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Editorial cartoons

Several readers took exception to the editorial cartoon we published in the Dec. 20 issue. For those of you who missed it, it portrays a father asking his little girl “how was school today?” as she walks in the door.

“No casualties,” she replies.

This seemingly innocent exchange takes on a grotesque significance in the wake of the Dec. 14 Newtown, Connecticut tragedy when a 20-year-old gunman armed with a military assault rifle entered an elementary school and killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six adults, many of them teachers who died trying to protect their students.

Letter writers and callers considered the cartoon in poor taste, especially next to an editorial that called for making peace with each other and with the land.

“We are appalled at the insensitivity of the ‘cartoon’ on the editorial page of the Dec. 20 edition, given the recent events in Connecticut,” one reader writes.

“Where is the humour?” asks another.

We didn’t publish the cartoon to make people laugh.

Editorial or political cartoons use imagery in the form of caricatures to convey an editorial message. They rely on cartoon-like characters, usually exaggerated to the extreme, to provoke thought and discussion in the same fashion as a written editorial.

They are satirical, ironic, informative and yes, sometimes humorous. But ultimately their role is to prompt reflection on current events.

“Often, the purpose of a political cartoon is to shock the reader and is accomplished by making the image grotesque or scary. The image produces a strong negative reaction in the reader,” says an online definition by Riccardo Giovanniello, who holds a bachelor of arts in film theory and English literature from the University of Western Ontario.

This method of editorializing dates back to the 1500s. “A political cartoon is intended to send a clear message, with clear symbolism, that everyone can understand. In the time before literacy was common, political cartoons could be used to make a point with very few words. It was an inclusive way to share a message with an entire population.

“In the case of cartoons, the purpose is usually to promote social welfare or social well-being. The cartoonist draws attention to some social wrong in the hopes of stimulating activity to correct it.”

The Dec. 20 cartoon is particularly powerful. There is a macabre irony in the casual exchange between parent and child, one that all of us should find unsettling.

Let’s be honest. There are places in the world where parents live in fear for their children every waking moment. There seems to be no shortage of murderers seeking innocent victims to further their political cause. But as shocking as those events are when we read about them, we are smug in the knowledge that that happens “in other places.”

Newtown strikes a little too close to home and hits us right where it hurts.

There is no rational explanation political or otherwise for what happened there, which makes it even more frightening. It would seem a young man, barely more than a child himself, whose cries for help went unheeded, set out to make others cry.

What does it say about a society in which weapons of mass destruction can be purchased from the same stores that sell diapers and groceries? Granted, this happens where our next-door neighbours live, but they are our next-door neighbours.

What does it say about a society in which the only thing unusual about such incidents is the size of the body count? Or that rather than seriously examining what causes people to act out so violently, the debate is whether we need more guns or less?

The cartoon is provocative. It published just before Christmas, when we all want to feel good about our world. Is it funny? Absolutely not.

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Grain shippers received some long-awaited good news in the form of the Fair Rail Freight Service Act tabled in the House of Commons.

We hope it gets a fast track through Parliament.

It took six years of negotiation, concerted lobbying, and working with shippers outside of the grain trade, but the industry should soon have the clout needed to negotiate enforceable service agreements with the railways.

The railways aren’t happy. They argue that their service of late has been improving and this is all unnecessary. But that hasn’t always been the case.

This legislation assures shippers that service agreements will be struck, and that there is independent recourse if the railways don’t abide by them. In short, it is accountability insurance.

There are all kinds of precedents for this kind of backstop provision in the history of grain handling in Western Canada. It is no intrusion on normal commercial activity, simply a counterbalance for captive shippers.

It was a hard fight to win. Kudos to those behind the persistence and co-operation it took to make it happen.

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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