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Friday, April 24, 2009

Hawking cartoon controversy

A minor spat has blown up over a cartoon by Brook (Rick Brookes) featuring Stephen Hawking (no stranger to appearing in cartoons, having most famously appeared in episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama), who was recently admitted to hospital suffering from respiratory problems. Within hours of it appearing in the pages of Metro, calls were being received at the headquarters of the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association which sparked a debate over whether the cartoon crossed the line of good taste.

Christine Knox, chief executive of the MND Association, has been quoted as saying, "The Metro cartoon sets aside his achievements and reduces him to being labelled by his MND – a disease that is always fatal and leaves people unable to walk, talk or feed themselves."

Sorry, but I have to disagree. Precisely what does the cartoon take away from Hawking's remarkable achievements? Has it somehow made all 25 million copies of A Brief History of Time disappear into a wormhole? And as for being defined by his MND... doesn't the fact that he's the most globally-known sufferer of MND, via the biographies, the tens of thousands of newspaper articles that have been written about him and countless dozens of television appearances, in part already define him? Hawking has probably done more to stimulate discussion and raise awareness of MND than any other person on the planet.

To say that Hawking's life and works are so fragile that a single cartoon can take away all he has achieved and reduce him to being defined solely by his MND... isn't that rather insulting?

(* cartoon... probably (c) Richard Brookes and/or Associated Newspapers Ltd.)

2 comments:

Ken Davidson said...

I agree, and actually think the cartoon didn't go far enough. Brook should've said, "have they tried rebooting him?"...

It's a fact, nevertheless, that Hawking *is* almost completely defined by his medical condition in the eyes of the general public. Most folk will describe him as that 'bloke in the wheelchair with the funny voice' - a fact played up to and bought as a commodity by BT's ad agency in the 90s - "just keep talking".

I'd love to hear Stephen Hawking's opinion on the cartoon. While he may not approve, I doubt that he'd place the cartoon on a level higher than a playful dig-in-the-ribs.

We're far too keen to mediocritise our reactions to everything, for the sake of being sensitive to all issues. The end result, logically, is that all art, comment, fiction would become a grey porridge of averageness, hardly worth producing or consuming at all.

Dave Morris said...

If the only humour allowed is the sort that doesn't offend anybody, future generations aren't going to have many laughs!