Political Cartoons are no laughing matter

Political cartoons are no laughing matter. Whaleoil has been taken to the Human Rights Commission in an attempt to silence us. People have decided that they are offended and they want to take away our freedom of speech. The people worldwide who condemned Charlie Hebdo for offending Muslims are no different to those who have taken Whaleoil to the Human Rights Commission. They think that their right to not be offended, trumps our right to publish a political cartoon. I have a little lesson for them from my days as a history teacher because I think that they fail to grasp the point of a political cartoon. Like a good blog, a political cartoon’s purpose is to stimulate debate, to make people think and to sometimes put the spotlight on issues we would prefer to ignore.

What is a Political Cartoon?

A political cartoon is a cartoon that makes a point about a political issue or current event.

Their main purpose, is not to amuse you but to persuade you.

A good political cartoon makes you think about current events, but it also tries to sway your opinion toward the cartoonist’s point of view. The best political cartoonist can change your mind on an issue without you even realizing how he or she did it.

Cartoonists’ Persuasive Techniques

Cartoonists use several methods, or techniques, to get their point across. Not every cartoon includes all of these techniques, but most political cartoons include at least a few. Some of the techniques cartoonists use the most are symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, analogy, and irony.

Once you learn to spot these techniques, you’ll be able to see the cartoonist’s point more clearly. You should also be aware of any political slant, or bias, that he or she might have. When you know where the cartoonist is coming from, it’s easier to make up your own mind.


It would be really nice if those who ran to the Human Rights Commission and Susan Devoy let people make up their own minds about this cartoon. It’s purpose was to stimulate debate on an important issue and it has achieved its goal.

Here are some political cartoons for you to consider. Each of them is guaranteed to offend someone but that is not the point of a political cartoon.



Some European women might find this racist as the woman shown is white. Other women may find it misogynistic since it is making fun of a woman. Yet others may consider it fat shaming. The cartoon however is making a point about the irony of a women’s movement that wants the government to have no say over abortion but still expects it to provide free contraception. You may not agree with the view expressed by the cartoonist but you don’t have to.

Next I have two New Zealand cartoons for you to compare. The first one was drawn by Tom Scott and no one complained about it but the second one by Al Nisbet was called racist.

This Tom Scott cartoon made a similar point to Nibett's, but I don't recall any outrage. Of course, no Maoris were depicted which might explain that ...



290513 The Marlborough Express Al Nisbet cartoon

The Marlborough Express Al Nisbet cartoon


I can say I don’t think it funny or insightful. Like Susan Devoy, I find it distasteful. I struggle with the word offensive, however, because cartoonists are supposed to get under our skins and use visual hyperbole to tell a truth.

Heck, cartoonists, like good columnists and sketch writers should sometimes offend – our sensibilities, our prejudices and even our ethics. The pen is said to be mightier than the sword because it can up-end us with an idea so powerful it can change our view of the world, or even change the world itself.

So Nisbet has every right to push the boundaries of taste and convention and I don’t think it reaches the bar of being officially racist. To make the point he wanted to make he had to make the people one ethnicity or another. Would it have been racist to cast his cartoon with all Pakeha faces?

…Nisbet has said he makes no apologies because the cartoon is aimed at “bludgers”.

“I’m not talking about the average poverty people. I’m talking about the ones who say they’re poverty stricken, but they’re on welfare getting handouts – they have their tv and they have their fancy cellphones and they have their alcohol and they have their pokies and they have their smokes.”


Who do you think BoomSlang was aiming his cartoon at? Is being distasteful a crime? Is being distasteful racism? Or is being distasteful a side effect of a political cartoon that is designed to make you think about the recent slaughter of a helpless child and the unpalatable fact that his ethnicity is disproportionately represented in the child abuse victim statistics?


Interestingly John Key had this to say when award winning cartoonist Al Nisbet’s cartoon was called racist.

Prime Minister John Key has urged critics of cartoons about the the Government’s breakfast in schools programme to accept cartoonists can blow things out of proportion.

While he had not seen the cartoons, Key said he had heard second hand reports about them and understood they may not be to everyone’s taste.

“By the description I was given it certainly could be offensive to people.”

As a general rule, however, he tried not to comment too much on cartoons.

“I’m often the source of the humour in them, if you like, and I try and take it all with a grain of salt because cartoonists are notorious for taking a mile out of an inch.”

Susan Devoy had this to say:

Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy said the cartoons were offensive and appalling.

Her distaste for them has spurred her to question the high threshold required for a finding of racism within the commission’s inquiries and complaints process. The threshold under the law was “very high” and was about inciting racial disharmony.


The editor of the paper that published Al Nisbet’s cartoon said:

…the newspaper would not be apologising for a piece of comment that expressed a strong view.

“I am an editor not a censor, and we regularly publish content that expresses a range of views

…”The intention was always to provoke discussion around a really important social issue, and I think we might be losing sight of that.”

…”We all agreed it was fairly close to the line, but there are times on important issues where you do need to push the boundaries a little bit, the main objective obviously being to stimulate discussion on a really important issue.”

The cartoonist himself said:

Nisbet said the outcry was unexpected as he had done “a hell of a lot worse”.

“Obviously the cartoon worked. It got reaction. You’ve got to push the envelope otherwise you have namby pamby PC cartoons.

“I was born in Scotland, we get stereotyped all the time. But you don’t hear Scots complaining because they’ve got a sense of humour.

“I think people should lighten up a bit.”

Nisbet said he was not racist, and the cartoons were not intended to be so.

Rather, it was directed at anyone who complained about poverty and “blow their money on booze, fags and pokies”.

The main idea with the Marlborough Express cartoon was adults dressing up as children.

Some of the characters were dark because it was mainly northern schools taking up the programme, he said.

“They [complainers] always point at the dark figures, they never look at the white ones.”




THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • Simon P

    BoomSlangs cartoon is considered offensive by the left because it was posted on Whale Oil.

    • Crowgirl

      No doubt if they’d published it it would be considered “revolutionary” or “thought-provoking”.

    • cows4me

      Those upset by BoomSlangs cartoon have the same mentality of those that get offended by the prophet Mohammad’s depiction. Forget the message, that’s totally irrelevant, it’s that some would be brave enough to challenge their place in society.

      • kereru

        Exactly. It’s only recently that depicting Mohammed has become the reason for an orgy of bloodletting. He was freely depicted in the past, in book illustrations, covers and comics. There’s a set of Mohammed ‘smileys’ and even a Mohammed Lego figure. An interesting collection of historic and more recent illustrations:


  • sandalwood789

    This brouhaha is why the RRC and HRC should be axed. They are nothing more than official finger-wagging and speech-gagging outfits.

    The “cultural elite” would love it if our speech was so limited that we never “offended”.
    Never mind that *telling the truth* often means offending people. Oh, no – to people like Devoy, offense trumps truth.

    If we were attacked by aliens, the “PC elite” wouldn’t let us spread the word in case it offended the aliens! The same is true of Islam – it has almost 1400 years of slaughter behind it but we mustn’t mention that in case someone is “offended”.

  • spanishbride

    Here is a cartoon with white characters that shows domestic abuse. Yet it is relevant to the topic in the news at that time. Offensive?

    • jaundiced


      • sandalwood789

        Try refreshing your browser window.

  • sandalwood789

    Isn’t it time that a cartoonist did a cartoon about *Devoy*?

    • Jayfries

      There is one (pic)

  • Isherman

    Good post. I would respectfully suggest that Devoy and all the other handwringers pull their heads out of their rear ends for a moment and consider this.
    This has got nothing to do with your hurty feelings, it has everything to do with the hurty, broken little bodies, who after seeing less birthdays than you have fingers on one hand, are rotting away in a hole in the ground inside a box smaller than a dogs kennel. If they could have their say on the matter, what do you think they would say?
    Do you think they would care if highlighting the failings that led them to become worm food upset someone? I don’t. I think they would say that if you’re not going to tackle the issue that lead them to lose their lives, and just worry about who that might upset, when confronted with the truth, you may as well shut up and say nothing.

    • sandalwood789

      *Outstanding* post. It says everything that needs to be said.
      The truth *hurts*.

      Isn’t the government constantly urging people to “get serious” about child abuse? How can we do so if every mention of the truth gets hauled before the RRC? Don’t *facts* count for anything any more?

      What matters more – Maori and elitists hurty feelings or children’s broken bodies?

      Analogy time. An alcoholic will never get better if they can’t face the harsh-and-nasty truth. So it is with Maoridom.

  • andrewo

    The truth sometimes hurts

  • Sailor Sam

    The cartoon kid does not look maori, he has decidedly pale skin.
    And that is the issue with the definition of “maori” in NZ.
    There is not a realistic definition that I know off.
    And seeing as the majority of today’s maori have maybe 50% non-maori ancestry, it could then also be explained that it is this non-maori ancestry that is responsible for child murders.
    That would be my argument with the squash player and the H Rights Commission, who would have to judge on whether or not a child has the human right to not be beaten to death.
    And if the HRC says this cartoon is objectionable because it points the finger at one section of the community, it also means that the HRC believes children of that section have no human rights.
    What a conundrum!

  • Wayne Hodge

    Political cartoons have a long and honourable history. In times past cartoonists have been leading scourges of politicians, fads, kings and presidents. Thomas Nast in the late 19th century in New York was a major factor in bringing down the Tweed political machine. In the 20th Century the great Sir David Low, born in Dundedin, mercilessly satirised Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. So much so that he was a target for execution if the Germans invaded Britain.

    Much as I dislike some modern cartoons they are an invaluable part of culture and can often convey a point quickly and vividly in a way words do not, which is why many seek to suppress them e.g. Charlie Hebdo.

    I suspect the issue with the BoomSlang cartoon is that it makes a point, very clearly, which far too many wish to sweep under the carpet as it does not accord with the perception, there that word again, which they wish to peddle.

  • Wheninrome

    A lot can be learnt from a relook at the late Giles cartoons.

  • Curly1952

    Perhaps some need to read this again

  • Effluent

    Child rearing techniques, as practiced in England a few generations ago.
    Hilaire Belloc – Cautionary Tales for Children

    ‘His uncle came on Franklin Hyde
    Carousing in the dirt
    He shook him hard,
    From side to side
    and hit him till it Hurt
    Exclaiming, with a final thud,
    “Take that! Abandoned Boy
    for playing with Disgusting Mud
    As though it were a Toy!

    ‘This was one of my favourite childhood books

    • kereru

      Thanks for the laugh. Reminds me of Edward Lear’s limericks. When did people start taking themselves so seriously? Always on the lookout for a reason to take offence when none was intended. What a dour lot.

      • Effluent

        If you like this one, have a look at some of his others on the link above. They are all gems, utterly politically incorrect, very funny, and beautifully illustrated.

        • kereru

          I already have, and bookmarked it too!

          • Effluent

            I particularly like the one about Lord Lundy, and wish there were a few more like his grandmother !

  • XCIA

    Perhaps in course of their “investigation”, the Devoy woman and her HRC sycophants can do something useful and make a definitive determination in law on what really constitutes being able to claim to be Maori since there are no Maori of full blood in existence.

  • RightofSingapore

    We’re all offended all of the time-none of us has a right not to be offended. What makes these whingers think they’re so special that just because THEY’RE offended they get to demand consequences for those who offend them? I think these crybabies come to WO just to see what they can whinge about and what they can use to try and silence the whale. Clearly they have too much time on their hands.

  • T Mardell

    The point about the Scottish not complaining because they have a sense of humour is interesting here, because traditionally I’ve always thought of the Germans at the top of the list for not having one. But it is obvious to me now, that in fact it is now Maori who head that list.

    If you can’t debate an issue on facts then the only course is to attack … call people racist, “deniers”, etc.

  • Jude

    I am thinking a lot of organisations pay a heap of money for advertising their product/brand.
    The left and MSM are making sure that Whaleoil has a lot of free advertising.
    Judging by the number of new commenters that is a good thing for Whaleoil:)

  • Annie218

    I’ve always thought a good political cartoon aimed to point out the hypocrites in our society – politicians, public figures, decision makers and wowsers in general.
    I think BoomSlang’s cartoon achieves this very well.
    Instead of seeing the colour of the child’s skin, people should be seeing the very confronting sight of an abused child’s skin. Even the bear has stitches.
    Susan Devoy, in her position, would have been better to have commented on the nightmare that is child abuse, instead of trying to close down the debate.

    • island time

      You are so right – it was the colours of the bruises that I was noticing.

  • Mikex

    Radio presenter and columnist Polly Gillespie is getting a hard time because she used the term “Darky” in reference to Naz our bachelorette. For the life of me I can’t see what is wrong with the description.
    This reaction to the term “darky” by offended white liberals I think says more about their underlying racism than they realise. The reason they think it will cause offence must be because they actually feel that being a “whitey” is superior to being dark and therefore “darky” is a derogatory term. Or is my logic awry.

    • kereru

      What makes it ridiculous is she used the term ‘darky’ (Naz) as opposed to ‘blondie’ (Fleur) – not whitey.

  • kereru

    That would be tantamount to admitting responsibility, which is unacceptable in these times, because it would be hard to continue with the ‘we’re the victims of racist oppression’ narrative.

  • sandalwood789

    What the RRC and HRC do is little more than *bullying*. They want everyone to “think correctly” – correctness being holding views that align with *their* dictates.
    They use their power to bully people into submission (as they are doing with this blog).

    No-one must *ever* have their feelings hurt and if they do, there will be finger-wagging aplenty……

  • waldopepper

    had an absolute guts full of being told how to think by susan devoy and the main stream media frankly.

  • Tiger

    I find the treaty of waitangi offensive as it “incites racial disharmony ” – yep you said it Susie.