Monday, 24 September 2018

As Mark Knight has discovered, it’s a dangerous business being funny

As Mark Knight has discovered, it’s a dangerous business being funny
11 Sep

IF you made a top 10 list of the world’s most dangerous gigs, Australian cartoonist would surely have to start ranking up there.

Mark Knight, one of our all-time greats, woke up to find himself engulfed in a twitter firestorm with an intensity not seen since Bill Leak was tied to the stake and torched by the Twitter offenderati.

If you’re a cartoonist looking for a ‘safe space’, stay away from unsocial media.

Knight’s depiction of tennis champ Serena Williams’ weekend meltdown was typically brilliant, honest and plain funny.

But some people seem to be off limits regardless of their poor form, usually based on the colour of their skin. The Untouchables.

Williams was drawn by Knight as a dummy-spitting spoiled brat having a tanty, because Williams behaved like a dummy-spitting spoiled brat having a tanty.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion pulled out the sexist card when it was clear she wasn’t going to make it to her desired 24th title win to match tennis legend, Margaret Court, over the weekend.

The cartoonist’s job is not to excuse or paint a glowing portrayal of bad behaviour, whether by Presidents, Prime Ministers — or sports heroes or heroines, but to cut oversized egos to size.

Knight’s now globally infamous Williams cartoon did just that.

Let’s get some perspective. We’re cartoonists. Cartoonists lampoon and caricature in equal measures. We’re equal opportunity piss-takers. Whatever PR spinners do, we do the opposite.

Sometimes it’s a fine line, a high wire balancing act that wavers between laughter and outrage. It depends on the servings of the day.

At the US Open Serena Williams didn’t hold back. So neither did Knight. Nor should he.

While Williams had a bad day at the office, Knight had another good day. Thank you, Serena.

Regardless of her gender or race, Williams’ behaviour wasn’t worthy of her status as a champion.

Now here’s the thing. If Williams were not an African-American female, Knight’s cartoon would have gone unnoticed outside his immediate newspaper readership and social media followers. He didn’t comment on anything but her behaviour.

I’m struggling to figure out just what Knight’s crime is. From what I can tell, his crime is that he drew Williams as an African American woman, complete with her powerful, muscular build with all the features that clearly identify Williams as … Williams.

Racist! How dare he! What was he supposed to draw? An old white angry dude?

For too many online snowflakes, the default position is to take offence. To be outraged. Tweeting their outrage to their tribe of fellow outraged offence-takers.

If laughter is the best medicine, a lot of sick puppies out there need a large spoonful of medicine.

Knight has been condemned unfairly over this one cartoon by one-eyed Williams fans.

She is a great champion, no doubt. She’s a role model for women and African-Americans.

But even champions are not infallible. They’re not off limits simply because they’re champions, or female, or African.

I’ve known Knight since we were both 18-year-old cadets at Fairfax in Sydney, too many years ago than either of us will care to admit. I still haven’t figured out his political leanings. That’s because he dishes out his humour to all sides fairly and equally.

He savages Donald Trump mercilessly, drawing the President with apparent glee as a grotesque, old white man, fairly or unfairly depending on your persuasion. The caricatures are outright cruel. But the online snowflakes aren’t firing up about that.

It’s a real shame, because equality mean that all people should be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of cartoonists.

Judge a person not on the colour of their skin but on the basis of their behaviour or idiocy, as Knight certainly did when it came to Serena Williams, as he does to Trump.

From a middle-age female, black sportswoman to an older white male politician, they’re all fair game.

To refuse to draw an African female simply because she’s an African female would indeed be sexist and racist. It would also be safer.

There’s got to be an easier way to earn a living.

Paul Zanetti is an Australian political cartoonist whose work has featured in major media outlets.



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