In a baffling Today Show monologue prior to the 2016 Australian federal election, television personality Lisa Wilkinson went on an outright tirade against opposition leader Bill Shorten, slamming him for the apparent sexist comments he made about the role of women in childcare decisions. Twisting his words, Wilkinson accused Shorten of being sexist by implying that he “confirmed the outdated belief that women take care of all things regarding looking after the kids”. This perverse interpretation of his words to somehow read sexism, is the society we live in now. The politically correct society where anything can be interpreted as being sexist, racist, homophobic or Islamophobic.
What’s most worrying about this however, is the consequences of this ‘call-out culture’; the silencing of opinions and the restriction of freedom of speech. In this kind of society, it is of the utmost importance that contemporary media challenges political correctness, to allow for freedom of opinion in our nation. One such piece of media which successfully accomplishes this, is Bill Leak’s satiric art. Bill Leak is widely recognised as being a provocative artist, pushing the boundaries on various sensitive topics including; extremism, child negligence in Indigenous communities, and also political correctness in Australia. Leak’s pertinent use of a variety of satiric techniques, invites the reader to see the hypocrisy of the call-out culture preventing free speech, and in doing so promotes attention towards these more important albeit uncomfortable issues seen all over Australia.
Bill Leak’s art is renowned as being a key contributor in forging the fight for free speech in Australia. He accomplishes this by evoking a visceral reaction from us. He makes us feel uncomfortable. Now, at first I thought of this as being too provocative. But then I realised that satire is meant to make us feel this way; to force us to reflect upon what is actually happening in our society.
Irony and verbal wit, have been techniques that Bill Leak consistently utilises in order to effectively make his point. In the 2014 cartoon seen above, Leak clearly uses the technique of situational irony by naming the cartoon as ‘Free to Speak’ in a situation where the man on the left is unmistakably not free to speak. Additionally, Leak uses verbal wit evident through the sarcastic nature of the man on the right’s statement; he clearly is not black for one. By using these techniques, Leak successfully ridicules the politically correct community, by addressing the key issue of the call-out culture; one cannot say anything without being labelled as being homophobic, racist or Islamophobic.
As I reflected upon what I just saw, I was able to see the hypocrisy of these social justice warriors; in order to prevent oppression of disadvantaged groups, they silence the opinions of others and in doing so they themselves oppress those not in these groups.
Leak further expresses his disbelief of this whole politically correct society, through his more recent 2016 cartoon titled, ‘Man Hit by Cartoon’ seen below. Leak effectively uses the techniques of lampooning and caricatures, ridiculing those who believe in hate speech and are thus heavily against free speech, by purposefully exaggerating the fact that their feelings were hurt after seeing a mere cartoon. By satirizing these social justice warriors, Leak invites his audience to see the foolishness of the politically correct society, thus allowing us to see the true consequences of this call-out culture; the silencing of opinions.
Social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, further explains the effects of this culture in our community: “in a call-out culture, almost anything can be called hate speech… making people hesitant to voice dissenting views”. It’s this kind of community which restricts discussion towards the more significant issues in our nation.
As we look deeper into the purpose of Bill Leak’s art, we can clearly see it represents much more than just advocating for free speech. He deals with issues that are too uncomfortable, issues that no other media outlet can handle. Let’s be clear, we don’t see any informative media willingly discuss extremism, over possible confrontations with these terrorist organisations; something that has become even more of an issue after the Charlie Hebdo attack.
Yet, Leak embraces this challenge, and tackles these issues with open arms. In order to create the most offence possible, Leak frequently uses the techniques of burlesque and reductio ad absurdum. For example, the 2014 cartoon seen above, was in direct response to the recent Israeli-Gaza conflict, where upwards of 2000 Palestinians were massacred.
Rather than televising the conflict in an objective manner, laying down all the horrific facts, Leak fearlessly satirised it. In doing so, he successfully undermined the impact of this extremist attack on the wider public. Leak uses burlesque when mocking the behaviour of the father, whose desire to win the war is so much so, that he would even radicalise his own child – regardless of what his paternal instincts may say. He further undermines extremism, through his pertinent use of reductio ad absurdum. Leak takes the age of the children being conscripted into these terror organisations to the extreme. By doing this, Leak invites the reader to see these extremists in a different light; one where they aren’t as intimidating or as dangerous as they may seem.
Leak’s ability to effectively ridicule extremism as a whole, allows society to be more comfortable in discussing such a prevalent and contentious issue. This is what makes Bill Leak’s work so influential; his ability to satirise issues that are scarcely discussed in media, provoking the attention it so desperately needs.