Cartoonist Mark Knight spends his days poking fun at current affairs and showbiz figures, drawing satirical cartoons for the Herald Sun, but his caricature of tennis star Serena Williams caused outrage on Tuesday, seeing the artist branded as sexist and racist.
Knight’s drawing depicted the former world number one throwing a childlike tantrum, in reference to her outburst at umpire Carlos Ramos during her US Open final at the weekend, after she accused the official of sexism and branded him a “thief” in a furious row on the court.
However, Knight’s cartoon, which appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the Melbourne newspaper, was slammed by critics over his depiction of Williams, as well as that of her winning opponent, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka, who he showed as a thin white figure with blonde hair, despite Osaka being of Japanese, American and Haitian descent, with dark curly hair.
Despite an outpouring of rage towards the cartoon, the Herald Sun stood by their in-house cartoonist and went on to print a defiant front cover on Wednesday, featuring a number of well-known figures drawn in his trademark style, along with the bold headline: “Welcome to PC world.”
The image of Serena was printed again, alongside mocking images of Tony Abbott, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and President Donald Trump, and the tagline read: “If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed.”
While the original comic was the subject of serious complaints from around the world – so much so that Knight resorted to deleting his Twitter account on Wednesday, after allegedly receiving death threats – it was the paper’s second blow, in the form of Wednesday’s front cover, that really got people riled up.
One person tweeted: “Just cannot get my head around the psychology where – even if the editors of the Herald Sun genuinely believed the cartoon was not meant to be racist in the first place – once they realised it upset a huge number of people around the world, they aggressively double-down on it.”
While ABC presenter Virginia Trioli described their response as “straw man fallacy”, which is the name used when someone refutes an argument by responding to a distorted version of the dispute, rather than the actual issue.
She wrote: “For the kids out there studying comprehension and clear thinking – one of the greatest examples of the Straw Man Fallacy I’ve seen. Cut it out and take it to school.”
Just cannot get my head around the psychology where – even if the editors of the Herald Sun genuinely believed the cartoon was not meant to be racist in the first place – once they realised it upset a huge number of people around the world, they aggressively double-down on it.
— Richard Carroll (@Richard_Carroll) September 11, 2018
Thousands of people blasted Knight and the Herald Sun following the initial publication of the cartoon, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling who said: “Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop.”
However others, including many Starts at 60 readers, defended Knight, suggesting that the drawing was intended as a joke, rather than to discriminate or vilify the tennis ace.
One wrote: “Isn’t it sad when every cartoon and statement has to be examined in detail so that it doesn’t offend the politically correct brigade. So glad that we have people like Mark Knight around so the rest of us can enjoy the humour in life’s little dramas.”