Political cartoons have been a part of American culture since the first one was published alongside an editorial by Benjamin Franklin in the May 9, 1794 edition of the Philadelphia Gazette. Popa (2013) maintains that political cartoons, in written or video form, entertain and engage the audience’s emotions in order to convey protests and critiques. Neighbor, Karaca, Lange (2013) add that these cartoons may also be used to educate readers about an issue.
Today, political cartoons “are sometimes cynical (scornful skepticism or negativity) and/or satirical (using wit to convey insults or scorn). They frequently rely on stereotypes (oversimplified opinions, conceptions or images) to address political issues” (Neighbor, Karaca, Lange, 2013, p. 5)
Popa (2013) notes that the messages of the cartoons takes precedence over their humor. Because the cartoons express the artist’s opinion, in newspapers, they appear in the editorial section.
Political cartoons, then, can offer a commentary on the General Motors ignition switch recall. The print and video sources that I’ve included in a Padlet board use a combination of cynicism, satire, and stereotypes to condemn GM. Some of them are thought-provoking, such as the “GM Switches” cartoon. Others are highly emotional and critical of GM, such as the “Ignition Switch Skull.” A play on words characterizes several of the illustrations. Together, they demonstrate the aphorism, “If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.”
See also: Instagram (This page discusses memes and the role of humor in society.)
Neighbor, T. W., Karaca, C., & Lange, K. (2013). Understanding the world of political cartoons: A curriculum guide. Seattle, WA: Seattle Times Company Newspapers in Education. Retrieved from https://www.world-affairs.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2003-Understanding-Political-Cartoons.pdf
Popa, D. E. (2013). Televised political satire: New theoretical introspections. In M. Dynel (Ed.), Developments in linguistic humour theory (pp. 367-392). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co.