Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Comics and Controversy

While flipping through the channels on Sunday night, I caught an interview on CBC with Art Spigelman, a cartoonist and well-known graphic novelist whose work has been the source of controversy in the past few years. (To watch the segment for yourself, visit CBC's site. Or for some basic info read this recent National Post article).

In the June 2006 issue of Harpers magazine, Spigelman wrote an article in response to the Danish Muhammad cartoons controversy called "Drawing blood: Outrageous cartoons and the art of outrage." He also illustrated the magazine's cover art, which was a drawing of individuals of various races and religions that played upon several typical cultural/religious stereotypes and prejudices. There were splatters of red across the drawing which, according to Spigelman, were meant to suggest that the cover's artist had just been shot by offended individuals.

This issue of Harpers caused quite a stir around the world (in fact I wonder how I had not heard of it before). In Canada, the controversy began before the issue could even hit the stands of the country's largest book store chain, Chapters-Indigo, which refused to sell the issue because it reprinted the Danish cartoons.

In order to fully understand Spiegelman's views on censorship/political correctness and his artistic vision, I think I'll have to do some more research (get my hands on the actual Harpers magazine, for example, or one of his books). However, I do feel able to say that I believe Chapter-Indigo's decision was the wrong one.

It is Chapters-Indigo's right to choose what they sell (or don't sell); they cannot be forced to sell particular merchandise. But refusal to distribute Spigelman's article undermines Canada's commitment to true freedom of speech and expressions. It's disappointing to me that they would partake in this kind of censorship--especially when the very literature being banned was trying to encourage discussion and reexamination of censorship itself.

It seems to me that Spigelman's article was more than just another jab at the Islamic world. Sure, the cover art alone may have offended some of Chapters-Indigo's customers. But I don't think that Spigelman was merely seeking controversy for controversy's sake. I believe he had a legitimate reason for poking at society's sensibilities and that the cartoons were reprinted for a purpose beyond sheer provocation.

In light of the current Fitna video controversy, I suppose such a censorship act is akin to an internet service provider taking it upon themselves to block this very weblog because it links to the video?

True, the fight for free speech in Canada is comparatively better than the rights battles raging in countries such as China and Afghanistan. But that doesn't make it any less troubling to see calls for "political correctness" in Canada silence those who challenge citizens to, at the very least, continue to grapple with censorship and freedom of expression issues rather than simply surrender to other people's opinions and parameters.


Glenn Penner said...

Good thoughts, Adele. Glad to see you blogging again and branching out into an area you haven't written on before.

Anonymous said...

The freedom of speech in Canada does not cover for example teachers in the public schools.They are not allowed to mention the name of Jesus and tell children who he is.Also evolution is taught in our highschools,colleges and universities.Creation theory is not given a chance.
Where is the voice of concerned christians? Suzanna Meyer

Glenn Penner said...

Good points. It seems to me that for many Christians, as long as their personal peace and affluence is not affected, then they feel little or no need to get involved in such issues. Of course, the price for such peace is far too high in the long run, but most people have little ability to view things in the long run