Here I am again, defending yet another cartoonist, yet again against charges of some -ism or other. Last time, back in February, it was Ken Knight who was vilified for being a racist, having drawn a cartoon depicting Serena Williams in such a way that it raised the ire of a good number of readers, reading the sketch as a comment on her race rather than on her appalling behaviour on the tennis court, which was how I saw it..
This time it is Leunig with his sketch of a woman so absorbed in the flickering lights of her mobile phone that she lost not only the plot but also her baby.
What a horrible attack on women, on mothers, Leunig’s attackers screamed! It is undeniably an attack on mothers and women and it’s undeniably a misogynist cartoon.
Why, even Jane Caro said it! Jane Caro, for Zeus’ sake! What an appalling thing Leunig had done. Just another white male who longs for his lost gender dominance! Roll out the guillotines
And again, they hurl the same charges and denunciations at Leunig that they had hurled at Knight: He has form. He does this all the time. He is a real misogynist!
Yes, roll out the guillotines!
Imagine what hellish castigations the gentle cartoonist would be copping had he drawn a black Muslim woman wheeling the pram, or an Aboriginal woman or a woman with a huge cross dangling from her neck!
Fukuyama’s latest book is on “Identity Politics.” No matter how you look at Fukuyama, he comes out looking like a USA-peddling Nazi so I don’t take his views too seriously but the essence of his latest extrication is nearing relevance to the commentary on Leunig’s cartoon.
Fukuyama asserts that (after his “End of History”) a new social phenomenon has emerged. We have become, he says, too ready to identify with certain, few things and our political views have shrunk so much that we vote for men or women who promise only to attend to the concerns we identify with and we do not concern ourselves with what that person will do on any other issue.
If we, for example are gay, then we will vote for someone who will support the gays, without caring what other things that person supports. If we are pro abortion, then we look only for a person who will support this cause, without checking out what else is in his bag of policies or in the contents of his character (to use Martin Luther King’s description) and so on.
In short, we care only for what we identify with or feel strongly about, relinquishing our care for other issues.
Feminism, Misogyny, Patriotism, Religion, that sort of thing.
And, I do declare, the attacks on Leunig are of this “identity politics” nature.
Leunig is making a perfectly glowingly simple, concise and certainly accurate statement: Electronic devices are devious, insidious and anti-humane things. Devices such as phones can shift even the mother’s attention from her newborn and this statement is all the more profound because he has a mother wheeling that pram.
He could have had a male doing it.
Or a black woman or a black man, an Asian, an Inuit. But he didn’t.
He just used the single, most profound, best known symbol of parenthood, the most crucial symbol of nature, of nurture, the most accurate symbol of the human bond: the mother in whose womb that baby became.
This – the bond between mother and baby – is the closest possible human attachment there is; it is the most important one, the most necessary one for both, the mother and the newborn.
Leunig’s exhortation is not against the mother but against the device.
The device destroys that most essential bond, that between the mother and her baby. Yes, even that bond!
The device replaces the mental and psychological, the intellectual and the moral umbilical cord between us and our maker. The device does.
Had he had anyone else wheeling that pram, the essence of this message would have been lost. We would be saying to ourselves, “yeah, we gotta be careful when wheeling our babies around not to get distracted by the phone.”
Nowhere near the emphasis on the horrors of the phone itself. In that circumstance, you do not hear Leunig’s voice saying, “Fucking mobiles are so nasty, so narcissistic, that they can separate even the mother from her child. They make us motherless. They make us absorbed in trivialities, in mundane things to the detriment of vital things.”
Had Leunig had an old man wheeling the pram, we’d be thinking Leunig is warning us against dementia.
No, it had to be a mother.
Leunig is not attacking the mother. He is attacking the device. The device is so insidious it can destroy even the tightest bond, which is that between mother and the newborn. Mother and the newborn are the victims of that device. And since this bond is the most important bond of all, all other social bonds are up for destruction by a very simple, totally banal device.
Nearly 3,000 years ago, Homer wrote a poem in which he said (using a mother again) that devastating divisions, the most devastating wars are caused because of banal, unimportant, petty things such as pride and lust and beauty – insignificant things.
Helen of Troy had a daughter, Hermione, which she had left behind with her sister to look after when she left with her lover Paris.
Homer had Eris, the goddess of Strife, chuck a golden apple in the middle of a wedding party, with the words “to the most beautiful” inscribed upon it; and that started the war between two continents, devastating one.
This time, Eris has chucked a mobile phone amongst us and Leunig says, beware, like the golden apple, it can devastate half the planet.
Golden apples, wooden horses. Beware!
This cartoon goes to the kernel of Homer’s Iliad and it uses the instrument of his day to make the same point. A golden apple for Homer, an iPhone for Leunig.
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