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India, cricket and religion = Clickbait 101

I really didn’t want to play the “offended Hindu card” and write about Zaprio’s now infamous Sunday Times Cricket South Africa (CSA) cartoon but after numerous debates I’ve taken the plunge …

Zapiro’s cartoon depicts Haroon Lorgat, the suspended CSA chief executive, bound to a sacrificial altar and about to be “steeked” by two CSA officials in penance to Lord Ganesha who has his BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) crown on and cricket bat and money in hand(s).

There are a myriad of things that one could profess to be offended about in this cartoon satirising CSA’s blind obedience to and fear of the BCCI causing them to sacrifice their chief executive, but here’s a short list I came up with to help those still climbing on the bandwagon:

  • How dare they insult Hinduism and mock our God?!
  • This shows a lack of respect for our religious beliefs!
  • You cannot depict a deity and claim it as a metaphor!
  • Imagine what would have happened if he drew the Prophet Muhammad (he already did by the way) and offended the Muslims!
  • How disgusting and disrespectful is it to show a human sacrifice to Ganesha?!

I’m sure there was a lot more said on Sunday morning when people saw it for the first time, and then again when every aunty in the neighbourhood got wind of it — remember, everyone is entitled to their view.

Personally I do not have any issue with Zapiro expressing himself the way he does, steering clear of nothing in his globally acclaimed satire. I have had the pleasure of meeting the man and seeing him present and talk about his work, including pieces that have landed him in water that is a lot hotter than this tepid brew. He is an artist and art in this day and age should be allowed to be liberal.

That said, looking at the cartoon objectively, he didn’t have to bring religion into this at all. The CSA and BCCI are just two parties at loggerheads with each other and the one is bowing to the other’s demands. Yes the cartoon would have been equally effective and far less offensive if he drew Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the president of the BCCI on the throne accepting the sacrifice instead of a specific deity. Yes it is a gross generalisation that the BCCI and all its members are Hindu. Although all of this is true to varying degrees, all of it is irrelevant. As an artist he expressed himself in a way he saw fit and I have no issue with that.

What I do have a problem with is Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt allowing this go to print and then issuing a statement saying:

“To read the cartoon as an expression of disrespect to Hinduism is to misconstrue the point … we do not, however, believe the use of Hindu iconography in Zapiro’s cartoon amounts to disrespect.”

As an editor, particularly of a national newspaper that has a diverse demographic following, it is your responsibility and duty to ensure that the material you publish is not offensive, deliberately or by mistake, and degrading to people’s religious beliefs and cultures. There is no way that you could tell me that the above did not cross her mind when reviewing this cartoon.

Nevertheless it was published and the backlash ensued. It is also an editor’s duty to take responsibility and handle reader complaints. What surprised me was not that she defended the publication and the cartoonist, but that she essentially said that Hindus who are offended have “misconstrued the point” and basically told them that it is not disrespectful. Firstly you cannot tell somebody how to interpret a cartoon from only your point of view and that only yours is correct. The image is open to interpretation by every individual who sees it and if only your interpretation is correct, it may as well have been spelled out in words instead of using a cartoon. Secondly you cannot tell somebody who practices and understands a religion or faith far better than you do what is disrespectful and what isn’t — particularly when their deity is depicted.

She went on to say that “the cartoon made no comment on Hinduism or on Lord Ganesha”. Obviously it did! It is blatantly clear that the Hindu deity is depicted in the cartoon, and that alone creates the link to Hinduism, even if the intent was as a metaphor. Again, the BCCI/CSA issue never involved religion so this brought something completely unrelated to the matter into the cartoon and to the fore as the “hero”. Saying that it made no comment on Hinduism is ludicrous.

Continuing the theme of ludicrous statements, we have: “Ganesha was depicted in the cartoon as a symbol of the BCCI and was chosen because of the deity’s strong association with India.” This is by far the most ridiculous comment in the statement she gave. To clarify and reiterate, not all Indians are Hindu; all Hindus are not from India; the BCCI is not representative of India; cricket, despite the mass following in India, is not a religion. With that in mind, read her statement again and ask yourself how an editor of a national newspaper can make such a comment.

Being an individual who enjoys good satire, it seems the decision to publish this was for the sake of being controversial and getting some talkability. There was no religious link whatsoever to the story that was being satirised but the result is multiple complaints being lodged by religious bodies, articles such as this being written and a whole lot of publicity for the Sunday Times. There’s a big difference between being provocative to get some media attention versus getting a point across. This seems to be the former. If the objective was to make a dying medium (print) a national talking point for a day or two, it certainly achieved it. If that was the objective, the subsequent loss in integrity seems a far greater price to pay. Controversy for the sake of exposure is really stooping to low levels to sell and be newsworthy. The mentality of “let’s print that, it will be controversial and get us some attention” is the lowest form of journalism … “clickbait” in print.