The usual suspects are circulating a list of signatories condemning Bill Leak’s “racist cartoon”. The full list is here. Ten we have the statement:
We are journalists, writers, photographers, artists, publishers and others who work in the media and communications industries. Signatories also include journalism, media and communications researchers and academics. We condemn The Australian’s publication of Bill Leak’s racist cartoon. Racism damages the health and wellbeing of those it targets. We acknowledge that the media industry has a long history of perpetuating harmful and racist stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that it is well past time that this stops. We urge the editorial leadership of all Australian media to reflect on the hurt and distress all racial stereotyping causes and to eliminate it from our news and current affairs media.
Now what is very interesting is that the signatories are all passing themselves off as being creative types. Perhaps they are – yet I only recognised four names on that list. Creative types tend to be subversive. They question society, they make us uncomfortable, they perform the role of the court fool in medieval times. Those Cats who are familiar with authoritarian society will know the role subversive humour plays in those societies.
In Australia – hardly an authoritarian society, but under increasing pressure to become such a society* – artistic and creative types are given a lot of latitude because we understand the importance of introspection, the value of having a class (terrible connotations there) of individuals who exist to point out our failings, our hypocrisy, and question our implicit assumptions.
Yet here we find creative types siding with the state against one of their own. If they were to argue that Leak’s cartoon was not funny that would be one thing (and would fail the “so what” question) – but censored is quite another. What do they think happens to artistic freedom in authoritarian society? If cartoonists are targeted, poets, comedians, journalists, and “writers” cannot be far behind. As it is we have already seen a journalist targeted by anti-free speech legislation and a judge deliberately construct his judgement to circumvent the explicit protections written into the law to protect journalists from such actions.
* If you haven’t already done so you should read Michael Oakeshott’s essay “The Masses in Representative Democracy.