Sunday, January 7, 2018

The International Day of the Cartoonist 2018

On December 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. There is talk of discrimination, public accommodations, and so on in the case. Make no mistake, though. What is at stake here is whether the State can require an artist to create something he wishes not to create. Larger still are the questions of whether the individual serves himself or the State, whether he can be made to perform labor against his will by the State, and whether there are such things as private enterprise and private property, or whether those things are merely extensions of the State and exist to serve the purposes of the State. I'll have more to say on these questions below.

Masterpiece Cakeshop of Lakewood, Colorado, is owned and run by Jack Phillips. Mr. Phillips may or may not be a cartoonist, but he is an artist. Anyone who doubts that should see his work and the way in which he creates it. Although he may not be a cartoonist, I write about Jack Phillips today, the International Day of the Cartoonist, because of the issues involved in the case against him and in his case against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I started observing this day in 2015 when five cartoonists were murdered in Paris in the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They were murdered because they dared to draw what they pleased. I have since written about cartoonists who have been oppressed, threatened, harassed, tortured, imprisoned, or killed, again, for their art. Usually, when artists are treated this way, it is at the hands of the State, or, in the case of radical Islam, a political mass movement with aspirations towards control of the State. Jack Phillips won't be tortured or killed for his art, but he has already been harassed and may face other punishments for choosing not to create something he wishes not to create. My question is this: If he and artists like him do not comply with the requirements of the State, what shall be done with them? Shall they be fined, even to the point of bankruptcy or impoverishment? Shall they be endlessly harassed? Driven out of business? Imprisoned? Shall they have their substance eaten out? Or should we simply allow them their freedom?

* * *

In thinking about cartoonists and the Masterpiece Cakeshop case last month, I developed a hypothesis. My hypothesis is this: that the nation's political cartoonists, specifically those who lean to the left, will perceive the implications of this case for the artist, namely, that if one artist can be made by the State to create something against his will, then no artist is safe from official coercion; and, if those political cartoonists understand the implications, they are likely to remain silent on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. My hypothesis does not include conservative political cartoonists, as artists of that political or philosophical persuasion are almost certain to support the rights of the individual over the power and authority of the State.

So how do you test a hypothesis like this one? Well, I did what everyone does these days: I searched the Internet. Before doing that, though, I drew up a short list of political or editorial cartoonists who I believe lean to the left. In alphabetical order, they are:
  • David Horsey (b. 1951) of the Los Angeles Times, formerly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • Mike Luckovich (b. 1960) of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Joel Pett (b. 1953) of the Lexington Herald-Leader 
  • Ted Rall (b. 1963), a syndicated cartoonist
  • Tom Toles (b. 1951) of the Washington Post
David Horsey and Joel Pett, by the way, were born in Indiana. Whether they like it or not, I'll call them Hoosiers.

As it turns out, I found very few drawings from political cartoonists on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The cartoons I did find are pretty mild, I think, and don't address what I believe to be the real heart of the case, nor do they come out with any strong support for the two men who made the original complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop or for the general idea behind their complaint. None was drawn by the cartoonists on my list.

Mike Keefe (b. 1946), a 
syndicated cartoonist with the Colorado Independent, formerly of the Denver Postdrew a cartoon dated December 7, 2017, showing Moses holding the Ten Commandments and stating: "And if you violate any one of these, no wedding cake for you!" (You can see the cartoon at the website of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists [AAEC], here.) That apparent allusion to Seinfeld may be a deflection from the far more serious topic at hand, in other words a way of noticing the topic without saying anything serious about it.

Chip Bok (b. 1952) of the Akron Beacon Journal, another cartoonist who was not on my list, also drew a cartoon commenting on the controversy. It shows a black man sitting at a lunch counter in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and saying to the waitress: "Now that I'm sitting at your lunch counter, I'll have a slice of gay wedding cake." (The cartoon is dated December 9, 2017. You can see it on Mr. Bok's website by clicking here.) I don't think 
Mr. Bok's cartoon is especially well thought out. In fact, it seems to me practically a non-sequitur. But if Chip Bok's purpose is to equate homosexuality with being black in America, he ought to have studied our country's 400-year history of enslavement, rape, murder, torture, lynching, oppression, segregation, discrimination, and other offenses against African-Americans before making such a foolish calculation.

The most pointed cartoon that I found on the topic is actually from 2015 and was drawn by David Horsey. In it, an angry cake baker is handing out slices of wedding cake to a crowd of well-dressed people. The triple-tier cake (a devil's food cake, I'm sure) is decorated with the words: "Have a Happy Abomination." The cake topper is two little devils holding hands. The cake baker is saying in anger: "Which one of you sodomites wants the first piece?!" On the left is a caption that reads, "Caveat: You may not want a wedding cake made by someone who thinks that your marriage is evil . . ." Mr. Horsey's cartoon (to be found on the website of the Los Angeles Times, here) accompanies his own opinion piece on the religious liberty law advanced in Indiana in 2015. Mr. Horsey's piece may be slightly snooty, but he closes it with this reasonable consideration:

Gay activists are winning battle after battle, and may want to show some magnanimity in victory. If, in the end, it really comes down to a matter of a few wedding photographers, florists and bakers who disapprove of same-sex marriage, what is gained by forcing them to provide their services? If somebody doesn’t want to share the joyful occasion, does anyone really want to have them around? No wedding needs to be spoiled by a party pooper who thinks committed, lifelong love is a sin. 
I would like to think that David Horsey's opinion has not changed in the last two years. On the other hand, he might very well be flayed by the leftist media for writing something like that today. We should be clear, here, that Jack Phillips is almost certainly not like Mr. Horsey's cartoon caricature, nor is any true Christian likely to be. But then men of David Horsey's political stripe are permitted to trade in broad and inaccurate stereotypes where others are not.

In any case, you can't prove a negative. The fact that I found only two cartoons on the topic of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and none drawn by the five cartoonists on my list does not really confirm my hypothesis. (Maybe I should have designed my experiment better.) In other words, an absence of evidence doesn't make a firm foundation for a case. But if left-leaning political cartoonists remained silent on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, might that indicate something about where they stand? Maybe. Maybe not. There has certainly been enough else to keep them busy for these many months. Maybe I can test my hypothesis again when the Supreme Court announces its decision later this year.

* * *

A year ago today, I wrote about the cartoonist Joe Szabo, who was born and educated in Communist-controlled Hungary before fleeing to the United States. (Click here to read that entry.) Here he is discussing journalism in his native country with his friend Len Lear:
Journalists in a Communist country are considered a part of the political apparatus. You're not a watchdog, just the opposite. You are a lapdog. You are not there to print the news or to be objective. You are there to make the authorities in government look good and not to deviate from the party line. You are basically a public relations person for the rulers and oppressors.
Substitute the word artists for journalists, and you begin to close in on the questions central to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, namely: Is an artist his own person, an individual free to express himself or not as he chooses, or is he simply a part of the apparatus of the State, merely one of a collective compelled to serve its purposes? Is an artist a free and autonomous person or, in Joe Szabo's words, is he "basically a public relations person for . . . rulers and oppressors"? Does an artist own his own property? Does an artist have any right or claim to his own time, labor, energy, and creativity? Or do all of these things simply exist within the domain of the State, to be held, distributed, and controlled by the State as it sees fit? Is the artist his or her own master, or are artists simply servants of political power? And if an artist is such a servant, then what about everyone else? Are we not servants also?

I'll close with two quotes on totalitarianism. One is from an artist, T.H. White in his novel The Once and Future King (1958):

"Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory."

The other is from one of the architects of totalitarianism, Benito Mussolini:

"Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."

Shall it be forbidden the artist to create or not to create as he or she pleases? Shall artistic expression for the State's purposes be made compulsory? Shall anything be permitted to reside outside the State? Or shall we as artists--and as people--be free?

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley