In this day and age the critic and the cartoonist walk through very dangerous minefields since the trend of overreaction has become as contagious as a tropical disease. Cartoonists worldwide are feeling the constraints of the post-9/11 age and satire is under threat. It is not only just that. The treatment of religious material has become a delicate issue - we can only wait and see what kind of outraged response Daphne will get for her article in today's Indy. Self-censure has become the cautious approach - and has spread to other areas making us worry that the enlightenment might have come and gone.
Take a look at the Deutsche Oper for example. The world renowned Opera house in Berlin has censored the staging of Mozart's Idomeneo because the opera portrays (among other things) the beheading of the Profet Muhammad. if you have not read about it yet read it in the Times.
But back to Maltastar. Kurt Farrugia, writing for the online paper, took exception to a Tanti Burlò cartoon that appeared in the Times. To be fair to the journalist, his article was prompted by "many who have called in at the maltastar.com offices to protest at such a denigrating statement to the leader of the opposition." What denigrating statement? I hear you ask.
A quick look at the cartoon shows us a King - the by now familiar face of Sant in Tanti Burlò's pictures. His aide-de-camp is none other than Jace - Jason Micallef, Secretary General. The cartoon's ultimate theme is the by now infamous phrase uttered by Micallef "Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth". The phrase is attributed to an idiot in the cartoon.
It would appear that Maltastar readers objected to Alfred Sant's cartoon name: Alfossa, and to the description of Malta as Poohland. In both cases, Maltastar's interpretation (and it would seem that of most readers) relates to all things sewer. Alfossa, is read as Fossa - Sewer Pit. While Poohland is interpreted as the land of Poo - or as some would politely call it - number 2. Outrageous.
I will not go into the merits of interpreting cartoons. Whether Alfossa is really meant to imply The Sewer or is a play on the sound made when you say "Alfredsant" very fast. I will try to ignore Maltastar's blindness when preferring the "shit" justification rather than tanti Burlòs "Winnie the Pooh" explanation. We can also try to ignore Farrugia's hopeless grasp of the English language in the following explanation that he gives:
The partisan undertones of the cartoonist lie in the words “pretender” and “pseudo-throne.” Both words implying that the leader of the opposition is only "pretending" to be the prime minister of Malta, in Tanti Burló’s words, Poohland.
Rather than revelling in this Lornesque detail we would rather dwell on the larger cause at issue. It is a cartoon. It is meant to be satirical, can be grotesquely so and wins more points the funnier it is. The message is clear: Jason Micallef is an idiot because he quoted the Exodus phrase. I am sure that there are many among the Labour campaign managers who would agree as much. The phrase did no one any good. Least of all Labour. Look at how PN are capitalising on it all if yuou do not believe me!
This is how Maltastar ends its article:
It is not yet known whether the opposition leader and leader of the Labour party will be taking legal action against the The Times and the cartoonist himself.
Let us hope that the MLP are beyond this kind of suggestion. A cartoon is a cartoon. A twenty-first century democracy cannot hook onto some backward ideas and ask for the cartoonists head every time someone disagrees with his vivid, burlesque and maybe sometimes provocative portrayals.
Publish and be damned messirs, publish and be damned.