Three investigators from the Universitat de València point out the overrepresentation of iconic animals of climate change, such as polar bears and penguins, in cartoons that deal with the climate emergency.
In a paper entitled “Worlds apart, drawn together: Bears, penguins and biodiversity in climate change cartoons“, which reviewed 1,022 illustrations, concluded that, regardless of their geographical origin, cartoonists tend to avoid using native animals and show very little biodiversity in their drawings, especially in terms of insects and other invertebrates.
The first thing I thought was that it must be hard to solve a cartoon about climate change with insects, without having much idea about them, and also for it to work as well from the start as one with bears or penguins, which already do more than half the work for the majority of readers to understand the idea.
I know cartoonists who read twenty books before deciding on the approach to solve a cartoon, I often do it, especially when it is a business that is alien to me. And if there is no time to learn the necessary minimum, I refrain from doing that scribble or I inevitably stay on the surface.
But most of us press cartoonists are just dilettantes who sometimes have to solve from one day to the next a cartoon on complex issues that are too big for us. We don’t want it to be a doctoral thesis, nor do we want it to be a complete churro.
The work suggests that using predominantly animals far removed from the local collective imagination could produce a geographical distance in the social perception of climate conflict and, as a consequence, reduce the motivation to take action and mitigate the problem.
On the other hand, the researchers also warn of the possibility of creating a false perception of temporal distance from climate change if animals are depicted in extremely devastated scenarios, by implying that the consequences of global warming on their ecosystems are still far from occurring.
Cartoon of 16/02/2020 in CTXT
Bears and penguins
The article recommends avoiding the spread of misconceptions, as “some serious biogeographical errors have been detected”. One of these errors is the representation of the polar bear and the penguin in the same ecosystem, since “the polar bear lives in the Arctic, in the Northern Hemisphere, while the penguin will be found in Antarctica and other southern lands, that is, in the Southern Hemisphere,” explains researcher Sara Moreno.
A cartoon, now a classic, that ironises this common mistake is the one by the English cartoonist Royston Robertson (1968) that heads this post and is also used in the review, the scene was drawn and sent to Reader’s Digest in June 2006, but was finally published during Christmas of the same year. Since then the cartoon hasn’t stopped making the rounds.
Although I have not been able to read the whole work because it is by paganini and costs no less than £29 (34€), I agree with the recommendation not to start from false premises in jokes. Although a cartoon is just another opinion, like that of any ordinary mortal, there are still many people who believe that they contain a piece of the essence of truth (when not only is this not the case, it is not even necessary).
Stereotypes and misinformation
Although we all understand that certain humorous licences allow us to play to recreate scenes that twist this mixture of hyperbole and imaginary worlds, even impossible ones, so that the joke works, we cannot deny that the most common topicalities are forced. It’s done because they still work and so most of the audience gets the point at first look. And no theme is immune to this effect.
The result is very boring. The same simple ideas and the same jokes with slight variations are repeated over and over again for decades. A common example is the hundreds of obituary cartoons with the deceased with wings, going up to heaven or being received by Saint Peter, God or whoever. Or the more than outdated representation of the rich with long top hats. There are many other clichés and commonplaces, but these are best left for another post.
The two things that can be seen with the naked eye from space are:
The Great Wall of China and Pablo Iglesias’ ego”.
It alludes to the ego of Pablo Iglesias. The joke, although understandable, is “broken” because it is based on false information installed in the collective imagination, a legend. Maybe this was the least of it and it was used as an excuse because it worked in the joke, I don’t know. The truth is that the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space. However long it is, it is not wide enough to be seen with the naked eye from there.
I found the study note here. Too many bears and penguins: cartoons forget native wildlife when warning of climate change risks.