The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 7, No 2 (2019)

Virality in the environment of political cartoons: when history intersects representation

Vinod Balakrishnan,Vishaka Venkat,Muthukumar Manickam


The context for the paper is the inclusion of a 64-year old cartoon in the Political Science textbook that caused an uproar in the Indian parliament in 2012. The controversy draws attention to the two-facedness of any political cartoon which is an artistic representation of a historical event. It is, hence, ambivalent by being an expression of artistic freedom as well as a humorous comment on history where the axis of representation intersects the axis of history. The representation of the Dalit icon, Ambedkar, was objectionable to the political party espousing the Dalit cause which, through its leader, Tirumavalavan, raised the issue in parliament. The paper posits that the reaction was an event that was hitherto dormant and that it erupted on account of elements that fed its potential for virality in the environment, thereby, turning it into a fact. To this end, the paper revives interest in the imitation theory of the French sociologist, Gabriel Tarde, who, incidentally, was an intellectual influence on Ambedkar. Moreover, it employs Zeno Vendler’s distinction between an “event” and a „fact”, the Deleuzian idea of “assemblage,” and the idea of “conceptual metaphor” as laid out by Lakoff and Johnson. The paper reads the vicissitudes of the cartoon in order to theorize the elements that cause virality in a communicative environment.


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