Tuesday, 8 March 2016

"To ridicule you have been"



Pages for a new History of Political Cartooning in Denmark 
by Erik Petri and Louise C. Larsen



Knud Gamborg: The Funeral of The August Society, May 30, 1865.
The words below is a play on the Danish Evangelical-Lutheran
funeral sermon on the words gris (pig) and grin (ridicule):
From a pig you arose
To ridicule you have been
As brawn you shall rise again



There is nothing like officiating the funeral of one's political adversaries, making certain that no one misses how they have just unmasked their actual intentions and as such this is the essence of what cartoon art can and does.

Augustforeningen (i.e. The August Society) consisted of a circle of landowners, titled and otherwise and businessmen, objecting to the 1864-war lost to Germany. So was the weekly Pjerrot; they differed however deeply on the question of popular rule. Who gets to have a say, should it be each man his voice or a rule based on how one was settled in life? A revision of the constitution was underway and a matter of intense debate at this time, when the vote was still reserved the free being defined as the economically independent male.

When Augustforeningen chose not to make a special occasion of Constitution Day in 1865, they seemed to have exposed their motif of existence as that of power and not of democracy. The unmasking had been of their own doing and as a consequence they were given a full page in Pjerrot.



Infographic by Erik Petri of the mourners present, please click the photo for more details
(the text is in Danish, for which we apologize)


Augustforeningen counted the prime minister among its members, who is recognizable here as the pig with the Elephant Order. The pages of Pjerrot and Folkets Nisse were full of pigs, parrots, monkeys and donkeys of a humanoid nature referring to this set of gentlemen, making for a continuous fable, as we have known them since Antiquity. All of them animals of the basest kind, although the crayfish was a crayfish by name (Krebs). He was a constant source of joy for the satirical weeklies for the violence of his temper, invariably constantly speaking his mind.

We have known fables since Antiquity... and yet Atena Farghadani has been imprisoned since January 2015 for drawing just that, in her case an allegory on the Iranian parliament banning the access to birth control. The two drawings complement each other as part of a grand tradition of our civilization transforming our contemporaries into moral tales beyond our day and age, in this case directed at the companionship of power.


Photo from the Facebook-page Free Atena


Did Augustforeningen complain at any point?

There were a handful of cases of libel at the time, none by way of drawing as far as we can see. The democracy was still new and the remembrance of how the last autocratic kings had used the claim of libel to exercise censorship was fresh in mind.

Contrary to the Iranian authorities, who clearly admits to the truth of monkeys doing as they are told along with goats with the lack of patriarchal beards, their Danish colleagues of 1865 found hardly any interest in admitting themselves the likes of a pig. Besides, only a few years ago a Danish MP actually took someone to court, who had called the MP a fool. The case fell apart, when the judge leaned forward addressing the defense:

"Tell me, we judges have been talking over lunch, what in your opinion you would call an MP, who wishes for a ruling stating that he is not a fool?"



Erik Petri and I are deeply grateful for the collectors of cartoon art making it possible for us to research the sources of cartooning so intensely.


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