Turning Off the Tap

It’s been a sad weekend for fans of cartooning, as the Antipodes’ greatest exponent of the art recently passed away to a vast outpouring of grief and dismay. We speak, of course, of the death of Murray Ball, creator of Footrot Flats, one of the warmest and funniest newspaper comics of the last thirty years.

Oh yeah, Bill Leak died too. Not a lot that was warm or funny about that guys’ output over the last few years.

Leak only barely comes under our remit here, partly because he was a newspaper cartoonist and partly because he wasn’t funny – well, blaming the poor and underprivileged for their own plight is kind of funny, though only in the sense that you have to laugh at any adult cold-hearted enough to actually believe that shit – but it has been interesting to see the way a lot of people suddenly seem to have firmly held opinions on what is and isn’t funny.

At least when Barry Humphries came out in defense of his friend he was speaking as someone with a passing acquaintance with actual comedy:

Barry Humphries has hailed his late friend Bill Leak as the “best political cartoonist in the world”, as arts figures saluted Leak’s gift for traditional portraiture as well as his courage and independent mind.

Humphries was shocked to learn of Leak’s death yesterday, two days after his character Sir Les Patterson launched Leak’s collection of cartoons, Trigger Warning.

“Bill Leak was the best political cartoonist in the world,” Humphries said. “But, of course, the prophet was not acknowledged in his own country.

“He made the mistake of telling the truth, which is the mark of a great satirist. He was a brilliant cartoonist who used humour to express the truth.”

Yeah, but he was no Mahatma Coat.

The thing about decent comedy whatever the form is that somewhere in there you have to have a bit of compassion – even if it’s just for the people out of frame who have to put up with the idiots you’re mocking. And Leak’s work had that compassion – unfortunately, it was directed towards the wealthy and well-connected in our society who he saw as increasingly forced to deal with previously marginalised groups who no longer knew their place. Rather than “saying the unsayable”, he mostly said in public what gets said a lot in private amongst those who see themselves as the “real” Australians.

So it’s no surprise that various high-profile political types have come out in defense of Leak – and copped a serve in return:

These people live in a bubble insulated by wealth and connections where hateful comments directed at the underprivileged are just “differing viewpoints” that exist mostly as ways to adjust your political brand: no wonder he was seen as “one of us”.

Unfortunately for Leak’s legacy, this outpouring of grief serves mostly as a damning indictment of his skills as a political satirist: if he was actually any good at his job of taking down Australia’s elite, would they have been quite so eager to queue up around the block to pay their respects?

A satirist is best judged by the quality of his enemies, and for Leak we’ve got some bad news: when your enemies aren’t this country’s political power-brokers but are instead various groups whose job it is to stick up for the poor and marginalised, it’s safe to say you’ve missed the mark just a little.

Obviously his friends and supporters don’t see it that way: they’re currently hoping his death will somehow lead to the destruction of the Human Rights Commission, the organisation that obviously “hounded” him to his death.

Are you happy now, Gillian Triggs? And you, Tim Soutphommasane, race pimp and sinecured Labor hack, what are you saying in private about the man you abused with the full weight of the misplaced trust and budget Australians invest in your filthy Human Rights Commission? Bill Leak, the Australian cartoonist and a man worth a hundred of each of you, is dead, carried off by a heart attack at the age of 61.

How do you feel about that, you pair of trough-snouters and gold-plated apparatchiks. Are you suppressing grins? You should be because this is more than you could have expected.

You wanted to silence him, to grind the slashing blade of his humour to a dull edge with your sanctions and harassment and point-blank refusal to recognise truth, even when it bit you on the arse. And Bill bit hard and often, but not so much as you deserved. No wonder you put so much effort into making his final months a misery. Now death has gone you one better.

Personally we suspect there are maybe a few government bodies out there that are slightly more directly responsible for deaths in the community and that everyone’s attention would be better served trying to reform them.

But we don’t write for Quadrant so what would we know?

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1 Comment

  • Yeps says:

    Obviously there is nothing funny about someone’s death. And even if Leak was a racist, downward-punching arsehole, taking pleasure in someone dying is pretty low.

    Having said that, however, it is hard not to read that Quadrant article that you guys linked here (I guess it’s meant to be a memorial?! an angry, angry memorial) without finding some comic gold, whether intentional or not.

    The amount of tortured metaphors, twisted by blinding, misdirected rage, is, I’m sad to admit, kind of amusing.

    Screaming ‘Are You happy now?’ at the head of the Human Rights Commission as if she gunned your friend down in the streets and set fire to his house is pretty weird, no matter how twisted up with partisan rhetoric you may be.

    And screaming lines like ‘You’ve been smart enough to bag a first-class seat and corner office aboard the grievance gravy train’ are self-saucing puddings of satire. I mean, your average left-wing pinko greenie communist hipster jag off weed doesn’t need to add anything else to point out how nutso all that sounds. It speaks for itself.

    Which, yeah, okay, I guess is a pretty fitting send off for Bill Leak.