about the Oruro Carnival published on 6 March in La Razón caught my attention, especially because of the different angry reactions from some, with a markedly threatening accent, and the weak and timid reactions from others, such as the Bolivian National Press Association (ANP).

In the distribution of freedoms, it is as licit and natural to draw on any issue as it is to say that what is drawn seems despicable to us. That’s the game when it’s fair and that’s where it should stay. In the end, an editorial cartoon is just another opinion, subject to criticism like any other content. And criticism and its free circulation, which is so often frowned upon, is a symptom of democratic health.

What is usually judged is intentionality, and when twisted interpretations appear, dialogue goes out the window. To presuppose that the author was pursuing crude derision, malicious mockery, gratuitous harm or contempt for pain is also painful. And sad.

The mixture of reality and fiction, which are still humorous devices, tends to confuse those readers who are not very educated in the genre and who believe that a caricature is nothing more than a simple mockery. They will never want to understand that cartoons are not so different from a news piece, an opinion column or a photograph. Except for their brevity and inevitable simplicity in the search for essence. Nevertheless, they can take the heat out of crude scenes, point out other realities that are sometimes denied to us or invite us to question what our bias prevents us from seeing.

The indignados took the cartoonist’s lack of empathy for granted, and from there they constructed a discourse in which they arrogated to themselves a non-existent right that authorised them to take it all upon themselves and sentence who should be silent.

La Razón offered a voice and space in its pages, along with an apology, to those individuals and groups who wanted to express their displeasure at the drawing, but first received warnings with very dangerous messages. Warnings of reprisals, of torches.

We seem to have forgotten the scenes between 2005 and 2007, with fire in the background, that provoked the caricatures of Mohammed or the persecution and imprisonment of cartoonists in Iran or Tunisia, to cite a few cases off the top of our heads.

Freedom of expression can cause discomfort, especially among those who believe they can wield it as they please. Editorial cartoonists are always on the edge of their seats when it comes to those subjects that are never without controversy, death being one of them. It is normal to tiptoe around these issues or to let them pass for a while, no one knows exactly how long.

Be that as it may, trying to prevent people from expressing their opinion is the perfect fuse to ignite hundreds of counter-reactions. And so it was, the attempt to silence one cartoon provoked more than eighty cartoons to be drawn, which were left in as a plea for freedom of expression.

If I have to choose between torches and cartoons, I have no doubts. I prefer a million cartoons.

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