Hate speech or legitimate satire? Drawing the line in cartoons


  • Elizabeth Swain




hate speech, satire, cartoons, narrative visual structure, conceptual visual structure, participant role, visual attitude


Controversial cartoons appearing in contemporary news and social media are periodically denounced by consumers for hate speech, and argued over in blogs, reader comments and news articles.  Visual and verbal discourse analysts could contribute useful insights to such debates and to awareness raising programmes for addressing hate speech issues in cartoons, but to date have produced little work on the topic. This paper addresses the difficult question of how we distinguish between legitimate satire and hate speech in controversial cartoons about real events featuring public figures belonging to groups with a history of discrimination. The paper proposes that key considerations in this endeavour are the distinction between conceptual and narrative representations and the relevant participant role(s) assigned to the public figure in question (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006). The latter’s construal as being, doing or undergoing in the visual structure constrains the options for their evaluation. The evaluations are analysed using visual analogues of the verbal appraisal framework (Martin & White, 2005; Economou, 2009; Swain 2012; White, 2014). It is argued that negative evaluations based on representations of the public figure’s real-life behaviour may more plausibly pass for legitimate satire, whereas those based on the public figure’s appearance alone may be more susceptible to a hate speech interpretation.


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How to Cite

Swain, E. (2023). Hate speech or legitimate satire? Drawing the line in cartoons . HERMES - Journal of Language and Communication in Business, (63), 65–81. https://doi.org/10.7146/hjlcb.vi63.140133



THEMATIC SECTION: Evaluation, argumentation and narrative(s) in conflicting contexts