Deconstructing a political cartoon on three levels -- literal, inferential and evaluative.
IS SATIRE JUST TRIVIAL COMEDY?
This 2012 political cartoon, drawn by Pope, one of Australia's foremost political cartoonists, includes excerpts from a famous colonial poem, My Country, by Dorothea McKeller. It targets and criticises the then Queensland Labor Government using the Premier, Anna Bligh, who had just lost government in a landslide victory for the opposition, the Liberal National Party, headed by Campbell Newman. Both political figures are caricatured in the cartoon, with a backdrop of the recent Queensland floods. The cartoonist uses satire to entertain readers in what could be seen as a trivial way, but it is trivial comedy for serious people, as it portrays negative views about the results of Anna Bligh's policies which have left her with many empty seats (in Parliament).
Most political cartoons lean towards the bitter and cutting Juvenalian style of satire, rather than the Horatian witty, gentler style.. The poem, caricatures and backdrop combine to lampoon Bligh's foolishness, strongly criticising her flawed policies.
Many satirical techniques can be identified immediately through the visual effects of the cartoon -- exaggeration, parody and incongruity. Anna Bligh, the figure in the tree clinging for dear life, is the caricatured figure of a woman who has lost her hold on Queensland. Her features are exaggerated and easily recognisable. The message of the cartoon is that she desperately wants to save the seats for her party from the 'flood'. representing the votes from the citizens, whereas Campbell Newman is portrayed as being as happy as a 'fish' swimming freely in the water after receiving a 'flood' of votes.
As Australians, we can definitely tell that the poem written in the cartoon is a parody of the colonial era poem, My Country, once studied by every Australian school student. The original poem eulogises Australian landscapes, and this excerpt is a reversal of the original. It obviously criticises Anna Bligh for the way she liked to 'spin' policies to the Queensland people, but now the people are 'spinburnt.' Instead of 'sunburnt', the writer uses the technique of parody and replaces this word with 'spinburnt', which refers to how much Anna Bligh has used spin in political speeches, lying to the people about the true state of politics and policies in Queensland. Satire here is used as 'an antidote to being lied to', as John Clarke, well-known Australian comedian says. So the purpose behind Pope's cartoon is to expose the lies and spectacular defeat of Anna Bligh's government: 'Her stuff ups and her sell offs' have left her 'up a tree.'
Further reference to the political cartoon shows the exaggeration of 'groaning' infrastructure which portrays her failed attempt to repair the damage caused by the Queensland floods, even though she put a positive spin on the rebuilding program during the floods.
The cartoon may make a serious situation look trivial, and the Brisbane floods were anything but trivial, but Pope was exposing what he considered vice and folly in Bligh's government. His use of satire reveals his desire to denounce the Labor Government's reckless policies and applaud the change in society which began with Bligh's defeat.
Satire is a lesson, parody is a game, but it is a serious game, and Australians are free to satirise people and events as we see them without punishment. Satirists write texts both to entertain and educate readers with their comments and opinions about people and events in society, hoping to bring about change. The two satirical texts share this feature although they were written in two different eras. This political cartoon shows how satire is not just trivial comedy, it continues to bring about change in society by its message, using wit as a weapon.