Speaking freely of the dead

11 Mar


The death of The Australian’s controversial  cartoonist Bill Leak yesterday provoked a storm of polarised emotion on Twitter, as colleagues expressed their shock and sorrow, and representatives of groups Leak humiliated and ridiculed in his work refused to abide by the rules of what was referred to as “common decency and good manners.”

These rules apparently require one to be silent if there’s nothing nice one can say, especially at a time of death and bereavement. The irony was lost on no one in the latter groups, and practically everyone in the former: Leak himself blatantly despised common decency and good manners, and earned his living giving those niceties the finger in the name of free speech.

In his later work, the cartoonist lampooned LGBTQI people, Muslims, the Safe Schools program, Indigenous people,the Human Rights Commission and its head Gillian Triggs. Because of these cartoons, he is lauded by admirers as an outstanding proponent of free speech.

Action was brought against him under the now infamous Section 18C, on the grounds of offence he caused to Aboriginals with a particularly patronising and sneeringly vitriolic cartoon. The case was eventually dropped.

A life has many stages, and those who knew Leak in earlier days, as well as those whose political ideologies he supported, are naturally grieving his unexpected death. Yet as so often happens in death, little acknowledgement is made of the dark side of the deceased, provoking outrage in those who’ve suffered the racism and marginalisation so evident in his later work, and who, equally naturally, feel no loss at his passing.

The efforts by the former to silence the latter were something to behold. Here’s one example, from former PM Tony Abbott’s sister, Christine:

I’ll leave you to deconstruct that example of conservative hyperbole in which criticism is conflated with assassination and beheadings. Clearly Ms Foster does not advocate unfettered free speech by Mr Leak’s critics, while staunchly defending her right and his to express whatever opinions they like in whatever manner they choose.

Of course the accusation that you are not observing “common decency and good manners” is an accusation intended to shame, as is the call for you to “respect” the dead, implying that you don’t have the class to know how to behave in such a situation and someone who does has to tell you.

This latter is a demand I’ve never entirely understood: why am I required to “respect” someone simply because they’ve died?

The reactions to Leak’s death on Twitter yesterday were a microcosmic example of class and privilege setting its sights against anyone who refutes the worship of its idols, using the same tools of contempt, ridicule, shaming and humiliation to achieve silencing as were employed by the idol in his later years.

It seems obvious to me that anyone has the right to speak freely of their relationship with and opinion of a dead man or woman. I can see no reason why those who admired Leak should castigate those who did not for failing to engage in hypocrisy. The idea that death eradicates the hurt and damage any individual might have inflicted on others in their lifetime is ludicrous, as is the demand that we feel sympathy purely on the basis of death. The evil that men [sic] do lives after them.

Common decency is a fluid concept, determined by what suits the ruling classes rather than the commons at any particular moment. Good manners are things I tried to teach my dog.

Respect, I would argue, is sharing space with views different from our own, and not shaming or silencing others because of that difference. It is, in my opinion, perfectly fine for those who do not view Bill Leak with fondness to say so. It is domineering and deceitful for his supporters to fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of those opposing views.

Free speech is for everyone, not just the privileged establishment, and it is everyone’s right to point out when (and which) emperor has no clothes.

Funny how so many simply do not get that.



56 Responses to “Speaking freely of the dead”

  1. 8 Degrees of Latitude March 11, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    John Donne (who we might remember has been dead a little while now) reminds us never to ask for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for thee.

    Bill Leak, controversial Australian cartoonist, has now joined him in the lists of those who are no longer with us. It’s unlikely that he will be remembered as much as some who people the supposed pantheon, or as long, or as fondly, or with as much good reason.

    Nonetheless, we are all of us nothing without the benefit of free speech. Another, greater, brain, Voltaire, makes that point rather firmly.

    One great risk of free speech is that it nurtures public hyperbole, especially among those who in earlier ages would have been confined to being pamphleteers and activists within many mobs. We have to live with that, of course, which is one of the points Voltaire was on about.

    But measured appreciation and objective conclusion, of Leak in this instance, need not be obsequious, and indeed shouldn’t be. Let those who love him sing the paeans. He’s dead, which is sad in the human sense (the bell eventually will toll for us all). He has passed into the afterlife from which, to the benefit of everyone who abhors clumsy and stupid racism, he can produce no more execrable cartoons.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. helvityni March 11, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    As Deannaart so eloquently told me here: helvityni ,you can take your ladylike talk about being civil to where the sun does not shine…(or something like that)…so I now abstain from saying anything 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ambitious_Drifter March 11, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    I do wonder what else people want to say when 18c is repealled. Twitter is a cesspit of foul abuse already. The sainted BLeak was a bigot. I dont recall any of his work that wasnt an attack. Deeply unfunny, lazy stereotypes, tedious repetition. Twitter posts of his greatest hits simply illustrated what an asshole he was. A legacy of hatred.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wilbur March 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    Methinks some of you miss the basic point and purpose of satire. Artists are products of their time. Satire aims to ridicule a person,an idea, a belief in all of its raw simplicity for the purpose of generating alernative perspectives and to rattle social norms. If rules are applied eg you must leave Mohammed or Indigenous out of satire’s spectrum then society, as I suspect, is truly regressing. And to hear this from what I am led to believe are anti establishment thinkers is truly confounding. Maybe be we need to get back to the basics. Satire is not in the game to promote but to question and allow others to reflect and debate without fear of legal or physical reprisals. Correct me if I’m wrong.


    • paul walter. March 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

      Try again Wilbur.

      . Jennifer understands satire very well.

      What Leak did was not satire but base propaganda from a wilfully ignorant location, for money.

      Satire is meant to educate, has some sort of altruistic base.

      Leak, like Goebbels, only sought to muddy the waters regardless of injury to those a real satirist would have been defending.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 11, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

      Well, for a start Wilbur, the post is about the reactions to Leak’s death, not satire.

      I am sure Leak’s admirers view his work as satire, and much of it was, in the earlier years. However, there’s no law says I have to like or agree with all satire, and I don’t. I’m not saying something isn’t satirical. I’m saying satirical or not, I don’t like it.

      Since when were we obliged to like and admire satire simply for its own sake regardless of its focus?

      I never argue that Leak should have been censored, far from it. Rather that Leak’s supporters cease from attempting to silence negative opinions of his work.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wilbur March 11, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

        That’s a bit rich when so many tried to shut him down for doing his job as cartoon satirist.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson March 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

          I did n’t try to shut him down. I don’t favour censorship. Criticism isn’t the same as silencing.


        • Marilyn March 11, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

          Who tried to shut him down? You read too much Murdoch rag media.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Marilyn March 11, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

      Satire has a golden rule – it must be funny. There is nothing remotely funny about seeing young kids bashed and beaten in Don Dale prison for young kids, nothing funny about one child strapped to a punishment chair and hooded like a terrorist in Don Dale, all done by white men thinking it’s hilarious.

      But Bleak decided to blame the fathers of aboriginal kids because white men tear gassed and bashed them. That is racist vilification and had thousands of victims.

      Now back when I actually met Bleak it was with his mate Philip Adams and they had me join them for coffee. Both were champions for refugees and anti-war at the time and Bleaks brown nose cartoon was magnificent and accurate. Howard was brown nosing Bush to slaughter Iraqis, that was ironic satire at it’s best.

      Demonising Palestinian kids and dads as terrorists during a war led by Israel and funded by the using was not funny, hundreds of kids were slaughtered in a few weeks.

      Demonising and vilifying any minority group for sport is not satire, it’s cruelty disguised as satire.

      I don’t know what happened to Bleak between the year we broke bread and laughed for hours and the years of his abuse of minorities but I feel it could be a mixture of his head injury and the right wingery of the rancid bigot Chris Mitchell.

      In short, bigotry, racism, vilification are not fucking satire.

      To me the real tragedy of Bleak is what he became in later years of his work, not what he was for most of his life which was talented, warm, funny and honest.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Fiona March 11, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

        Well said, Marilyn.

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter. March 11, 2017 at 7:42 pm #

          Seconded, Fiona…like a balm on a wound.

          Liked by 2 people

      • Jennifer Wilson March 12, 2017 at 7:34 am #

        Good post, Marilyn, Thanks.


      • doug quixote March 12, 2017 at 3:30 pm #

        Blow me down, Marilyn – a great post.


      • Wilbur March 12, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

        Well said Marilyn? Who says satire’s golden rule is humour? Is Animal Farm funny? That satirises a situation of what happens when good social intentions become self serving. Just because you will it to be the case doesn’t make it a golden rule? Your argument monopolises a definition to suit your delusional but obviously well intentioned emotional impulses. You also berate Leak in another one of your posts in this blog because he doesn’t apportion more of his time and efforts in focusing on institutionalised religion and paedophiles……but the reality is that his satirical cartoon triggered that response in you and therefore I rest my case. Satire does not discriminate, everything is a target. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it irrelevant or irreverent.


        • Jennifer Wilson March 13, 2017 at 6:26 am #

          Wilbur, you are also monopolising a definition.
          A particular point of view is determined satirical or not by subjective processes. You have no ownership of the definition, and neither does anyone else.
          Yes, Animal Farm is bitterly humorous. In my opinion.


          • Wilbur March 13, 2017 at 8:27 pm #

            Point taken. No hard feelings. You live and you learn. To agree to disagree.


  5. Wilbur March 11, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

    Try again?
    Comparing Leaks with Goebbels.?l
    What planet are you from?
    Definitely one of your own making?


    • paul walter. March 11, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

      Would that it was…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. havanaliedown March 11, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    I want the freedom to be offended.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter. March 11, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

      You already have it, you knock-kneed, cross-eyed, bandy-legged, gap toothed, quartered-witted motherless klutz,


    • Jennifer Wilson March 11, 2017 at 5:08 pm #

      You’ve got it, you wankpuffin


    • silkworm March 11, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

      Hit me, said the masochist. No, said the sadist.

      Liked by 2 people

      • havanaliedown March 12, 2017 at 10:46 am #

        It’s OK, Silkworm – limp insults don’t offend me.


        • silkworm March 13, 2017 at 1:01 am #

          I wasn’t posting an insult. I was posting satire. You’re just too stupid to know the difference.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. helvityni March 11, 2017 at 4:33 pm #

    I just had a lovely glass Pinot Grigio at the local pub, read the weekend papers ,sort of, Leigh Sales writes lovingly about Bill Leak in the Oz.

    Now I know where she got her inspiration; never liked the woman…
    Maybe influenced by Bolt and Jones as well….Vacate the seat and let Stan Grant do the talking…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 11, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

      I’m not surprised, Helvi.
      So Sales is now writing for Murdoch. Ah, well.


  8. cartoonmick March 11, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

    Getting back to your topic, Jennifer.

    IMHO, in a reasonably minded society, free speech should only be governed by common decency. We all have opinions and should be free to express them in a decent manner.

    Unfortunately, a minority feel it is essential to be verbally robust and, not only try to ram their opinion down the throat of those who dare to disagree, but to malign the owners of those disagreeable opinions. And many of them do it with bile.

    But, it’s a free world, and if that’s how they wish to behave, then so be it.

    I knew Bill. I did not always agree with, or like, his cartoons. He was paid to produce editorial comment in cartoon form, to promote discussion on topical subjects. And that’s
    what he did. And it seems he did it well, if reaction in social media is any indication.

    And, at the risk of attracting attention from some verbally robust people, I’ll risk saying this last para:-

    Bill’s cartoons did not necessarily reflect his character or personality. A common mistake people make. He was a nice and generous person, as well as being very talented. (this, from personal experience).


    Liked by 1 person

    • Wilbur March 11, 2017 at 7:49 pm #

      It does seem like Jennifer and her supporters love to quibble over semantics……criticism vs silencing, satire as education vs public discussion, satire’s need to be funny vs social criticism, satire as propaganda vs free thinking, Leigh Sales vs Stan Grant…..


    • Jennifer Wilson March 12, 2017 at 7:36 am #

      Thanks Mick.


  9. franklongshank March 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    I loved Bill Leak. Cripes he was funny. He and Larry Pickering are the best and funniest cartoonists Australia ever produced. They were fearless and unbowed to political correctness. Qualities I admire in a man. I doubt any woman could draw as well.

    Who can forget Larry’s Muslim cartoons? Goat rooters and pillow biters series? Pickering’s late black period is his best. Who can ever forget his magnificent black dildo series devoted to PM Julia Gillard? Magnificent draftsmanship, exquisite line drawing and sensitive watercolour rendition that brought out a wonderful sheen to that awesome black ribbed pole with dangling strap-on belts, slung casually over Julia’s shoulders.
    Boy, he annoyed her. She was a snowflake. You didn’t even get to read the punchline and you were laughing and giggling at a Pickering cartoon. Sexist? Misogynistic? Get outta here!

    Only a Leftie, a pink pussy-hat wearing snowflake would be insulted. The rest of us real blokes, not pansies, know how to laugh and these two blokes provided belly-laughs by the score. I challenge any of the Leftie cartoonists to even raise a poor smile from me. They’re bloody hopeless. Totally unfunny. Watching Andrew Bolt on TV yesterday say that the guy who draws first dog on the moon, a leftie, got into trouble and had to delete his tweet because he outraged the easily outraged fruit-loops that read that shit, because he acknowledged Bill Leaks superior skill as a great cartoonist.

    See, Leftie cartoonists and comics are gutless bastards. I’m surprised I have to point it out. They don’t stand up for anything. Leak did stand up to that dopey women Triggs, told the truth about blacks neglecting their kids and was a great portrait artist and general shit-stirrer. A quality Aussie bloke! Even Leah Sales the ABC sheila on 7.30 loved him and cooked meals for him when he fell on his head and needed a woman around the house to wipe his bum. A perfect job for ABC presenters..

    Courageous mavericks stand up to the easily herded. Same with Pickering and even Barry Humphries. How come all the best funny men are Right Wingers? Its True. Find me someone funny on the ABC. Its like a Stalinist appointed comic fest of mediocrity. The dregs are on the ABC. Totally unfunny hacks. Discuss.

    I hear Larry might be next to go. He’s dying of cancer. Always said on his Facebook posts that you can’t get cancer from smoking. Whoops! Not sure what happened there Larry! Jokes on him now, He’s drinking lots of red fruit juice including red wine. He’s not taking chemo. I hope he survives a long time and keeps stirring the bastards. There’s heaps of good targets too. Easy pickings for cartoonists.

    In closing, its a good policy to show respect for the dead. I never bitch about the dead because I’m a class act. You never know when your time is up. Imagine if someone you loved was mocked in death on a blog – so the blogger could score brownie points and signal their virtue for being politically correct? You’d have a little disdain for them, wouldn’t you? I know I would.

    Liked by 2 people

    • helvityni March 11, 2017 at 10:02 pm #

      Ok Frank, I’ll bite. I find Barry Humphries and you funny. I also think that Hewson has a sense of humour.

      So there you have it: three (3) Liberals, and of course I also happen to think that you are only a pretend Liberal, that leaves me with two (2)….


      • paul walter. March 11, 2017 at 11:30 pm #

        Humphries has been a very funny man, particularly in the earlier times of his career.

        Frank dares put Leak in the class as Humphries?


    • doug quixote March 12, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

      Increase the dosage, Nurse. he keeps relapsing.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Marilyn March 12, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    And Warren Mundine is still claiming that vile racist cartoon was a comment on disfunction in aboriginal families, well mine were fucking just as bad and giving me to carers who were even worse would have been no help.


    • havanaliedown March 12, 2017 at 10:08 am #

      Yes, Warren Mundine should watch what he says lest it offends Marilyn.


      • paul walter. March 12, 2017 at 10:21 am #

        No. You don’t blame the victim…for shame.

        Liked by 1 person

        • havanaliedown March 12, 2017 at 10:27 am #

          The boy in the cartoon is surely the victim.


          • Marilyn March 12, 2017 at 4:45 pm #

            you are as moronic as others who are sticking up for Bleak on it – the story was about white arsehole thugs bashing, tear gassing and torturing aboriginal children so Bleak decided to blame the aboriginal fathers.

            Where were his multitudes of cartoons blaming parents for sending their kids to the catholic church, other churches, sports, and camps to be raped by priests and carers and then blaming the victims.

            Liked by 1 person

          • paul walter. March 12, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

            Exactly. How did Leak miss the second part of the equation, unless he didn’t WANT to know.?

            Liked by 1 person

  11. havanaliedown March 12, 2017 at 10:42 am #

    On another note, I think Bill will miss Kate in parliament:


  12. doug quixote March 12, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

    Leak had his moments. Some cartoons were pithy and to the point, others went too far. But it is the job of comedians, cartoonists and satirists to push the boundaries. I didn’t think much of him, but he had an arguable point of view. Defend his right to say it, etc.

    I suppose Murdoch paid him well.

    BTW, when Rupert finally falls off the perch, don’t expect “speak no ill of the dead” hypocrisy from us. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. doug quixote March 12, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

    OT, yet another Liberal government has fallen:


    – just the Feds and NSW to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter. March 12, 2017 at 4:52 pm #

      Bit of a walloping, eh?

      The funniest part is watching the intellectual and ethical contortions of media and press in avoiding giving the reasons for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marilyn March 13, 2017 at 5:29 pm #

        The funniest was watching their faces as Pawline’s mob collapsed into the nothings they really are.


    • helvityni March 12, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

      DQ, I was pleased to see Barrie Cassidy in a cheerful mood this morning: his gentlemanly Pauline interview worked well, it bore fruit… :)Thank you, Barrie.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 13, 2017 at 6:30 am #

      Ha ha I’m still happy dancing over this DQ. 👏👏👏


  14. Moz of Yarramulla March 16, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    I trust you saw Chris Graham’s take in New Matilda: https://newmatilda.com/2017/03/15/rip-bill-leak/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson March 17, 2017 at 11:05 am #

      Yikes, no I hadn’t seen that Moz, but I think Bill Leak would have approved, if he believed his own rhetoric.


      • paul walter. March 17, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

        And some grumbled.

        But hey, whadda about freedom of speech and the right to gratuitously offend?


  15. paul walter. March 21, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    Wonder if this adds anything to this:



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