Well, that's that.
I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to do a cartoon about Margaret Thatcher. And for the last week, I did not think I would.
After news of her death spread across my friend's Facebook statuses I remained decidedly silent. So much vitriol and reverence filled the newsfeeds, at a level of intensity reserved for only a handful of cultural icons, and I felt the passions and prejudices of people on both sides of the opinion spectrum.
And yet I did not feel the need to make comment, because as much as it might shame me to admit this, I have very little opinion on the late (great?) Iron Lady. For all the cartoons I have done as a political cartoonist, and a British one no less, old Maggie never made it into any of my cartoons (though working for The Sun, perhaps that was not surprising). In fact, I have never even bothered to caricature her, so little was the need. And yet now, with my friends asking me about whether or not I was going to be gracing my blog with a Thatcher-themed image, I am forced to ask myself what my thoughts of feelings, if any, towards this person are.
The answer, frustratingly for me, is in the realm of indifference. What then, as a lowly cartoonist, could I say about this woman?
I honestly have not thought much about her, not when she was alive, and only slightly now that she is dead. I was born into the class that had reasons to both like and loathe her, but was too in-the-middle to fall on one side particularly. My family's opinions of her, though they are liberal in their outlook, are mixed, and while her impact was clearly felt by my generation, the closest I ever came to getting on a Thatcher soapbox was listening with relish to Frank Turner's awesomely catchy punk-rock ballard "Thatcher f**ked the kids!"
But for all my awareness of her as the Tory equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the West, I neither despised nor exalted her, and so my words on the matter of her death would seem to ring hollow in my mind. And yet...and yet...I cannot help feeling that something important had happened with her passing. I knew something was intriguing to me, some vivid image was conjuring in my head that I did want to take the time out of my other doodlings to render.
And it was an image, not of the woman, but of her clothes.
The two are inseparable, are they not? The iconic suits, that prim and proper hat, perfectly pressed, immaculate. And I saw that ensemble, the outer-most armour of one of England's most robust leaders, crumpling into a hollow heap on the ground. That was what I saw, not the frail, fallible woman, but the indelible, subjectively interpreted icon that cannot be so easily extricated from the world. After all that was said and done by this woman, it was the shell that remained.
The ultimate vanishing act. The soul is gone, but that is of little consequence.
The symbol cannot be destroyed. In fact, it is kept alive not only by her supporters but by her detractors, by every zealous status and yes, indeed, every political cartoon, and for all the humanity this woman must have had in her complicated imperfection, her reasons and values and machinations and principles, her image, her legacy and even her being now belong to us, to all of us. To warp and to ridicule at our discretion.
So unlike some of my other works, the conclusion of this particular blog remains unclear, at least to me, as un-knowable as a figure like Thatcher herself. It is an example, more apparent than others, of me drawing to try to figure something out, and most likely failing.
In drawing this cartoon, that is not meant to be malicious or to upset; I wanted to ponder the power of culture to write history, not simply the history for the ages, but history in the minds of those currently living it. History books are an after-the-fact tome to whichever opinion "won," but culture is history being written in real-time -- it is every opinion fighting for supremacy, and it is fascinating when it is permeated by a figure as divisive as Margaret Thatcher.
One day the opinions will stabilize and fossilize, and all this frenzied culture will become history as it always does.
As for my own opinion, all I can say is about her is this: That she was alive once, that I knew her through the lens of others, and that I shall never get closer than that...
But as a cartoonist, as someone who deals in symbols and iconography and hand-sketched fright-masks and shells....I can not help but be in awe of a true symbol, clothes that have outlived the wearer, and will outlive me.
The Iron Lady Vanishes. But when was the last time she was really here?