Establishment types love Lat for making gentle fun of their little foibles, and for being able to laugh along. They hate Zunar cartoons because he strips them of their fables, observes uppercaise.
Marina Mahathir gives serious political cartooning a bad name by making a big deal in defence of Lat the famous and putting down Zunar as an unknown. The political establishment must be feeling the heat: Zunar is the man of the moment for his pungent satires on current affairs, and the heavy-handed police action taken against him.
Why should anyone suddenly feel the need to defend Lat and put down Zunar? Last week at the book launch for Zunar’s latest collection, ousted Perak menteri besar Nizar Jamaluddin had spoken of Zunar as being a better cartoonist than Lat, of eventually being remembered as greater than Lat.
Zunar is a political cartoonist. He and Reggie Lee are the best we have for political satire at present. But Lat is not a political cartoonist, he’s a social commentator.
The only thing Lat and Zunar have in common is that they both draw cartoons.
Biting and incisive wit and satire from Zunar, throwing a searchlight on the truth as he sees it. There are no fables in Zunar’s world
Nizar, being a politician, will definitely like Zunar’s cartoons. But he is unfair to lump Lat in the same category. And so comes Marina rushing to put Lat back on a pedestal he never asked to be on. And she rushes headlong into praising Lat’s great technique.
She’s trying to sidestep the issue. Their drawing skills are beside the point. It’s the content that people are talking about.
Lat and Zunar are two different types of cartoonists. Just as there are different types of columnists.
There’s the Marina Mahathir type. There’s the Mariam Mokhtar type.
If you compare the two, you could say Marina’s not so great.
No, Marina’s not a great columnist.
Mariam’s the better political columnist.
Mariam is sharp, perceptive, holds a firm point of view, and swings a nice turn of phrase. She rings true. People who follow political and current events will like her columns. The people who like Mahathir and being rich will of course follow Marina, the onetime professional journalist and now grand dame social activist. She waffles. She dodges. She’s evasive. She’s snide. She’s insincere. She’s totally establishment.
All that the two women columnists have in common is that they use words.
What’s to compare?
Poor Lat; he’s had this kind of cross on his shoulders from the moment the editor of the New Straits Times opened his Asia Magazine one Sunday and found some wonderfully funny cartoons on Malaysian life — only to be told that the remarkable cartoonist of the Kampung Boy had been a crime reporter, at the crime desk right under his nose, all the while.
After being appointed editorial cartoonist, Lat found his work being toned down or turned down by both Lee Siew Yee and Pak Samad Ismail, and by other editors later. It was the price he had to pay, just to have his work published.
“Go along, or go away” is the unwritten rule in the establishment press.
When Marina defends Lat and snidely puts down Zunar as being unknown, she is merely trying to put forward the proposition that it pays better to play along, and that the establishment side is the good side. She’s wrong.
Lat needs no defending, anyway. He stands alone and stands apart as Malaysia’s preeminent and most beloved cartooning social commentator. True, he is no Zunar — but Zunar is no Lat, either.
Zunar’s cartoons lack gentleness. They bite, with the sharp teeth of a political shark. Like hard news, his cartoons are of the moment, with a shelf-life lasting weeks, maybe months. In years to come, his cartoons on Mongolia and submarines will seem dated. Lat’s kampung life cartoons will live on. They speak of the timeless.
This is not kampung life. This is real national life. When the establishment looks at a Lat cartoon, they see themselves as great people. When the establishment looks at a Zunar cartoon, they see themselves stripped naked. And they don’t have the b… to admit it.
But what Zunar says in his cartoons need to be said. Right now. Not tomorrow, not next month.
For those who follow politics and current events, Zunar is the man of the hour. His work is focused, shining a searchlight beam with a sweetly-captured thought that, at one glance, provides a blinding flash of perception. At the book launch last week for Zunar’s latest collection, Nizar Jamaluddin, was emphatic that great as Lat was, Zunar was better and greater.
But Nizar’s comment was a political statement, not one of literary criticism.
He was upholding the anti-establishment view of the right to dissent, and denigrating the establishment for going along. Marina, similarly, is making a political statement, upholding the right of the well-connected to be rich and famous.
She tries very hard to put down Zunar and snidely says people haven’t heard of him. That’s an indictment of the establishment press.
Who in the gutless establishment press would have dared to publish Zunar’s cartoons? Who owns the press? Who shut down newspapers? Who lacks the courage to let the public read opposing views?
Would anyone have heard of Lat if his cartoons were published only in Gila Gila and Malaysiakini?
Would anyone have heard of Marina Mahathir if her second name was not Mahathir and her columns only published in Watan?
Marina, in praising Lat, is actually praising the establishment’s success in blackmail: Lat’s political thoughts often died still-born, so that he could continue to be published. Marina thus is praising the establishment’s success in using the gag.
Establishment types love Lat for making gentle fun of their little foibles, and for being able to laugh along. They hate Zunar cartoons because he strips them of their fables.
That’s why Marina Mahathir has praise for Lat: his cartoons maintain the fiction that establishment people are nice people, great people. But when the establishment looks at Zunar’s work, they see themselves stripped naked. And they don’t have the b… to face that.