This was a ridiculously full day, and there's nothing wrong with that but, as dense as this entry may seem, I'm only going to be able to skim the surface. We were getting a lot of information with a few 15 minute breaks and it was both entertaining and intense.
The day began with a double session on "Free Speech in the Era of Trump, Social Media and Safe Spaces," with the first panel being a recap of the 1988 Falwell v Hustler Supreme Court decision, which is critical to cartoonists, with Ben Sargent moderating and the panelists being Rita Ciolli, who had covered the case for Newsday, and Roslyn Mazer, who presented an amicus brief to the court on behalf of AAEC.
To recap before the recap, Campari was running a series of nudge-nudge-giggle-giggle ads in which various celebrities talked about "their first time," the twist being that, while it was clearly a tease about sex, it was, in fact, about the first time they had sampled the liqueur.
So Hustler Magazine took the opportunity to lampoon both the ad campaign and holier-than-thou televangelist Jerry Falwell with a version in which they aren't talking about the booze, except as it impacted a sexual encounter with his mother in an outhouse.
Falwell sued, and the case wound its way up to the Supreme Court, in, as Ciolli noted, an atmosphere that was only just adjusting to the notion of intrusive coverage of things like presidential candidate Gary Hart's affair, and which had been through bruising Court appointment fights over Robert Bork and Anthony Ginsberg, the latter rejected for having smoked marijuana.
Rehnquist himself -- in his confirmation hearings for Chief Justice -- had faced serious questions about his attitude towards race and decisions that seemed to block voting rights, and the result was no affection for the press, and, as Mayer noted, a track record that did not bode well for press freedom.
The case came on, with Pat Oliphant coming by to sketch things, and the issue became the extent to which Sullivan v NYTimes type rulings would apply. Sullivan had established that, for a public figure to sue, it needed to be the case that the story was patently untrue and inflicted personal distress.
Obviously, in this case, the story was absurdly untrue and, given how Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt felt about televangelists, the intention to inflict personal distress was clear.
Mayer admitted that it might have been nice to have "a more attractive litigant" than the vulgar, showboating Flynt, but the bottom line for the AAEC was that, while Rehnquist and Scalia seemed no friends to the press, they were history buffs and were reputed to have senses of humor.
Within the historical context of satire, then, it seemed obvious that satire is based on using exaggerations and fiction in order to intentionally inflict distress on the target of the satire, and, in preparing their brief, the AAEC asked members to send in cartoons they had done "that would have made their subjects cry."
The ace in the hole that Mayer held was the description of Rehnquist she had turned up in his high school yearbook: "The favorite pastime of Bill in and out of school is cartooning."
The Court upheld the right to satire in a unanimous decision which "Bill" wrote himself and which established the right of cartoonists to go after their targets. And Oliphant offered a commentary on that unattractive litigant whose excesses had led to the landmark ruling.
However, panelists noted, this upholding of the First Amendment did not end stress upon the document, and today we face the question, for example, of whether Nazis have the same right to free speech as "good people," based on a perception, as Ciolli put it, that "your speech is not good because it's not good for all of us."
And, as she said, "There's a little more queasiness about where we might come out this time."
It is also worth noting, Mazer added, that Constitutional law and legal outcomes aside, it costs real money to defend even a frivolous lawsuit, and that is a tactic being used to close down press freedom.
The next panel, moderated by Kevin Siers, included Steve Artley and Signe Wilkinson, as well as Sofia Pertuz, the Dean of Students at host institution Hofstra, and got more into safe spaces and campuses.
Pertuz explained that, at least at Hofstra, "safe spaces" simply indicate places where students with concerns can go over their issues with a sense that they won't be attacked for their status or opinions, or hit with uninformed and offensive opinions.
This did not seem to satisfy the audience, and Siers had noted that, in last year's AAEC convention at Duke, someone had brought forth the proposition that "editorial cartoons are hate speech" by their very nature.
This resistance to free speech is not the exclusive provence of left-wing students, though they don't want Nazis on campus, but has been a perennial facets of cartooning, panelists agreed, with certain topics in particular drawing fire, often from conservatives.
... as had this Doug Marlette piece during a discussion of the death penalty earlier, with people missing, as he said, that "the point was not to mock your religious values but to hold up those values and say that you're not living up to them."
Well, depending on your definition of "light," since the illustrator's panel included a chapter from Nora Krug's new graphic memoir about how, as a young woman, she came to grips with the guilt Germans were raised with over their parents and grandparents actions in the Second World War.
And even the other presenters -- Anita Kunz and Ellen Weinstein -- were discussing not just how to draw pretty pictures for magazine stories but how to bring inclusion into the day-to-day media bath.
Still, the New Yorker is an outlet for political cartooning, and a major difference between newspapers and that magazine, Weyant noted, was the newspaper editors want, for instance, a label on Obama to tell readers that this black president is actually Obama, while the New Yorker will "allow you to leave the audience behind," which, he went on, is why people say they don't get New Yorker cartoons.
Oddly enough, Warp reported that, while an editor had said a "cone of silence" reference was too old for most readers, this panel was not, perhaps showing that Watergate had re-entered the public mind.
There followed a panel on alternative strategies to editorial cartoons on the editorial page, with Wiley Miller of Non Sequitur, Matt Lubchansky of the Nib and Keith Knight of K Chronicles and several other ventures, but, as I hosted, I don't have photos.
Which I wish I did, because the highlight came when Keef's Skype connection failed, so Matt Davies put on a hipster hat and read his text messages, a subtle bit of legerdemain that probably wouldn't have worked in front of a more up-tight crowd, but Keef/Matt had some solid thoughts about audience-building, Patreon and other strategies that needed to be in the mix.
For those who have PowerPoint, here are the slides from that panel, for which I apologized because I had never done a PowerPoint presentation, having sat through enough of the things that I shudder at the term, and have Microsoft Office on my computer only because clients send me things in Word.
Which, I explained to the audience, is like keeping a babyseat in the back of your car in case someone brings along a kid.
The day, or evening, ended with a snacks-and-lecture featuring UK Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson, whose dark, hilarious vision of the medium began with an appreciation of Ronald Searle, but noting how his experience as a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp ...
Rowson then reeled off some incredibly scatalogical cartoons of the distant past, mostly based on the ancient philosophical insight that "we all shit and we're all gonna die."
But now I had to run to catch a bus to the next day's events, so please pardon the lack of links and whatever typos may lurk.
Come back tomorrow.