We live in a world where everyone has different opinions. We all think different, act different and hold different beliefs and ideas. People are wired to think that their opinion is the right one and often attempt to persuade others of their ideas. The use of rhetoric can be a useful platform in attempting to open debate and conversation to potentially reach common grounds with counterparts. Emotional influence can be successfully applied during discussion to manipulate opinions. The use of humor can be a powerful tool to influence people. In writing and advertising, it can result in swaying the targeted audience from one point of view to the other. Comedy is something that most people can relate to and makes it quite useful in different settings. There are three effective concepts in the teaching of rhetoric that Aristotle believed in – Ethos, Logos and Pathos. The use of Pathos, which uses emotions to debate or argue, is what cartoonist Mark Knight for the Herald Sun in Australia, recently intended to do with his ridiculing cartoon of world-famous tennis player Serena Williams. His main intention was to criticize Serena’s so-called bad behavior on the court but resulted in the opposite effect. Using his humor to mock Williams’ behavior on the tennis court, Knight earned labels such as “racist” and “misogynist.” Strategically using humor, Mark Knight’s cartoon was supposed to make people laugh at his depiction of Serena’s childlike behavior at the US Open by drawing her as a big baby but instead resulted in world-wide criticism and backlash.
Mark Knight is an editorial cartoonist for the Australian tabloid, The Herald Sun. His work is mostly in the sports category and he is also responsible for Australian football imagery. Being a cartoonist for a well-known paper in Australia gives him the credibility for his work. His entire job consists in invoking laughter from his audience. Pathos is a powerful tool in rhetorical strategy and Knight takes full advantage of this in his work. People’s emotions are at times uncontrollable so giving the rhetor power to control these emotions can be very impactful. Mark Knight has previously caused turmoil with his cartoons in the past, including politically charged cartoons and usually featuring prominent public figures, such as Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein. He is known to be provocative with his cartoons and uses symbolism to attract his audience. Recently, his cartoon of Serena Williams caused major world-wide upset. The cartoon depicted Serena Williams with exaggerated features, as a big baby throwing a tantrum, with a smashed tennis racquet beside her as well as a pacifier. It also shows the umpire Carlos Ramos, in the background, telling competitor Naomi Osaka to just let Serena win to stop her meltdown. Internationally, the cartoon rose criticism from sports players to other cartoonists to the media. Some people also drew comparisons to cartoons from the Jim Crow era, which were extremely racist, while others also accused Knight of being sexist.
Knight uses comedy to have his audience relate to his opinion that Serena Williams’ behavior on the court was immature and childish. Using symbols throughout the cartoon, he attempted to depict a child-like Serena. He uses a pacifier and the stomping of the racquet to emphasize her tantrum. According to professional cartoonists, the use of symbolism is prominently used in cartoons to pinpoint the cartoonist’s main idea. However, they were quick to point out that the main symbol in this particular cartoon is not the pacifier which should symbolize the immaturity that Knight says he is illustrating, but instead it is actually Serena’s face. In her face, her features are exaggerated and closely resemble cartoons used during the Jim Crow era with similar facial features and blackface iconography. Serena’s mouth is drawn much larger than normal, larger nose, her eyes are shut tightly much like a young child when they’re throwing a tantrum and her hair is up in a ponytail, all unruly, wild and out of control. The Jim Crow cartoons depicted black women with exaggerated mouths, wild hair and large noses. Knight used this type of feature dramatization to ridicule Serena and her hysterical outburst. Knight also strategically uses placement to make Serena the focus of the cartoon, and the umpire with Naomi gets placed in the background of the cartoon. The text above the umpire, which says “Can’t you just let her win?”, is also not the main focal point of the picture but placed in a small text box to the farther right of the cartoon. The words itself are similar to what a child gets told when she or he is getting upset about something and they are being calmed down. The clever use of symbolism in the cartoon allows for a determinate way of getting Knight’s point across. However, either by ignorance or on purpose, the comparison of a racially known cartoon with Knight’s cartoon is undeniably evident.
Most of Knight’s followers and intended audience are in the sports field, so mainly tennis fans, professional athletes, sports commentators as well as other newspapers and professional cartoonists. But the backlash that was faced by Knight was widespread and included all types of people, including celebrities and politicians as well. The main issue that was in discussion was the racism issue and how it was comparing to the Jim Crow cartoons. Many tennis fans were outraged by the whole unfair situation regarding Serena William’s sanctions and how men and women were being treated differently in the same sport under similar circumstances. After the final, emotions were already sensitive by the time Knight’s cartoon came out. Critics also involved women who were outraged by the fact that Knight chose to make fun of a woman tennis player while men with comparable behavior are not made fun of. The current women movement provides a limitation to the rhetor in this case because women’s rights and equality is a social issue that is being disputed. It is a sore subject and Knight completely missed this limitation when drawing his cartoon. Among others in his critical audience were professional tennis athletes, such as Novak Djokovic, regarded as the third best tennis player in the world also came out in support of Serena. He committed a similar violation during a match and was not sanctioned. Many tennis fans are calling out the entire situation as being double standard and unfair. The intended audience for this cartoon was mostly the tennis world people but it had a rippling effect throughout the world.
Pathos, the main rhetorical strategy used by Knight was quite effective with those who supported him which was mainly his newspaper company. They gave him full support and backed his statement that the cartoon was intended to call out the unprofessional and bad behavior by Serena and it had nothing to do with race or gender. Knight’s skilled use of comedy and his prior experience as a professional cartoonist gave him the credibility, or also known as ethos, that his cartoon does merely just call out unprofessionalism. And logos gave Knight the tools to argue that his point was logical and made sense. However, some other limitations with this cartoon could be things such as part of the audience not being aware of the back story behind the cartoon. Some people might just laugh or smile by looking at this funny depiction of Serena engaging in a child-like tantrum without fully understanding what really happened. Although overall, I think the cartoon does reach its intended audience, there are some limitations such as the issue of racism, sexism and bias that the cartoonist unexpectedly faced. The fact that this tabloid is Australian and that the race history between the US and Australia is different, also gives way to a certain limitation that the audience might not understand. In Australia the racial bias is not as big of a social issue as it currently is in the United States. For this reason, the cartoon can have different responses in each country.
Mark Knight uses all three rhetorical strategies in his cartoon to try to share his opinion on the Serena William’s controversial tennis match. But the concept he mostly relies on to generate the desired response is pathos. His tactical use of pathos to invoke emotion in his audience is displayed throughout his cartoon. He also takes advantage of symbolism and placement to draw attention and focus to certain areas of the cartoon. A cartoon is typically a hybrid of text, pictures and symbols to express the rhetor’s opinion and represent a concept. Cartoons usually provide a simple way to communicate with the audience and make it easy to share a message. Knight took advantage of his credentials and his experience as a cartoonist to demonstrate the power of rhetorical strategy in a caricature media.