In Era of Fake News, Finding Truth in Political Cartoons

In Era of Fake News, Finding Truth in Political Cartoons

Story tools

A A AResize


Ed. Note: Like many Americans, Bay Area high school teacher Matthew Amaral was dismayed by the ascendency of President Donald Trump and his administration's actions since taking office. So he turned to a former past time, political cartoons, to give expression to his views and to explore some of the themes emerging in this time of political and social change. Amaral says that in addition to injecting some humor in today's charged atmosphere, political cartoons "give us truth, and truth paired with laughter is the best kind of reality." He spoke with NAM Editor Peter Schurmann. See more of his work here. Amaral blogs at Teach4Real.

What inspired you to begin the cartoon, and who are your major influences?

I've been inspired, I think like a lot of people, to do more. I feel like I need to do something, anything, and I think like most people, I've been thinking about where my strengths lie and how I can bring them to bear to add to the discourse going on in this country. I think cartoons probably seem like an unlikely place to make change, but political satire on stage and in comics hold a solid place in our history. We can see this in Alec Baldwin's popularity portraying our president and for decades by Gary Trudeau of the Doonesbury Chronicles. He is the political influence for such an endeavor with cartoons, but I would have to say Calvin and Hobbes are my greatest inspiration when it comes to comic strip cartooning.

Why the name Manchuria?

Well, I am curious about Russia's influence in our elections, its relationship with Donald Trump, and this odd tendency of our president to disparage everyone on earth except Vladimir Putin. There is a sense that we truly do have a Manchurian Candidate, and if that is the case, we live in Manchuria. And yet, while the premise of Manchuria is that Trump is controlled by Putin, really that angle just allows me the leeway to use the satire to show the irony of our new existence, that everything being enacted by this administration will benefit our enemies. I think if a foreign government who wished us harm could put together a playbook for how to undermine our government and the social fabric of our country, it would look exactly like the last three weeks: Gut the government, get rid of social safety nets, create fear, xenophobia, and intolerance within the people, enable racists, delegitimize the press, appoint leaders who want to undermine the offices they are supposed to lead, and so on and so forth. The whole thing is quite surreal and scary.

With media so embattled -- fake news, alternative facts -- what do you see as the role of political cartoons?

I think that is it--that what we are doing to ourselves is not good for freedom, democracy, and everything that makes us great. We are inflicting these wounds on ourselves, and by we, I mean the party in control. Humor might be the best way we have of pointing out flaws and ironies, John Stewart is a perfect example of that. Even though he called himself fake news (don't you miss those days of fake news), his analysis of politics on both sides of the aisle was almost always more pointed and nuanced than anything being covered by the networks and mainstream media. I think a good joke makes the ridiculous obvious, and when people see truth they recognize it and that is what cartoons and satire can do. I think this is why memes are so popular--they give us truth, and truth paired with laughter is the best kind of reality.

As a teacher, do you show your cartoons to your students? What's the chatter among your students about where we are at politically and socially?

My students are, for the most part, the people in this country who Donald Trump is out to attack and demonize. They are fearful of this new world and many of them don't understand how grown adults can act so childish. I mean, just last week a White House official made up a genocide done by immigrants-made it up, and then Congress decided to let people with severe mental issues buy guns again. It sounds unreal, yet evidently at least a third of people in this country think those things are fine and dandy. I think for kids the world is simpler, and when something is ridiculous adults have a tendency to twist themselves into pretzels to defend our old ideologies. For kids bad is obvious. I teach kids argumentation, writing, critical thinking, and rhetoric, and I also teach them to blog so that they too can make their voices heard. Some of them follow my online work on my education blog Teach4Real and my comic strip Manchuria. It helps me show them how all of this is applicable in the real world, and I also think running a blog and a website is a necessary 21st century skill that is pretty much mandatory in today's world.

What are your plans for the cartoon? Syndication, publication?

I plan on releasing one comic strip a week for the first year of the Trump presidency and see how that goes. My goal is to publish a book at the end of the year, and if the interest is out there, do it again for year two. Syndication was never really an initial goal, but I would love to publish my work as far and wide as I could, as is the goal of most artists. But the art and the arguments come first for me. I am not quitting my day job, and I already love how I make my way through my days. This is just a form of expression, a way to return to an art form I've been doing since college in The California Aggie (the daily newspaper at UC Davis where I was a cartoonist for three years). I certainly am getting a lot of laughs out of it, and I hope others are too. And I also hope it makes people look deeper, and see the truths right out there in front of us.