EDITOR. The Tribune.
As a cultural commentator, playwright James Catalyn produced a summer madness series aptly named “Laughin’ at we sef”. This was the essence of satire and what tickled our funny bones the most were the parts of the narrative that were not fiction but were actually culled from the news headlines of the day.
Political satire has woven its way into our national discourse and, when mastered, it is a powerful way for us to mock the high, mighty and powerful. Because we have been endowed with a right to freedom of speech we expect our political cartoonists to inch their big toe as close to the line as possible even as they hold our politicians’ feet to the fire.
Humour gets us laughing and eventually thinking. Cartoonists highlight the faults in our society and use humour to exaggerate them. If we don’t laugh we would cry.
Stan Burnside comes from a distinguished family of artists. Their skills run the gamut from capturing the Bahamian spirit on canvas or in the junkanoo shack, to delighting the palate in the bakery, to a daily dose of reminding us of the absurdities of life in the newspaper.
By cleverly turning his name back-to-front Stan created Sideburns and for a time he burned politicians of every party. Sadly though, during the last PLP administration Sideburns was taken ill with a bad case of creative osteoporosis which apparently rendered his expressive spine inactive.
Miraculously it all started to heal on May 10 last year and seems to be on the mend today, albeit with a biased limp against the governing FNM.
Sideburns let Perry Christie and his government get a free pass on many transgressions. We have no way of knowing, of course, if this was the result of studied intent or just selective amnesia or something else.
Perry Christie provided so much grist for the cartoonist mill that Sideburns could have published a compendium of the Emperor’s greatest hits.
It alone could have triggered a course at the journalism school of the University of the Bahamas.
Indeed, such a course would cover everything from Potcake (the moniker for the works of the master political cartoonist Eddie Minnis, now retired) all the way to the likes of Sideburns and Jamaal Rolle.
But Sideburns has now gone off the deep-end and seems to be comfortable in the territory known in the newspaper business as advocacy cartoons. Clearly Sideburns misinterprets the meaning of swinging a double edge sword in his work.
Typically, advocacy cartooning means that if you lash the FNM when they abuse the public trust then you must drop licks on the PLP when they act the same way.
But his style is to glorify one side while treating the other side with contempt. Even as the editorials of his own newspaper tried to be fair and balanced, Sideburns threw caution to the wind and was most frequently absent or speechless during the PLP years in power.
It is curious that Sideburns seems incapable of acknowledging some of the government’s accomplishments and plans in the works, a number of which have been noted in the editorials of his newspaper.
Perhaps he is the genuine Mr. Magoo, patterned after the cartoon character, who has an “extreme near-sightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit [his] problem.
Sideburns found a megaphone as soon as the PLP lost last year and he continues to execrate Prime Minister Hubert Minnis while attempting to whitewash the soiled legacy of Perry Christie.
Ultimately this is not good for his newspaper nor for our political discourse. Sideburns is no longer an impartial observer and commentator on the political scene. He has crossed over to political activism.
We must now apply qualitative and quantitative weight to his political assessment and to his interpretation of national events while accepting that his personal politics is none of our business.
This is not a call for Sideburns to pull back on the reigns of satire or to ease up on the government. On the contrary, his comic commentary loses its sting when weighed against his veneration of Christie and the PLP.
We want to laugh with Sideburns, not at him.
April 10, 2018.