The Melbourne Age’s declining band of readers are being deprived of the principal reason many of them buy the paper, its veteran highly-opinionated doodler Michael Leunig. He says he’s been sacked and is wailing to anyone who’ll listen about being “censored”. Well boo-hoo. It had to happen of course; all leftists fall out with each other sooner or later, like Lenin and Trotsky or Mao and Deng Xiaoping, over disagreements about the purity of their thought.
In this case the breach is over Victoria’s Premier Dan-Xi Andrews and his compulsory vaccination mania. The Age is a slavish supporter of this, so when Leunig drew a cartoon making a rather forced comparison between vaccination refusers and the Chinese dissidents crushed by a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – it showed one of Leunig’s standard funny little men staring at a huge syringe like a gun on a tank – the Age declined to run it and dispensed with Leunig’s services. He had lost touch with their readers, editor Gay Alcorn explained.
That is not surprising as the Leunig-admiring demographic that used to read the Age is fading away and the younger people who read it now are likely to be more in sympathy with the hard leftism of Dan-Xi and Extinction Rebellion.
Still, Leunig can hardly complain. He’s had a good run for someone of limited talent. For several decades he has been celebrated as a kind of philosopher-cartoonist by the intellectually pretentious but not very bright soft middle-class Left, the heirs of the maintain-your-ragers whose world stood still on the Day of the Dismissal, the Friends of the ABC-types who subscribe to the Melbourne Theatre Company, imbibe cultural stimulation at the Wheeler Centre and regard Phillip Adams as a sage. “Have you seen this morning’s Leunig?” they would enquire of one another in the high-school staff room or while sucking down an overpriced “lattay” at a rickety street table in Albert Park or, for the less prosperous, Blackburn. “He’s really nailed it this time.” Leunig’s really nailing it would be an image alleged to be of John Howard with bloodied hands despatching refugees (more funny little men) to their doom with a rifle butt, or latterly of Donald Trump in jackboots treading on a funny little man labelled “Democracy”.
That Dan-Xi Andrews has now been cast as a Leunig villain shows the widening gap between the suburban Left represented by Leunig and his admirers and the hard Left which is supplanting it in a wave of authoritarianism made possible by the “emergency measures” to deal with the Chinese virus. It also shows, with the reference to Tiananmen Square, that in Leunig’s view we were on the money at the Spectator Australia in pointing out the Andrews-President Xi axis.
Leunig has also had a nice line in ditsy calendars covered with funny little men and books of soupy verse or quasi-philosophical musings usually found prominently displayed, especially around Christmas time, on the counters of modish bookshops where your eye will light on them as you wait for your latest Robert Dessaix or Anita Heiss tour de force to be wrapped. No doubt they will keep the wolf from the Leunig door (cue doodle of funny little man with begging bowl) until he re-emerges in some other habitat of the elderly Left like the Saturday Paper. A pity for him the ABC doesn’t run cartoons.
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