Metaphorical Devices in Political cartoons with Reference to Political Confrontation in Pakistan after Panama Leaks.


Byline: Ayesha Ashfaq, Savera Shami and Sana Naveed Khan


Cartooning is not merely a passive reflection of the public spirit, but rather contributes to building that public spirit in powerful ways. It is where the political imagination is created (Vovelle, 1991, p.22).

Several scholars observed that metaphors are one of the popular symbolic devices depicting political scenarios and interpreting political situations in political cartoons (Seymour-Ure, 1986; Bostdorff, 1987; El Refaie, 2003) because El Refaie (2003) argued, "metaphors convey a complex message in a much more immediate and condensed fashion than language" (p. 87). Being a significant tool in political cartooning, it is pertinent to define metaphors first.

Metaphor is a symbolic way to express the hidden message in both verbal (e.g. Jamieson, 1980; Polio, 1996; Kress, 1994, 2000) and visual form of text (e.g., Bostdorff, 1987; Edwards, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001; El Refaie, 2003; Morris, 1993). It has been assumed that metaphor is perceived as a linguistic device. It is a way of thinking and a technique of interpreting the circumstances and experiences of surroundings. As McVittie (2009) added "the notion of metaphor as primarily a linguistic phenomenon is replaced with an understanding that considers it as present in all forms of expression; signs, gestures, behavior etc". It is also argued "the mechanisms underlying metaphor exist in the mind independently of language" (El Refaie, 2003, p. 76).

As a diverse phenomenon, visual metaphors have been a focus of communication scholars in different disciplines, for instance, advertising (Forceville, 1994, 1995), films (Carroll, 1996), cartoons (Kennedy, 1993; Morris, 1993) and visual demonstrations for strategic and control purposes (Dent- Read, et al., 1994). Therefore, metaphors are defined in different ways respectively. El-Refaie (2003) stated, "visual metaphors are pictorial expression of a metaphorical way of thinking" (p.75) but the message conveyed through visual metaphors is not as simple as it seems "because the boundaries between the literal and the metaphorical are fuzzy and highly context dependent. This means that metaphors must always be studied within their socio-political context" (p.75).

As far as political cartoons are concerned, metaphors are the devices that may define and comprehend key players, circumstances or issues (Bostdorff, 1987; Seymour-Ure, 1986). Moreover, Bostdorff (1987) described the effectiveness of metaphor in political cartoons and stated "by labeling something that which it is not, metaphor makes use of perspective by incongruity; our perception of the object/person is altered by its incongruous pairing with some other name. In this way, metaphor provides insight" (p. 48). Similarly, Eko (2007) also added "political cartoons are usually couched in easily recognizable metaphors, which delimit their content, form meaning and interpretation (p.222). In addition, Ricoeur (1975) argued that political cartoons include "linguistic metaphors (words) and esthetic metaphors (image)" (p.137). In other words, visual, verbal and sometimes, both visual and verbal metaphors are commonly used in political cartoons to make the meaningful meaning.

Literature depicts that political cartoonists use visual and verbal metaphorical devices in political cartoons for the following purposes.

  1. Metaphorical representation in political cartoons builds image of politicians with reference to different political events (Edwards, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001; Speedling, 2004). Edward (2001) observed that there are two forms of metaphors used in political cartoons to define and redefine the images of politicians, i.e. situational metaphor and embodying metaphor. Situational metaphor is "directed at redefining an existing situation" while the embodying metaphor is "directed at redefining person" (p.2142). Both forms of metaphors depict the media ideology and perception about politicians and political events (Edwards, 2001). While examining the enmity and aggression during the Gulf War in political cartoon, Edwards (1993) also argued "metaphor is a key tool of political cartoonists used in defining terms and issues. The visual depictions presented by political cartoons give metaphorical definitions a concreteness that affirms the 'reality' of their meaning" (p. 66)

  2. Metaphorical devices in political cartoons are used to express "a visual analogue to political power" by focusing on physical characteristics and strength (Sena, 1985). But for this purpose, it is necessary that distorted and exaggerated physical characteristics of politicians must have some relation with reality to make them recognizable (Medhurst and DeSousa, 1981). For instance, if the politician's face with any animal's body is depicted in a political cartoon, it would be a zoomorphic metaphor that builds the image of that politician with reference to the particular animal and its characteristics. The characteristics of animal denotes to a visual analogue to political power. Similarly, "metaphor of diminishment" is another example, depicting a candidate as a child in order to convey the message as he is not suitable candidate to lead government (Edwards, 1995).

    Therefore, different researchers observe that these metaphorical devices are usually used to lampoon and attack political candidates in order to build or distort their image during the election campaigns (Edwards, 2001; Koetzle and Brunell, 1996).

  3. Metaphorical devices are also used in catch lines and phrases as Speedling (2004) argued,"political cartoons, utilizing metaphor, symbol, and other figurative and rhetorical devices, can be interpreted as part of a broader pattern of "symbolic contests" for which the media provide an arena" (p.15). According to Gamson and Stuart (1992), "symbolic contests are waged with metaphors, catch phrases, and other symbolic devices that mutually support an interpretive package for making sense of an ongoing stream of events as they relate to a particular issue" (p. 59). Therefore, while looking into the significance of using metaphorical devices in image representation through political cartoons, this paper is an effort to explore the political confrontation in Pakistan between the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and opposition parties with reference to Panama leaks in political cartoons.

    The major objective is to examine the significance and power of cartooning in image construction of different political players involved in Panama Leaks within Pakistani political discourse.

    2.0. Panama Leaks and Political Confrontation in Pakistan: An Overview

    Panama Leaks are mega scandal, floated on news media surface on April 3, 2016, when the German newspaper named as Suddeutsche Zeitung, through an unidentified source, leaked 11.5 million files that comprise the data from 1970 to 2016. The newspaper later exchanged these papers with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) from where various international and national media houses obtained certain details of offshore companies. These documents belong to a well-known company, Mossack Fonseca, located in Panama City, hence known as Panama papers. The company sells offshore companies that enable the owners to hide their money and can escape from the taxes (Bloom, 2016, April 3).

    Those named in Panama papers were quite famous figures in Pakistan, ranging from politicians, businessmen, Judges, retired officers, celebrities and traders among these 495 Pakistani nationals. The leaks revealed 214,488 offshore companies, out of these, 8 companies belong to the family of Pakistan's seasoned politician and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif (Cheema, 2018, December 24). Sharif family owns three British Virgin Islands-based companies Nielsen Enterprises Ltd, Nescoll Ltd, and Hangon Property Holdings Ltd, which were reportedly established in 1993, 1994 and 2007 respectively. These companies kept receiving foreign capital but avoided to pay due tax. ("Panama Papers....", 2016, April 5).

    After the Panama leaks, it became a major concern and lead story for all media outlets for more than a year in Pakistan. Opposition parties started accusing Nawaz Sharif for suspected corruption. After the criticism by the opposition, on April 5, 2016, Nawaz addressed the nation and presented himself for the accountability, although, he claimed the innocence of himself and his family. After that, for almost 5 months, this matter hanged between the conflict of government and opposition especially Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI)...

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