It never seems quiet on the cartoon front these years. Today cartoonist Guillermo and writer Manel FontdeVila are to appear in court for having depicted Spanish royals, the Prince and Princess of Asturias, fornicating on the cover of last week’s edition of prime satirical magazine El Jueves. Not content to have forced its retraction by the publishers and closed down most of their website, the state prosecutor (apparently, the royals themselves haven’t addressed the cartoon at all) is going all the way. Guillermo and FontdeVila risk up to two years in jail.
That an otherwise enlightened country like Spain – in many ways an exemplar to an increasingly reactionary Europe – still has a law against insulting the crown, and actually takes it seriously, is discouraging to say the least. I’m in no way in favour of insulting people who by default are in the spotlight 24-7, but to actually prosecute those who do it is wrong on the face of it, unless we are talking about outright slander. This is not slander, merely a humorous depiction of a couple doing what most couples the age of the royal couple frequently do, accompanied by a cheeky text referring to a recent law compensating couples for having babies. Perhaps a little humiliating, but totally harmless. Instead of merely shrugging, the state prosecutor has turned it into a freedom of speech-clampdown.
What’s interesting, by the way, is how drawings tend elicit this kind of reaction much more readily than the much more hurtful things advanced in the media against public figures such as royals or other vulnerable targets. Because it isn’t regarded as journalism – as presenting ‘fact’ – the cartoon is viewed in a totally different light than the most biased journalism, not to mention the gutter press that serves up intimate details of the lives of public figures daily. The cartoon crystallizes what other media express but simultaneously obfuscates, and thus becomes a ready scapegoat for anyone frustrated with their treatment in the public eye.
Nothing new, I know, but nevertheless extremely depressing. Editorial cartoons are almost by default at the frontline of free speech. Don’t fornicate with them.
The quickest way to more information on the issue is to check the blow-by-blow coverage on Pepo Pérez’ comics blog Con C de Arte (collection of relevant posts here). It is, however, in Spanish. A quick summary in English can be found at the BBC website. Oh, and be sure to visit the El Jueves site and check out their apology cover. It’s hilarious.