Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Political Cartoons Readership among Uyo Residents of Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Political Cartoons Readership among Uyo Residents of Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria

Article excerpt


The press as a medium of mass communication for many years, has undertaken the role of helping the citizenry to discover the truth. It has undertaken to educate the public on public issues, present all manner of evidence and expose wrong doings in the society in the hope of making society a better place to live in (Udoakah, 2001). This role is one which always exposes the print media to a strained relationship with high-handed governments in the developing countries. It is one which has led to the beating up of journalists publicly, their arrest and detention, seizures of critical editions of newspapers and magazines, and closures of some newspaper and magazine houses for months. (Udoakah, 1996). These are peculiar forms of control which the Nigerian press had been passing through. Yet, it has to continue to pass on information about politics and other issues to the public. To maintain the circulation of critical and independent views under this condition, the Nigerian press adopted other communicative forms such as cartoons as tactics of resistance. Cartoons have a "tradition of satire and caricature, and concealment of aggression with humour," as Kotlarz (1983:22) notes in her article in the Screen. Cartoons are constructed and created images which may be influenced by ideology, stereotypes, and religious considerations.

Indeed, photographs and illustrations are attention getters. Many are attracted by photographs in the press because as Turnbull and Baird (1975:98) observe:

   They are true-to-life duplicates of images that the
   human eyes see in the world about them ... (and
   the) emotions or reactions that are aroused as we
   view life about us can be aroused and catered for
   by photographs better than by other means.

Similar claims have been made about cartoons. Both editors and cartoonists consider cartoons as very effective channel of communication in a predominantly illiterate society such as Nigeria. This views needed to be tested considering the fact that cartoons are of types. For instance, comic strips are not the same thing as political cartoons, the concern of this study. Political cartoons are satirical representations in graphic form, of political actors and actions, and even socio-economic, religious or cultural issues with political undertones.

According to Goldberg (1992), cartoons generally tell stories or express messages. They may "entertain, teach or comment about a person, event or state of affairs" and may be with or without words. To him, political cartoons "do in pictures what editorials, do in words. They encourage the reader to develop an opinion about somebody or something prominent in the news" (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1992:216-7).

Similarly, Szabo (1993), believes that political cartoons, with their use of humour and contrast, can explain and make messages "even more digestible, thus becoming a perfect means of quick and effective education ... Reading a political cartoon is hardly different from turning the lights on in a dark room, or finding the right glasses for one's blurry vision" (p.9).

But, Akpan (1987:54) holds a contrary opinion. He sees cartoon reading as something which poses a problem to readers, and brings the problem into focus as follows: "Most of us are familiar with the problems we often encounter when trying to interpret cartoons. The meanings are not usually easy to come by because we have no formal interpretation rules for cartoons. In most cases cartoons have esoteric meanings, only the insiders can interpret the insiders' message of a cartoon". He contends that, unlike linguistic representation which has established rules for joining symbols into meaningful patterns, pictorial representation has none, and so can be given various meanings.

The Problem

There is no doubt that political cartoons are a genre of political reporting. They are a pictorial figuration of condensed and reconstructed past political events or situations. …

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