A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s also pretty destructive.

What makes political cartoons so attractive in comparison to other means of communication? As I sit here writing this blog post trying to figure out what I want to write about, it is this question that keeps popping up in my mind. The power of cartoons: why are they used as a method to communicate political themes when words could have accomplished the same thing?

The answer to the question might seem fairly obvious: provocation. Take for example the French cartoonist Charlie Hebdo and his recent depictions of the prophet Muhammed. It wasn’t too long ago his studio was set on fire in a wave of protests against his depictions. Would a similar reaction happen if the same message was conveyed in words?

Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the prophet Muhammed

In reviewing Euro-crisis caricatures, I tend to find many of the them quite humorous. It’s easy for me to say that though: I’m an outsider – an American – looking in on the crisis. Depictions of a Greek being ran over by a car called crisis and being ‘saved’ by a Red Cross bulldozer driven by Merkel is probably hilarious to the German (I find it quite funny as well); to the Greek, however, I am thinking it is far from evoking humor. Would taking the same picture and transforming it into words have the same impact and reactions?

Angela Merkel ‘saving’ the Greek.

Using a picture, such as our aforementioned German bulldozer example, seems to have more of a profound impact on the Greek viewer than German headlines and descriptions such as “bankrupt Greeks” and “frauds in the Euro family.” Using derogatory words aren’t as effective as the action of pictures and visualizations. As the German magazine Der Spiegel reported recently, “Greeks filed a lawsuit for collective libel against the Munich-based magazine Focus several months ago after it depicted the Venus de Milo statue with an extended middle finger in February 2010.” The fact that Greeks sued over a depiction shows just how hard-hitting depictions can be.

Words just aren’t cutting it: they are only words. Even Merkel’s criticism of “southern European inefficiency” (I guess this commented offended quite a few southern Europeans) couldn’t persuade a European to sue a German; a picture, however, has the ability to enrage the masses.

I suppose the methods for decoding pictures rings closer to home than the analytical approaches used when reading. The point is much clearer and memorable because of its nonverbal nature. For example, when a German is depicted as being a Nazi during the crisis, one can automatically associate the current behavior of the Germans with the behavior of the past. Whether it is true or not, one gets the sense that a crime is being committed, an atrocity is happening, and something needs to be done. It is indeed a much easier and more efficient way of portraying a message: as they say, a picture is a thousand words.

A picture almost a thousand words.

Nonetheless, many believe cartoons are still unnecessary and aren’t as effective. According to Christina H. from Cracked.com, political cartoons

“…should be a means to get a controversial point across in a concise, effective and humorous way. In reality, most usually convey less information than, say, grunting or gesturing. Whether you agree or disagree with the message is irrelevant, as these cartoons are often shitty ass vehicles for any message. Taken on average, political cartoons are the least effective way of making a point aside from suicide bombing and Internet petitions.”

Christiana H. makes her point crystal clear: political cartoons aren’t the best way to convey a message.

The question here, then, is whether a cartoon’s efficiency of portraying a message is worth it. Does portraying Angela Merkel as a Nazi have any relevance to the crisis, or does it further tarnish the reputations of Greek citizens? One might like to think that using words, although less efficient, does less harm to a particular individual. But then again…

Angela Merkel as a Neo-Nazi.

Maybe it is the case that more laughs and positivity result from the art, rather than anger and hate. It’s been said before that the best medicine goes down much better with a bit of humor. What do you think? Do political cartoons and depictions do more harm than good, or does a questioning and analysis even matter?