Here’s a fascinating story that I picked up from BBC4’s Rude Brittania.
George Cruikshank, who’d later seal his place in history by crafting illustrations for the novels of Charles Dickens, began his career as a caricaturist. He’d paint images of high society that mocked the vices and hypocrisy of its inhabitants. Merry Making on the Regent’s Birthday, for example, depicted the one-time Prince of Wales as a swollen drunkard, boozing and philandering while his people are killed outside. His satirical prints are said been purchased in their tens of thousands.
Once the Prince Regent became George IV he became increasingly disturbed by his public image. He’d always been a favoured target of the satirists. James Gillray, for example, had helped to establish the perception of him as a bestial glutton and he’d fought, with some success, to have his work destroyed. His tactics with Cruikshank were a little different, though: he offered the artist a £100 to stop ridiculing him. The caricaturist agreed and apparently stopped producing art one could interpret as dissident. His later drawings on political themes are said to have expressed little more than his jingoistic tendencies: mocking and demonising the Irish, the Americans and the Chinese.
To achieve the position of comic and satirist is to acquire considerable social opportunities. Not only because people will give you money to appear on their programmes and write for their publications but because, desperate to be seen as parts of whichever cultural trends are fashionable, and to remove themselves from the targets of popular disdain, they’ll want to be your friend. One must be aware of the fact that people will exploit senses of humour and moral values in their efforts to enrich their wealth and feed their egotism. And, indeed, that they might unconsciously inhibit their satirical gaze lest they compromise their friendships and financial endeavours.