Life through Medialens – but not as we know it

by Martin Rowson

This week I thought I’d describe my adventures with a website called Medialens over a cartoon I recently drew for The Guardian. It featured Bashar al-Assad, in the immediate aftermath of the Houla massacre, smeared in blood and pointing an equally blood-stained finger at his own chest. Also depicted were Vladimir Putin, Wen Jiabao, Ban Ki Moon, Kofi Annan, several cowled figures of Death, Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde lashing a pile of human bones with euro-laden cats-o’-nine-tails and the sleeping form of David Cameron, snuggled up to an enormous cat dressed in a blue pin-striped suit. The thing was captioned “Who? Me?!?”, although it’s by no means clear who’s saying these words, just as it’s not clear whose blood besmirches Assad, whether it’s his latest alleged victims’, from his earlier ones or, for that matter, whether the blood might be his own.

Anyway, I was asked by Medialens via Twitter (in 140 characters or less, even if a picture is, they say, worth a thousand words) what clear evidence I had for President Assad’s personal involvement in the Houla massacre. So far as I can tell, Medialens turn out to be a couple of blokes called David whose mission is to expose the lies, misrepresentation and manipulation in the “mainstream media”.

Of course, it’s an impossible question to answer. Anything you try to say soon starts spiralling into a kind of phenomenological vortex. What is our evidence, after all, for anything, least of all murders in a far away country enshrouded by the fog of war, where both sides have made a habit of saying each fresh outrage was the other side murdering their own people to blacken their enemy’s reputation? So it was probably my mistake to try explaining how I followed my “cartoonist’s hunch” based on Assad’s previous form, and how cartoons are more ambiguous than most journalism. And I certainly shouldn’t have allowed myself to get quite so foul-mouthedly cross, even if foul-mouthed crossness is sort of my professional schtick.

Still, my responses gave them the copy they sought, and they had me duly pinned to their cork board as yet another example of a hireling of the “mainstream media” both swallowing whole and thereafter cheerleading an American/British/Saudi/Bahraini neo-conservative interventionist conspiracy to invade Syria. Or something. And, as Medialens exists in cyberspace and nowhere else, my pillorying as their patsy pursued its inevitable trajectory. Within hours of them blogging my infamy, I started receiving the usual tweets and emails telling me (in case I hadn’t hitherto guessed) what a cunt I am, sent in an instant by that silent global army of paranoid agoraphobics who, these days, don’t even have to find a bottle of green ink and a stamp to pitch in with their ten bob’s worth.

I’m still not sure what kind of Parallax literalism fuels Medialens. And, despite my repeated requests, they still won’t or can’t tell me why they don’t also demand my evidence for alleging that Merkel and Lagarde have really truly desecrated corpses, as depicted in my cartoon. If my picture of Assad bears the same weight of empirical objectivity as a photograph, why deny those same standards of truthfulness for Merkel? And I haven’t even got round to raising the subject of cats in pin-striped suits.

Maybe their failure to answer is because their claim to champion truthfulness and balance is all baloney, and they’re just another leftist groupuscle shilling for tyrants whose one redeeming feature is they hate the West almost as much as their own people hate them. Perhaps they genuinely don’t understand what metaphors are, and view the world in two dimensions, in black and white. After all, one of their sweeter observations was to ask how, without firm evidence, I could show President Assad with his mouth smeared with the blood of “massacred children” (their interpretation, not mine), qualifying the question by then asking if I’d ever depict Barack Obama, or David Cameron, or any other Western leader in the same way, with just as little direct evidence of personal complicity in the piles of corpses currently littering the world.

Well, as any Tribune reader could assert with the closest thing you’re likely to get to certainty this side of the Second Coming, they don’t know me very well, do they?

This article first appeared in the Tribune magazine. You can find an archive of Martin Rowson’s great cartoons here. 

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

2 thoughts on “Life through Medialens – but not as we know it”

  1. Martin Rowson makes a fair point, but then: 1. nowhere does he portray the weapons funneled in by the CIA etc. Hey, the CIA must be arming the “good cut throats” and don’t merit to appear in the cartoon? 2. But a review of Rowson’s cartoons doesnt seem to reveal a similar shaming of the likes of Bus, Blair. Where are the cartoons of these mass criminals with blood on their face. Maybe Rowson left a few things out.

  2. When CIA funnels in a few thousand tanks and a couple of hundred gunship helicopters, I am sure Martin Rowson will take notice. At the moment he does not for the same reason good journalists ignore the meagre shipments of arms Hamas receives. It’s called a sense of proportion. As regards Martin Rowson’s record, your review evidently wasn’t very thorough. Try this or this or this or this.

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