What is a Political Satire Cartoon?
Political cartoons are symbolic illustrations that make a witty or humorous comment on social issues, events, and public figures. They observe, report, disturb, amuse, and attack. They are wise, unruly, witty, and crude. And they can tell us a lot about ourselves and the way people felt throughout history – for good or for bad.
Edwards and Winkler (1987) define political cartoons as “a graphic presentation typically designed in a one-panel, non-continuing format to make an independent statement or observation on political events or social policy.”
The dawn of the 20th century saw a full-scale transformation of Canadian society. To keep up with current events and make sense of the many changes occurring, Canadian readers looked to newspapers. Articles were informative, and editorials were polite. But nothing conveyed the news of the day in a more entertaining way than editorial cartoons.
Wielding sharp pens and a wild imagination, editorial cartoonists would bring a humorous perspective to major social and political events. These images not only made the news entertaining and accessible but also helped shape public opinion.
Today, we learn about this transformative period in Canadian history by reading books or watching documentaries. But cartoons can also tell us a lot about history and how people felt during Canada’s formative years. By looking closely at the representations we see in these cartoons, we can begin to understand what notions of Canadian identity are privileged or ignored and how we might use political cartoons as a new way to understand history.
The Art of Political Satire
Wielding sharp pens and a wild imagination, editorial cartoonists are always at the ready to bring a humourous perspective into the political arena.
Friends or Foe?
Today, Canada has a strong relationship with their American next door neighbours. But this wasn’t always the case…
Fears of annexation (as in taking over or becoming part of) were a real concern for Canadians in the early 20th century. Politicians used this fear to spark anti-American sentiment amongst the public. While cartoonists at the time were all too happy to provoke these feelings.
As a young country, Canada at the time was still discovering what kind of country it would be. Meanwhile provinces and territories developed their own distinct cultures, values, and traditions. They contribute to a diversity of what being Canadian can mean, but also compete for political power and representation.
The cartoons from the early 20th century show questions over Britain’s role, the distinct culture of French Canada, and the newly formed provinces in the West.
Canadian women in the first decades of the 20th Century did not have the right to vote. Joining with advocates in the U.K., U.S., and other parts of the world, women argued for their right to have a say in government. These women were referred to as suffragettes.
The cartoons by Newton McConnell are limited by the perspective of the artist and the editorial voice of newspapers at the time. These newspapers catered to a white, Protestant, Anglo-Canadian majority.
These political cartoons cannot tell the full story of Canada, but their limitations and ignorances can reveal prevailing viewpoints of the time.