Ali Farzat’s Man Behind Bars


Ali Farzat’s cartoon of the man behind the bars (figure 21 in the Weeden packet) is most interesting to me because at first, I did not understand it. Initially, I was confused by the man stuck behind the prison that was half open. I did not actually get the joke until we discussed it in class. Once I learned the significance and back-story to this image, I actually thought the image was clever and comical. I learned that the significance being that this man represents the Syrian people, who had been threatening to start a revolution for a long time, were not taking a hold of their own destiny and could not see the freedom ahead due to the feeling of circumstantial learned-helplessness and the “cult” mentality of “I will do what everyone does”.

However, I think that if I were in Syria, or anywhere in the Middle East, I could easily connect to the character in the cartoon because I would know exactly what he is feeling. I think that this makes for a great political cartoon, as not only would I laugh at it, but I would also feel a pang of anger at the same time. If an entire community or country saw a cartoon like this and began discussing the meaning and the feelings evoked from it, I believe that the image could, at the very least, begin the movement towards a changing group mentality. Weeden made the interesting assertion that even though cartoons are meant to be comical, the fact that everyone gets the joke actually vindicates the real feelings and beliefs that undermine the laughter. Kind of like the phrase “all jokes are half truths”. This idea really applies to this cartoon. A controlling authority might not understand the significance this kind of media has on a society!


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6 Responses to Ali Farzat’s Man Behind Bars

  1. WOW!. I am glad that you looked up the definition behind this cartoon. I viewed this cartoon without any bias. I did not view it from the perpetrator or the victim, the way I read the cartoon is the person behind the bars (the victim) is only stuck behind several bars because he only has one way of viewing a situation. Maybe if he changed his view/position or outlook on the situation that caused him to be behind the bars he would be free.
    The since of fear never enter my mind because I did not take it from a specific view point.

  2. Your post highlights the role of context in our interpretation of popular culture, and how interpreting cartoons and other forms of media is often difficult to do out of context. I feel like that this brings to light the issue with graffiti in Palestine that we studied in class. Forms of graffiti that are easier to interpret internationally and that consists of language and anecdotes that the Western world is more familiar with tend to get published more widely, though they are not the truest representations of the Palestinian sentiment.

    In the case of Ali Farzat’s “The Man Behind the Bars,” language is not used to express ideas in the way that it is with graffiti. For that reason, Farzat’s cartoons aren’t necessarily limited to a specific demographic. This is probably because he is aware that by using social media such as Facebook, people across the globe in the suburbs of Boston have access to his work. The graffiti artists in Palestine, however, are working with a medium that can only be spread via reportage, which as we previously discussed, does not always represent them fully.

  3. I was really drawn towards your post because that is exactly how I felt too. I understood the sarcasm, but it took me a minute to fully understand the context of the cartoon. I love how you make the claim that the cartoon is the half hearted joke–the idea that “all jokes are half truths.” That is basically what these cartoons are; in a sense a way to attract everyone regardless of class,education, etc. and relate to their sentiments. It’s a joke, and a “fun” way of illustrating the political context, but it is also so difficult to look at because as a reader you know there is a truth to it. Great review!

  4. This is interesting because I didn’t think of this specific cartoon as comical. I think I may be blindsided a bit by thinking of it through the POV of the victim, but it’s true; cartoons can have a humorous connotation to the point they’re trying to make. To me, this cartoon meant desperation instead of irony, although the irony is clearly there. It’s helpful to see it as a cartoon first, commentary second.

  5. I think your interpretation of the cartoon is similar to the one I had. At first I didn’t know what it meant but I had an inkling of the meaning. It wasn’t actually confirmed until we discussed it in class. I think you bring up a very good point when you said you didn’t get it because I think that’s really important especially if you ask yourself who is Ali Farzat’s intended audience. I almost want to assume that it’s for a Middle Eastern audience. Almost, but not quite since we discussed some of the aesthetic reasons why Ali Farzat has been able to continue producing cartoons for so long. Some reasons like not pointing too specifically to authority individuals and his cartoons depict pretty general themes of oppression. However, if you’re not closely connected to the context or exercise your discursive resources, then I definitely thinks it’s a lot harder to understand the content of the cartoon.

  6. I definitely find myself able to laugh at this cartoon, only because of its irony. But the strongest feeling I get from this cartoon, as you mentioned, is frustration. I think frustration in general is a popular sentiment for outside observers looking at the revolutions of the Arab Spring. While the man in the comic may not notice the missing bars, a viewer gets frustrated by the man’s inability to do the same. I feel like when you’ve been staring at the same bars for a long time, as perhaps the man in the cartoon has, its even more difficult to see another perspective or even another “way out” other than that which is right in front of you.

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