From Australia, A Cancel Culture Chapter That I Don’t Understand At All

The above cartoon is the work of Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist of some note. Apparently the drawing got him into serious trouble with the social media and political correctness mobs Down Under. Color me completely bewildered, mate.

I have always regarded Australia as a having an admirably  rough, honest, brutally independent and common sense-based culture. Apparently I’m missing something; maybe one of Ethics Alarms’ Australian readers can explain what. (There have been about 24,000 views of the blog there so far this year; Australia is the second largest source of Ethics Alarms readers outside the U.S., after Canada.)

Because of the cartoon, Leunig, who has been creating cartoons professionally to express political and social commentary for half a century, is being threatened with cultural “cancellation.” He writes in part that the drawing has “brought so much hostile public reaction that I began to lie awake at night wondering why I had followed such a troubled, painful and precarious career path….

…[To]be so hated, insulted, slandered in the public domain for this – as I was – is indeed a dismal fate for the lone cartoonist. It speaks volumes about the current condition of civil society and tolerance. This is bigotry. The malice has been astounding and so extreme that it has plunged me into a deep contemplation about the nature of angry hatred. Indeed, I am coming to the view that there is an emerging new form of hatred in society which might be more of a mental illness than a passing emotion. Perhaps I would call it “free-floating, obsessive compulsive hatred”.

His son wrote of the effect on the cartoonist’s family:

Early in the morning I switch on ABC breakfast radio and listen to the co-hosts debating the cartoon. Of course it’s a more intelligent and nuanced discussion than what is playing out online. One of the hosts happens to be an old friend of mine who disagrees with the cartoon. …my aunty Mary, also a cartoonist, is interviewed … Mary and Michael no longer talk. She has drawn a cartoon of herself killing him that is now being lauded and shared across social media….

By lunchtime the orgy of hate steps up a notch on Twitter. I’ve grown used to reading comments like this directed at my father over the years…However, when it gets into threatening territory – “I hope Leunig dies a slow and painful death” or “If I had the chance I would burn Michael Leunig alive”– it does start to affect you after a while. Yes, I shouldn’t look at it (and won’t in the future) but sometimes it’s hard to escape.

On Facebook I see friends debating not only the cartoon but offer up their opinion on my father as a person. Some of them have never told me personally how much they detest him but are comfortable making it known online. This is a consequence of public life. No matter what sort of relationship one might have with their parents it’s a bizarre thing watching, listening and reading so many disdainful opinions about them.

What’s going on here? I have no idea. I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe.

There is nothing wrong with that cartoon. I’m not saying that I personally am not offended by the cartoon, I am saying, with the unseemly and annoying certitude that regular readers know so well, that it is an excellent, amusing and inoffensive cartoon that the cartoonist and his family should not have to defend, and that those trying to “cancel” him because of it are completely, inarguably, in the wrong as well as badly confused about right and wrong, humor, humanity, modern culture, and probably many other things as well.

I hope I make myself clear.

I got Leunig’s message immediately; it is one that I have discussed on Ethics Alarms. In his words,

In the offending cartoon I drew a mother with her eyes glued to a phone and wheeling a pram from which her baby had fallen completely unnoticed. The child lies abandoned on the footpath behind mother, wishing that he was as interesting as her phone. Black humour indeed but making a worthy point about the perils and disasters of the phone addiction which is spreading across the world like a plague.

A newspaper cartoonist can be something of a natural anthropologist; a keen observer of society with a sense of impending cultural change and its possible tragedies. Like many others I had been noticing with sadness the growing number of parents lost in their phone screens while wheeling babies in prams through busy streets. Heaven only knows what goes on in the home. Negligence caused by distraction is the issue. The roads are becoming deadlier because of it, and God only knows what other failures and disasters are being caused by phone addiction.

I drew a mother not out of misogyny but because of my lifelong special interest in the mother-infant relationship and all that is at stake in that early connection. For many years I have pored over the marvellous works of Donald Winnicott, the great English paediatrician and psychoanalyst, who gave us the idea of the “good enough mother” and identified and described in much detail what he called the “primary maternal preoccupation”. This refers to the natural deeply attuned attention that in most cases a mother gives to the baby which has just emerged from her womb – and all the vital developmental facilitation that is set up in the child through this deep connection at the start of life.

To paraphrase Winnicott: the attentive loving eye contact made by mother with the baby is crucial in the child’s developmental process. It is this sustained meeting of eyes between mother and infant which activates the development of the baby’s sense of a secure self. The baby needs to be seen; it needs to be held in the mother’s gaze as well as the mother’s arms. What the father can do best at this point is to protect and nourish the flourishing of this early mother-child connection.

All of my life I have been fascinated by the talk of mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, spouses and offspring about this ancient business of mothering, where we all began. In ordinary homes and around kitchen tables I was witness to a lot of this passionate conversation about the best way to care for a baby and raise a child. It is one of the great eternally interesting topics for discussion, and what is at stake makes it more important than most political debates could ever be.

Leunig really has to explain this to his fellow Australians? What’s the matter with them? I’ve made the same point on Ethics Alarms, not only about parents ignoring their babies and children because of their addiction to cell phones, but criticizing my neighbors in Alexandria for similarly neglecting their dogs, who also require contact and attention when they get a chance to go on a walk with their beloved masters.

Is guilt driving the attacks on  Michael Leunig? Is that it? They are punishing a truth-teller for using satire and humor to hold a mirror up to their faces like satirists and social commentators are supposed to do? If that cartoon sparks such anger, what would these people have done to Swift, Voltaire, Gilbert, Shaw, Parker, Wodehouse, Vidal, or even Dave Barry?

The cartoonist was spot-on, right, deft and effective. His critics and would-be agents of his cancellation are wrong, and their treatment of him is demented, cruel and irrational.

Unless I’m missing something.

I can’t imagine what it would be.


Pointer: Mark Metcalf


43 thoughts on “From Australia, A Cancel Culture Chapter That I Don’t Understand At All

  1. I don’t think this, or “cancel culture” in general, is anything new. There has always (as far as I can tell) been a shocking amount of free-floating hate simmering just under the surface of civil society. A little of it bubbles out in criminal ways, but a lot of it festers in the breast of respectable people, where it awaits some socially acceptable target. Infamous criminals are a perennially popular target. Nobody bats an eye at the hate that spews forth against a mass murderer, or a child molester. Online comments are often filled with people inventing exquisite tortures for such people, even when the perpetrator is already dead.

    But there isn’t always one of them handy before the public eye, so people will settle for a common robber, a tax cheat, a shoplifter. And if, in genteel circles, such petty criminals are lacking, they will settle for those who commit a social faux-pas. Lacking even those, they’ll just expand the realm of social offense until they find one.

    • Dave
      Very insightful. I might add that I believe that a great deal of this festering hatred is built on the very same foundation as class warfare in which people who tend to feel powerless in general collectivize their frustrations and anger and take them out on a selected scapegoat target. The animus builds because it is easy to jump aboard the hate train but few will step up and say this is wrong. These people, in my opinion, feel they are doing god’s work and are oblivious to the harm and pain they cause others. It is not necessary to be correct it is only necessary to be right. Only when they become the object of derision do they see the harm but unfortunately the pain they feel reinforces the sense of powerlessness which feed that cycle of hate.

      • This is very good: If you can’t come to terms with your animus, own it, and stop projecting on the other, you are bound to join some pitchfork bearing mob chasing after your version of the Frankenstein monster. Dr. Jordan Peterson talks about this considerably in his YouTube talks.

  2. There is an old saying about not telling the truth because the listener may not want to hear it.

    Society knows what the addiction to endless connection to technology had done. Pointing it out so brazenly is a truth society does not want to face.

    This addiction plays out in millions of ways every day on our roads, sidewalks, schools, workplaces, social situations and many more venues with almost always negative results.

    I have been in two auto accidents in the last two years where the party behind me rammed into my auto or rammed themselves into a tree to avoid hitting me just behind my auto due to texting and driving.

    This type of problem is evident in every avenue of life in the developed world. How dare it be shown for what it is, a scourge to the point of negligent parenting.

  3. Lacking even those, they’ll just expand the realm of social offense until they find one.

    This is the only explanation that makes sense to me. Some people are simply desperate to find something about which they can be pissed off.

    I was curious about who was dishing the invective and did a bit of googling. This this story is actually five months old (not that this changes anything regarding the ethics angle). From a couple of the articles I’ve read, the dudgeon appears to be based on the premise that it’s misogynistic. Leunig has apparently drawn fire in the past for the same reason – though I can’t say I see anything misogynistic in those cartoons, either – rather, I see send-ups of some of the battier aspects of radical feminism. A promising target for a cartoonist, but a risky one, given the anger that tends to fuel that particular (ahem) philosophy.

    Apparently, his own sister – also a cartoonist – was among the non-amused:

    Another article with a somewhat more balanced perspective:

  4. The cartoonist was spot-on, right, deft and effective. His critics and would-be agents of his cancellation are wrong, and their treatment of him is demented, cruel and irrational.

    I agree. My theory is that it is just a little too close to the bone, and rather than engaging in rational self-examination, his critics are emo-validating their “virtuous” anger.

    Don’t they understand that anger and emotional venting at the author of a controversial social comment is never virtuous? Apparently not.

    • Don’t they understand that anger and emotional venting at the author of a controversial social comment is never virtuous?

      I like the way you put that. It’s succinct, straightforward, accurate, and useful. The next step is helping people understand why it’s accurate and useful. That varies based on the situation. For an author who is deliberately being antagonistic to boost their own egos (i.e. a troll), everyone in theory should know that to ignore them is most effective, so reminding them of that may be all it takes. For an author who makes a faux pas, people need to grok that good people can say insensitive things sometimes, and eviscerating them harms society as a whole.

      The tricky situations are as follows:
      1) An author who sincerely believes something harmful. Most people are philosophically bankrupt and can’t articulate why it’s harmful, so they’re justifiably concerned that the harmful idea will take over via the mere-exposure effect.

      2) Social gadflies and jesters like Michael Leunig, who may offend or antagonize for constructive purposes. It’s important for authors to create works that make people upset or uncomfortable, and for those works to be freely available to the public, because helps people learn and reconsider things, as individuals and as a society. It counteracts the liability of stagnation.

      The major lesson people need to learn here may be that even if something hurts our feelings–not just any random person’s feelings, but our feelings, that still doesn’t make it unethical or otherwise wrong.

      • Thank you, and I think you’re right that there are some areas that are tricky. Here’s my response to your observations:

        1. Sincerely-held beliefs:

        I still think emotional venting is the wrong approach, although if I’m reading you right, you’re saying it’s sometimes unavoidable when people are otherwise unable to articulate the logic behind their fear that the idea will somehow metastasize and do harm to [him/her/xir, etc/the country].

        That speaks to our poorly-informed public where critical thinking and rational thought are now almost universally discouraged in favor of emotional outbursts, as though the latter lend actual force to the strength of whatever argument they are trying to make.

        A tragic commentary, to say the very least. At worst, it may end our republic in flames.

        2. Social gadflies:

        This is definitely a more legitimate problem. Certainly, when anger and outrage is used not just as a form of impotent expression or a simple attempt to draw attention to oneself, but rather as a creative construct to frame an argument, it has more validity than simple venting. But I would contend that it is not so valuable unless that form of comment is actually distinguishable from simple rage. If it isn’t, it becomes just as unworthy. Is satire that is unrecognizable as such really still satire?

        The major lesson people need to learn here may be that even if something hurts our feelings–not just any random person’s feelings, but our feelings, that still doesn’t make it unethical or otherwise wrong.

        From your lips to God’s ears.

        • I think we share the same values, but I may have been too unclear about what I meant by the tricky situations.

          1. I don’t think that public emotional venting about someone else’s sincerely held beliefs is unavoidable. I think we can do better by promoting critical thinking and rational thought, as you say. That’s what I work on in my spare time, because I haven’t figured out how to get people to pay me for it.

          2. I didn’t mean that the social gadflies were the ones being angry. I was referring a situation where people get angry about the social gadflies. People offended by gadflies need to develop a sense of humility and self-deprecation. A person who tries too hard to defend their dignity ends up destroying it themselves.

          The fundamental liability of stagnation (and its two modes, decadence (underregulated) and dogma (overregulated)) is the main one I’m trying to equip people to solve, through transcending their blurry and incoherent paradigms and learning to observe and confront reality more perceptively.

          • Well, thanks very much for that. I really can’t disagree with anything you wrote above.

            And I definitely support any effort to help people to get out of the death-spiral of incoherent emotionalism and become, at least, self-aware. Even better if they can learn critical thinking, at least to the level of actually thinking about something (maybe even, perchance, learn something about the subject upon which they wish to opine) before launching into an emotional rant.

  5. FYI, I just got a notice that this post “goes against our community standards” on Facebook….Sheesh….talk about not wanting to face or discuss reality! If the cartoonist made the baby look like Trump, all would be fine. My brain hurts.

    • “If the cartoonist made the baby look like Trump, all would be fine.”

      Bravo Indigo November Golf Oscar!

      “What’s going on here?”

      The Post-Modern Neo-(fill-in-the-blank) don’t like none-too-subtle reminders of how shallow and craven they’ve become; where ignorance is bliss…

    • Facebook banned EA back in 2018, no specifics given. You can post the link in a comment to a post—so I will write, “Below is…”. It’s a pain, but it is better than nothing.

      Facebook sucks.


    This is a cartoon drawn by the cartoonist in question sister. Note the shot to the butt and all the guts spewing out with all sort of *symbolic content*. In an article in The Guardian they are saying it is a reaction against an Old Boomer (the cartoonist is 73) who according to them does not understand women and who has drawn other cartoons that upset some ‘feminists’.

    The artist Mary Leunig has declared her brother, Michael Leunig, should “speak to people and listen to people more” and said he unfairly picks on women and mothers after the cartoonist was roundly criticised for his latest work.

    This can be translated of course to “accept what other people tell him to think (and see)” and “See things as you are told to see them”. It seems to me that this could illustrate how ‘social coercion’ in hyper-liberal cultures function. They take *guilt-slinging* to the most devastating and lowest point. They stop at nothing to do harm to those who deviate.

    Symbolically, there is a great deal of material in shooting a man in the bottom and them having all this *guts* laden with symbols spew out.

    Online, critics derided the work as “boomer bullshit”, and pointed to a series of his cartoons they claimed unfairly targeted mothers for supposed poor parenting.

    This theme is developing strength: the general condemnation of ‘Boomers’. I suppose that must be looked into more. It happens both on the dissident right and on the progressive left: someone has to be blamed for this *fine mess you’ve gotten us into*. It is a complex theme however.

    The long-running Nine newspaper cartoonist has previously drawn cartoons advocating anti-vaccination and criticising working mothers who placed their children in childcare.

    There definitely is a developing narrative — certainly common on the dissident right — in which the entire project of ‘liberating’ women and establishing a culture of career-focused women who are seen to sacrifice their responsibilities to their children and family is criticized strongly.

    Said the sister: ““That’s the only reason I respond to that [cartoon]. I could have let that go. If it was about feminists, I could have let it go because he does that and we all know. But I couldn’t let this one go. Because I do know women and parents who have kids, and he just shouldn’t do that. He shouldn’t do that.”

    The Sydney Morning Herald has an article “Mothers were the real victims of a cartoon that shamed a demographic” that reveals more of the nuance in this situation.

    But it is less about a general over-focus on cellphones and more a feminist defense of ‘struggling mothers’ who not only have careers but child responsibilities as well.

    • 1. Thanks for this background, Alizia.
      2. If the fury was over the cartoon, the cartoon, by itself, should be objectionable. It isn’t. All cartoons are judged on their own, not according to the previous works of the cartoonist.
      3. It is like impeaching Trump on something routine, like the Ukraine call, using the rationalization that he had breached rules and traditions before that. If conduct is acceptable, it’s acceptable, and who the actor is shouldn’t matter.
      4. If his critics were lying in wait to get him for perceived past transgressions, this was a mighty weak trigger.
      5. So what if he was targeting a demographic? (He wasn’t–I’ve seen mothers of many ages doing that crap). It is poor parenting. Nobody claims it’s good parenting. It’s distracted parenting, just like talking on the phone while driving is distracted driving. It’s wrong. Are people suggesting that if his son had drawn the same cartoon, that would have been OK? Tell me another.

      6.Oh, so what if he was criticizing a demographic. My demographic has been attacked at every stage of my life since I was a teenager, often with good cause. It was good for me, unless the real reason was bigotry.

      • 2. If the fury was over the cartoon, the cartoon, by itself, should be objectionable. It isn’t. All cartoons are judged on their own, not according to the previous works of the cartoonist.

        The condemnation of this cartoon, and the other work of this cartoonist, is a *social phenomenon* and has to do with mass-psychology, mass-anxiety, mass-condemnation. Though this cartoon-incident is a few months old I propose that we are soon going to witness levels of *mass-psychology, mass-anxiety, mass-condemnation* such as we have not seen before. So, the core of the issue has to do with *mass-hysteria*. This Commie Virus is the amoral agent of immense events the extent of which we can only speculate about at this point. But, when furious and frustrated people start the blame-game: watch-out.

        What you are saying seems to be true: the upset is not really (or not only) about the cartoon. It is about a whole wide range of psycho-social issues.

        3. It is like impeaching Trump on something routine, like the Ukraine call, using the rationalization that he had breached rules and traditions before that. If conduct is acceptable, it’s acceptable, and who the actor is shouldn’t matter.

        This illustrates the psychological issue to some degree. Yet I still cannot get the clarity I want about why powerful people within our system, and the world-system, understand Trump as a threat.

        Among the powerful — among those who really have a stake in the matter — the Anti-Trump movement is rational, not irrational and not psychological (in my opinion: that is in my speculation). There is something about the advent of Donald Trump and any (and possibly all) strongly nationalistic movements which is super-threatening to established structures of power. I take this as axiomatic.

        People, that is ‘the masses’, are manipulated by periodicals like the NYTs through a Maoist neo-propaganda that takes advantage of their ‘progressive inclinations’. What that means, to me, is that the culture has been prepped for a long time to receive this manipulative yellow-journalism. And those most *primed* are the ones that most respond to it. A perfect example of an individual with all the characteristics for manipulation: a California Red Guard.

        But the game of power is a different level of game. These people are highly rational.

        What is interesting is to pay attention to what people are thinking, saying and sharing about how this Commie Virus thing will be used by powerful governmental players in their large geo-political *games* over domination and control. There are two poles in this interpretive game: the complete paranoid lunacy of the *conspiracy-dreamers* (whose theories about *what is going on* are so outlandish) and then those who are really trying, within *rational categories*, to see and describe what is going on in realistic terms.

        It is obvious, is it not, that something *really weird* and unlikely took place with Trump’s election. It shook the world. And now we have another event — so weird, so transforming — that no one seems to have any idea how to interpret it. But that is the nature of the time: epistemological uncertainty at a mass scale.

        As to 4-6 in your notes: You would (and I would) have to interview the aggrieved to understand their psycho-social issues. But I think it fair — and possibly important — to state that none of this is rational. And because it is irrational it has to be approached differently.

        • A perfect example of an individual with all the characteristics for manipulation: a California Red Guard: our former Chris of hahahahahaha! fame. [I forgot to include his name: sorry Chris!:-)]

  7. I don’t get it either. Would it have been acceptable if the negligent parent had been a dad?

    Because mothers never get hooked on their phones and never neglect their kids? I guess?

    Posted from my phone.

    • AM

      Since the late 60’s we have been conditioned to believe that fathers are a bunch of doofuses while moms are the epitome of reason, purity and the only gender with the genetic superiority to raise children.

      Anything that questions the narrative that men are just overgrown children in need of behavioral correction through their female betters or diminishes the superiority of women is bigotry. The mindset and resulting behaviors is not much different than how so many saw African Americans well into to 60’s.

      • Anything that questions the narrative that men are just overgrown children in need of behavioral correction through their female betters or diminishes the superiority of women is bigotry. The mindset and resulting behaviors is not much different than how so many saw African Americans well into to 60’s.

        Here’s a black pill to that red pill.

        African American — that is African American culture — and Latino Americans and Latino American culture — cannot get along without guiding and constraining Europeans and European cultural constraints and guide-lines.

        You may say I am a horrible racist for saying this — that is not my endeavor however — but to the best of my ability I have looked rationally at the issue, and what I say is true: left to themselves, today, a Black-American culture would descend, very quickly, into chaos. Latinos might do better but not a great deal more. The Asians are, of course, different. They are capable of amazing cooperative efforts. Maybe even more so than ‘white European culture’.

        I agree with you that an amazing *reversal* of terms was perpetrated. But all of this took place within psycho-social games and battles. Men vilified. Women elevated (though as Camille Paglia said: “If it were left up to woman we’d still be living in grass huts”.) African-Americans unnaturally and irrationally elevated to be peers of their white brethren (when they are not and likely will not be until they, within their own terms and in their own time fight the battles to define themselves).

        I also agree that men have been systematically vilified and tremendously disempowered. That is true. But it can also be said that men dropped the ball. They failed to be *truly responsible*. You may not like what I am going to say here: Men are always ALWAYS responsible. The meaning of the time that we live in (according to my own dissident position) is that men have to reclaim their power, but I am especially focused on Europeans, Europe-derived people, and within the European categories. You will hate this even more: White MEN need to wake up. And white women must support white men.

        I know, I know: this bounces off your head like a pingpong ball off a bowling ball. But it is true. To face this is to face responsibility and to assume it. (And this does not in any sense mean to hate other people or to dismiss them or their projects and struggles).

        • I am glad you saw the analogy I used. Racism is based on the idea that one race’s developed culture is in all ways better than anothers. It does not matter if you are a Nativist seeking to rule the Five Points or gangs that seek to dominate the Barrio or Hood. The dominant culture tends to see their way as the superior way.

          As for men dropping the ball let me say that in large measure social welfare programs forced the fumble. Men were systematically moved out of the family home in order for mom and children to get help. Men are easily substituted as primary resource provider when government steps up. Basically men were cast as regular guys that had to compete with square jawed, ruggedly good looking big man on campus which is government.

          Anthropologically speaking, the male that can offer the greatest protections and lifestyle for the female and her offspring is the one chosen as her mate. It is no wonder women use government to promote protections for their interests.

          • I completely object to your use of the term ‘racist’ and, of course, thoroughly reject the *progressive left’s* use of the term: it is in itself an example of error. But, since you can only think (as evidenced by what you say and write) in such terms I realize that I won’t be able to reach you.

            However, my object — essentially the base of my entire philosophical platform — is ‘to be able to see clearly’ and to assign proper and accurate labels to things. So, to see clearly necessarily involves cutting though thick, obscuring layers. The deformation of classic liberalism, the advent of *hyper-liberal thought-pollution* — these are the areas I am forced to work in. Put another way: these are the areas you-plural force me to work in. You-plural will only tell the truth when there is an advantage for you. I start from the premise that we are surrounded by lies. The task, to see clearly, is to see through them. And then to *state truths*.

            And I did just that, and only that.

            One other aspect of what is important to be has to do with proper capacity to distinguish and to assign value: to recognize value, and to hierarchize values. In the *progressive wave* that swept over our culture(s) people have lost the nerve & the will to see in hierarchical terms. But the further away from this period of confusion one goes, the closer one gets to strong individuals who could be certain of what they valued. And they had the intellectual grounding to do so, to defend value.

            You in this particular area show me not what adamantine strength is but rather what happens to a man when he turns into postmodern cardboard: wet postmodern cardboard. Mushiness of mind, issues with assigning value, fear in seeing ruthlessly: this indicated to me when I noticed it exactly the way and means I needed to develop to make forward progress.

            If you only could understand what happened to you — the causal chains that produced your ‘conclusions’ — you might be able to see how they were constructed and to disassemble them. But it is far easier to remain within the Lie and the Partial Truth. That is also one of the strong lessons I have learned over the last few years.

            Preserving Europe, preserving European culture, self-defining, resisting and opposing exterior guilt-controls, focusing on social and cultural renovation, turning the tide: all of this is what is required. But to get to that — in an authentic sense (as in *genuine*) — involves also historical reanalysis: revision. And this proves too difficult for those who should be capable of carrying it out. And that is why I refer, condescendingly, to ‘irresponsible men’. *You* dropped the ball and you have not even begun to see where, when, how and what the repercussions have been.

            That is one aspect of what *taking the Red Pill* is: introspective self-analysis.

    • “Would it have been acceptable if the negligent parent had been a dad?”

      Probably yes. Australia has gone political correctness insane in recent years. First they basically outlawed private use of firearms. Then, they went after speech. They censored their internet (similar to China). It just continues. The censorship and oppression are, of course, of the leftist variety.

  8. Hypersensitive because it hit too close to home. The condemnation of negligence changes not at all if the first word is dad-ums or even some mythical non-gendered word for parent. It’s not as if phone overoccupation is gender linked alone. Even as the gender mentioned, I had no trouble discerning that it was the behavior mocked, not gender. I had to scroll back to double check the word ‘mummy’ as the first word made so little impression compared to the baby’s plight.

    And i do not understand why anyone sane would make death threats online. Period. It just reveals how childish they have become over the topic, and should go back to kindergarten and bouncy castles only as they clearly are still children having tantrums.

    • I see the cartoon, not as an indictment of women, but as a criticism of how modern culture has changed what was once considered the fundamental bond between mother and child. I am sure that if we went to a park, we would see parents with kiddos in strollers glued to their phones. Men and women are equally responsible for doing that – hell, I saw it this morning while walking Lord Remington Winchester on his daily squirrel chase. Pops was checking his Twitter feed as he pushed the stroller down the esplanade. This cartoonist used the image of a mother obsessed with her phone to comment on the ever-growing narcissism brought about by modern technology.

      In the 1960s and 1970s, Alvin Toffler and the futurists wrote about how technology’s rapid growth would influence society. The science fiction writers did the same, often warning that technology would grow faster than our ability to catch up with it. These writers didn’t have the perspective of cell phone and computer technology and the advent of the internet at their disposal. And, it happens incrementally, no? It’s not as though we bought a cell phone and the next thing you know our faces are glued to the screen (well, not me because my cell phone is beginning to suffer a catastrophic motherboard failure and it takes forever for the damn thing to load stuff). So, by using the mother-child relationship as the foil for his comment, the cartoonist was indeed poking the bear.


  9. Here’s why I find this cartoon offensive (although not so offensive that is worthy of death threats).

    If a cartoonist can be referred to as a “natural anthropologist,” then I guess anyone can have that title, including myself. The majority of my social circle involves two parent working households, where attempts are made to equally share the burdens/joys of parenting, household chores, jobs, etc. Across the board, fathers are glued to their phones more than mothers. No exceptions. It is infuriating and my friends and I discuss this all the time.

    Now, if you’re referring to a SAHM, what this cartoon seems to ignore is that the vast majority of the time, a mother is seeing to that child’s every emotional and bodily need. So if a stranger happens to catch a glimpse of a mom on her phone at a park or while on a walk (while her baby probably is ASLEEP), assumptions should not be drawn from that encounter.

    A “better” cartoon would have been of a family sitting at a restaurant where every member of the family, including the children are on some sort of a device. That cartoon would make the same point, without offending anyone.

    • Whew! Thank you! I thought nobody would make the case for the offended. I think that’s the best case possible for the opposition. My problem with that is that it ignores what cartoons are. They are, by definition, jokes made about the conduct being described that deserves to be mocked, not the similar conduct that doesn’t, and the audience is supposed to get that. Obviously if the baby is asleep, the phone call is short, the parent isn’t really distracted, etc, then the cartoon doesn’t apply. But we know that people DO neglect kids because of cell phones—some of the dead kids in the hot car episodes involved cell phones.

      And the dogs are NEVER asleep when their walkers are ignoring them….

    • “Across the board, fathers are glued to their phones more than mothers. No exceptions.”

      Are those the observations of just the wives/mothers, or both them and the husbands/fathers?

      If not, a sense of balance would suggest we hear from the Y-Chromosomal Units, wouldn’t it?

      • And, across the board, far more women are pushing “prams” by themselves than fathers–that’s the stereotype, and cartoonists traffic in stereotypes. I did not view this cartoon as an attack on mothers at all, but on phone-distracted parents. You had to pick one or the other.

  10. I’m in the “it hits too close to home” camp. One of the trademark traits of narcissism is the inability to begin to recognize when one has fallen short of the mark, and studies have shown that narcissism is on the rise since the advent of social media. Could be cause, could be effect of it, probably both. I’m thinking that there are a growing number of people out there who have become pathologically incapable of handling the emotion known as “guilt.” Oh, they’re quick enough to dish it out to others, to use it as a lever to get what they want, but it’s a surface reaction – a tool to achieve one’s ends. Actually feeling it themselves, and to a degree that the only way to assuage it is to actually repent and change one’s ways in response – I think people are becoming actually emotionally incapable of it. It’s too big to handle, to massive to feel through, and so the only way to handle it is to deflect, minimize, gaslight, explain away, and/or attack. Which is itself behavior which, if recognized correctly, would induce more guilt.

    If something is this true, it can only result in anger. And I don’t think people are capable of allowing it to be anger at themselves anymore, so it must go elsewhere.

  11. People hate what they fear, and by association, the people who point this out.

    I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a parent alive that at some time in his or her life didn’t do something neglectful, or at least not being attentive enough, with a child. If you’ve ever had that instant panic, a blindingly painful realization, OH SHIT!!!! moment as a parent, that you just barely missed a tragic outcome, you can probably identify with the cartoon. My moment, a long time ago, is still as fresh today as when it happened. No it wasn’t phone related but a similar moment of not paying close enough attention.

    We all know how much people love being reminded of their failures, especially as a parent, so it’s no wonder people are looking to lynch the artist. If you don’t stare at your phone like a zombie and just watch people out and about, you can easily see this exact scenario happening. So the people who are the worst offenders are most likely the most vocal and belligerent in trying to cancel the cartoonist for pointing out to them just how close they are to being that person.

  12. What’s going on in Australia? Answer: It’s very simple. Like everywhere else, Australia has tons of young people. They are like Sparty. They despise the Okay Boomer set. They are trained to “call out” any behavior they deem inadequate (which encompasses most every behavior). My forty-six year old daughter has informed me I’m a sexist and as a result she’s obligated to “call me out” about it. In this respect, Australia is no different than anywhere else. Mrs. OB and I have an under-thirty Aussie friend who has a good sense of humor. She’s, of course, obsessed with her phone. She does everything on it. I think she’d find this funny, but you never know.

    • I’ve never used the phrase “Okay Boomer.” What makes you think I hate old people? I do hate people who are sexists and racists, but old people do not have a monopoly on terrible beliefs. See, e.g., Alizia.

  13. “Is guilt driving the attacks on Michael Leunig? Is that it? They are punishing a truth-teller for using satire and humor to hold a mirror up to their faces like satirists and social commentators are supposed to do? If that cartoon sparks such anger, what would these people have done to Swift, Voltaire, Gilbert, Shaw, Parker, Wodehouse, Vidal, or even Dave Barry?”

    A few years ago I was teaching this class on 1 Corinthians. It had been going on for about a month at this point where we got to the section on marriage, divorce, and adultery. Most of the class focused on the marriage part. Very little was said about divorce and adultery. I didn’t focus on it too much. In a class like this, I tend to let discussion stay with the interest of the class. I made it a point to address divorce and adultery are the real problems of the church and they should not be ignored. After class, a women came up to me and let me have it. She was not happy that I had said that. According to her it was none of the church’s business. She was pretty passionate about it, so I let it go.

    The following class she wasn’t there. I assumed she made it a point and thought that I would never agree with her. A month later her husband drags her into my office saying she been committing adultery. He says he wants to know what he should do about it. She won’t look a me. I suggested a professional counselor. That’s the last time I saw either of them.

    Last year a older couple come to our church for the first time. I make a home visit like I normally do and they acted surprised. They told me no one ever visited them from their last church. They keep visiting for about three weeks and stop coming. I follow up and they say it isn’t the right fit. A few months later, I get a call from another minister wanting to know why we never visited them. I told him what happened and suggested they were church hopping for attention. He said they didn’t seem like that. There must be something wrong on our end. Last I heard, that couple was on another church.

    I find that in both these stories the same lesson is learned. First, people are going to do what they want to do. Maybe not everyone, but a large majority will. And why why not? We have so many cultural (pressures?) movements that say it’s ok, it’s your choice, it’s your body. You only live once. Just do it. Do what feels right/good and damned the consequences. We won’t allow you’re bad choices to make you a victim. If a spouse wants more out of a relationship? Go for it. If you want attention? Seek it. Nothing is going to stop you but your own pride and guilt.

    Which brings me to the second. People don’t want to feel bad about the choices they make. That’s why they go out of their way to rationalize them. The women who told me it was none of the church’s business and the other minister refused to accept the truth were just doing so because they did not want to live with the alternative. For them, I was an easy scapegoat. the According to Jonathan Haidt there are four main emotions that drive people: Empathy, sympathy, pride, and guilt, Guilt and pride stand out more than the other two they are both negative and inward. It is motivated by a lack of self making more detrimental than the other two. I speculate this is the reason social media attacks people who speak the truth. They use empathy and sympathy to support the “victims” giving the appearance of a righteous cause while really just feeding their own guilt and pride. After all, if it is truly ok that these people do it, it must be ok if I do it too. This brings me to my third observation.

    You cannot easily erase your guilt. To some extent, everyone has apophenia: seeing patterns where their are none. It is why we see shapes in could and why we are so quick to jump on conspiracy theories. I’ll admit I have been guilty of this too. In high school, I believed the crashing of the Two towers on 9/11 was a sign of the end of times. When I talked of the minister, he told me I was seeing things that didn’t really exist with the church hopping couple. A conversation with my senior minister informed me the women had had similar outburst. Though no one was aware of her adultery, he guessed that her guilt was driving her paranoia and that she believed we all knew and were calling her out. So what do we do to erase the guilt? We double down on our efforts to get ride of it.

    After reading many of the stories on this blog, I think there should be a fourth one. This is perhaps the saddest of them because it just leads to a repeat in the cycle. If enough people are on your side, you can ride out the storm. No lesson has to be learned. The minister never apologized to me and last I heard the women got married to the other man. Sure there might be some “pain” for a while, but it will go away…at least until the next time. Sure we are all a little worse off for it, but you came out on top. Bravo!

    There is a solution to all of it. Thought I doubt it is one size fits all, I believe it could fit most cases: Treat others how you want to be treated. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and when necessary consider the needs of others above your own.

  14. The wry, funny and perceptive is no longer wry, funny and perceptive when you suddenly see yourself. And then you look down and wonder where beautiful bubby has got to.

  15. For the record, this post just caught fire (via Twitter, apparently) and has had about 3,000 views in the last 90 minutes or so. This makes it the very first wildfire post that I actually predicted might take off. There have been many posts in the last 11 years that did this—the benchmark is 6,000 views, with the all time record in a single day being over 18,000—but before this it has always, and I mean always, been a complete surprise, and almost never a post I thought was especially significant.

    I called this one.

    • Oh—here’s something to watch. The posts that get a wave of views almost never produce any permanent followers or comments that get through moderation. The exceptions to the latter have been posts about the “law scam” and pot legalization.

      Nonetheless, new readers are welcome. Stay a while! There’s a lot here for everybody!

  16. Another observation that to me pretty much supports the cartoonist’s dead accurate assessment. I live in a large apartment complex with a ring road around it that has become popular for walking. Because I live alone, when I go for my walk, I look forward to interacting with others – just hello or a smile – and I make myself available for that by leaving the audible books and tunes at home. The majority of my walking neighbors are usually looking down at their phones and wearing headphones – completely cut off from the weather, their neighbors, nature sounds (such as they are with large streets around), or any other potential for human contact. It’s probably just me, but perhaps in a time of social isolation, the simple act of acknowledging and/or greeting a neighbor might be a good thing?

    When I’m King, cellphones will be the first thing to go.

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