Funny and Clever Illustrations That Show Us What The World’s Really LikeBy Michelle Stone
John Holcroft’s brilliant artworks are done in a 1950s style and result in a profound metaphor of how the world works. The British editorial illustrator has been working on satirical cartoons since the mid-’90s. They’re funny images, but they show a dark, often hidden truth. They explore issues as pressing as social media addiction, workplace inequality, and the loss of spiritual values. Along with a couple of other illustrations, Holcroft’s works explore the fundamental topics of today’s world. Just like a dark comedy, they’re as funny as they’re thought-provoking. From plastic waste to social anxiety and pollution to the growing sedentarism, Holcroft seems to take a critical look at pretty much everything that makes up the fabric of modern-day society.
The Red Tape Maze
Society was made for everybody. But why is it so hard to comprehend? Trying to get the government’s attention or go to court can feel a little bit like stepping into a maze. There are so many senseless rules and red tape that citizens feel alienated from the state.
This phenomenal visual illustration does a great job of explaining how inexplicable society can be. Bureaucracy can help deal with corruption, but it can also be used as a tool of coercion. The less people know about how their country really works, the less they will complain.
Turtle Traffic Jam
Cars work just fine in rural or suburban areas. But when millions of drivers live in the same city and leave to work at the same hour every morning, bikes suddenly feel like the most appropriate method of transportation. Sometimes, even walking is faster than being stuck in line!
This illustration of a turtle traffic jam paints a rich picture of what driving in big cities feels like. Everybody who has ever lived in places like New York, Paris, or London knows what it’s like to be stuck in the same place for hours without moving, all while some people get to speed away on their bikes.
No Money? No Doctor!
It’s a fact that some health care systems work better than others. In places such as Europe, Japan, and Cuba, free access to health care helps to save countless lives every year! But, as all Americans know way too well, that’s not how it’s always done.
In the United States, medical treatment and personal wealth are somehow connected. The medical, pharmaceutical, and medical insurance industries are profit-based, which means some people can be denied treatment simply because they’re underprivileged or unemployed! All citizens should be entitled to proper medical care.
“It’s For Your Own Good!”
Parents are supposed to watch over their children and ensure they’re safe and happy. But there is (or should be) a limit to how much you can control another person. Helicopter parents are constantly hovering over their kids’ lives, which doesn’t make for a very healthy parent-child relationship.
This brilliant image shows that when helicopter parents simply “care” too much, their children may end up feeling like trained horses who are merely being guided by their decisions. Kids are supposed to be protected, yes, but they also need to make their own decisions in life.
Corporate Hot Potato
Most advanced countries on the planet despise the ideas of dictatorship and monarchy. Yet, western citizens are still forced to work in a dictatorship-like hierarchical system. While all workers, from the cleaner to the CEO, are needed for a company to succeed, some workers are more important than others.
The hierarchical system that still rules the corporate world looks incoherently opposed to the democratic values of freedom, solidarity, and equality. Like this picture so perfectly demonstrates, it’s common for the smallest guy in the chain to take the blame for someone else’s mistake.
To Be Or Not To Be… Single
Being in a relationship is not for everyone. While humans are social creatures, more and more people feel at ease being alone and entirely by themselves. It has its perks: even the best romantic partners can be annoying, pushy, and demanding.
But can “peace and quiet” and “me time” truly replace a meaningful relationship? It depends. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be single, solitude can also be rooted in fear of rejection and conformism. Love is a tough challenge, but it’s worth it!
Dress To Impress… Someone Else
In the heyday of social media, looking as good as possible is more important than ever. People act more and more like brands in their day-to-day lives, fashionably promoting an image of positivity, happiness, and perfection that isn’t always based on their true beliefs.
Just like how brands promote themselves to make money, humans do it to be loved. But sometimes, the happy face people put on before taking a new selfie is nothing but a sham. It’s okay to be positive, but there’s no need to pretend to be happy just to impress someone else.
From 400 Pages To 280 Characters
Reading used to be exciting. But then, social media was invented. Why should anyone spend hours reading a 400-page story instead of browsing through Twitter or binge-watching YouTube videos? In this ready-made, content-filled society, the book feels like an old, obsolete object from a distant past.
But while social media is the metaphorical nail in literature’s coffin, book fans have good reasons to feel positive. In 2020, printed book sales amounted to over 750 million units, the best numbers since 2010! Are books finally ready to come back from the grave?
An Expensive Way To Die
Smoking is a nasty habit millions of people worldwide simply cannot get rid of, and every time smokers light up a cigarette, someone is turning a profit. Despite widespread ad bans and extremely high taxes, the tobacco industry still makes a whopping $932 billion per year!
Over 5,200 billion cigarettes are consumed annually, and every single cigarette comes with a cost. If a smoker consumes one pack of cigarettes per day, as many do, they will end up spending thousands of dollars each year! It seems like burning money, literally.
The Maximum Education For The Minimum Wage
The world used to be simpler back in the day. Not long ago, a college degree was synonymous with a stable and comfortable professional life. Going to college and finding a good job with a decent wage was simply the way things worked.
Today, though, there’s no guarantee students will not end up using their college degree to flip burgers at a fast-food restaurant. While this is a consequence of having more highly-educated citizens per capita, how are McDonald’s employees supposed to pay off their hefty student loans?
Deforestation: While Some Make Money, The Whole World Takes A Loss
When it comes to stopping global warming, rainforests are essential. They’re a valuable and irreplaceable carbon store, not to mention the home of countless animals, plants, and indigenous people. The Amazon is the largest rainforest globally, so why are people destroying it for profit?
According to BBC, over 4,000 square feet of rainforest were destroyed in less than one year, between August 2019 and July 2020. Experts believe 17% of the Amazon has been lost forever, and climate experts claim that a level of deforestation above 20% can have catastrophic worldwide consequences.
Online Safety Matters
The Internet has changed the world forever. Sometimes it made it better; other times, it made it worse. But from the very start, it has been the favorite hub of some dishonest, scamming people. These dark characters make use of online anonymity to commit terrible crimes.
The typical Internet criminal will pretend to be someone else to get their way. But there are countless examples of dishonest people trying to make a quick buck online, from scamming companies pretending to be IT experts to fake websites selling useless or non-existent products.
The whole world is connected, making it increasingly challenging for people to put their phones and tablets down. As a result, family life is very different, and it’s common for parents and children to spend their mealtimes looking at a screen.
The physician/film director Delaney Ruston even coined the term ‘screenagers’ to refer to the young men and women who have spent most of their lives online. In her 2016 movie Screenagers, she analyzed how digital addiction can lead to social isolation and impaired performance at school.
A Sit-Down-And-Watch Kind Of World
With more and more quality content available, it’s only natural for some people to choose to spend most of their free time watching television. But this comes with a cost: besides the obvious danger of social isolation, living a sedentary lifestyle is also making people unhealthier.
Watching a great show is a lot of fun, but it’s important not to overdo it. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.9 billion adults are overweight. Obesity is a scourge that affects about 13% of the world’s population today, and its prevalence has tripled since the mid-’70s.
The Other Side Of Instagram
It’s clear as water: social media is turning people into brands. Just like their favorite companies, online users are “selling” the idea that they’re better, or just different, from who they actually are. Instagram profiles seldom show the truth. Instead, they may present an ideal image of oneself.
Naturally, this has major mental health consequences. There’s the fear of missing out, the standardization of unrealistic beauty patterns, and the promotion of increasingly absurd lifestyles. All of which can lead to anxiety, self-deprecation, and even depression. A 2018 British study tied social media use to memory loss and delayed sleep.
Alcohol And Its Power To Deceive
Human perception is not perfect. And sometimes, people believe they’re experiencing something that’s just not real. This is particularly true when it comes to beer: alcohol has the power to change a person’s temper and make them feel more self-confident.
That’s probably why people love drinking so much. Seeing oneself going from XXL to XS after having three or four beers is good enough. Sadly, though, alcohol never truly fixes one’s problems. It simply allows one to see the world in a different, more optimistic way.
Someone Has To Pay The Bill…
Whenever the power goes off, it feels like the whole world has stopped. People use energy to do pretty much everything, from making some toast to heating their homes. Now, energy prices are going wild. According to BBC, British households would face a $30 rise in energy bills in 2021.
The case for a more humane and socially aware way of distributing energy is more urgent than ever. Higher energy prices are good for the environment, but it’s essential not to alienate the people who cannot pay. Shouldn’t access to energy be a fundamental human right?
The Wage Gap Still Needs Some Fixing
In recent decades, society has been doing a decent job dealing with discrimination. But the fight for a truly just labor market is far from over. In 2021, women still only earned 82 cents per dollar that men get.
Yes, things are changing for the better, and the wage gap is getting smaller. But it’s important not to think men and women are viewed as the same in the workplace. We’re just not there yet, as this illustration so effectively shows.
Too Much School Is Bad For The Brain
School is essential for children to learn how to interact with others, respect social norms, and develop the skills that will allow them to get a job in the future. But school burnout is on the rise, and it’s having a profound impact on the mental health of millions of children.
In Japan, where academic-induced stress is overwhelming, the suicide rate amongst students is very high. In 2018 alone, more than 330 young students failed to deal with the pressure. Most times, bad students aren’t lazy: they’re probably just in desperate need of a break.
Is Morning Cereal a Serial Killer?
With sports-inspired ads, cereal brands try to promote the idea that eating cereal is essential. More so, they imply that eating cereal is what makes kids strong enough to perform enjoyable physical activities. But are the health benefits of morning cereals being grossly overstated?
Cereal can be a part of a healthy diet, but most cereal brands are way too calorie-dense to make for a healthy everyday breakfast. According to the NHS (United Kingdom’s National Health System), eating too much cereal can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, and tooth decay.
The American Nightmare
In the good old days of American Exceptionalism, Lady Liberty was the undisputed symbol of the land of the free, the home of the brave, the best country in the world. But now, America’s once-unshakable superiority has been put in doubt, even by its own citizens.
The country is more divided than ever, and it’s only natural that Lady Liberty is feeling a bit stressed. In 2020, an Asher & Lyric survey analyzed 35 countries and concluded that the United States was only the 34th best nation to raise a family. Ouch!
Fast Food For Lunch Again? Not So Fast!
Fast food is an invention worthy of its name. The perfect meal for people in a rush, fast food is very affordable, easy to get, and ready to eat in a couple of minutes. But while it’s okay to munch on a burger once in a while, fast food can have devastating effects when consumed too often.
Most people know about the dangers of eating too much fast food, but they still do it anyway. Its affordability, accessibility, and moreish taste are just too irresistible. Sadly, though, fast food fanatics can end up looking like burgers themselves!
Addicted To Likes
This illustration of a jar of pills filled with Facebook likes is just fitting. The idea that people get their self-esteem from pointless social media interactions is spot-on, but it’s more than that. Apparently, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be chemically addictive, just like pills!
Healthline looked at social media addiction and showed websites like Facebook are responsible for increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical substance associated with pleasure. The same thing happens with gambling, yet another thing that people get addicted to.
How Does A Happy Life Look Like?
Everybody wants to live a happy and full life. But what does it even mean? According to society, it’s all about raising a family, having a good job, traveling, doing sports, learning how to play an instrument, doing charity, going out with friends, playing video games, and such.
The list goes on and on. But in reality, there’s no ready-made kit for happiness. One should focus on living their own life instead of desperately trying to fit into someone else’s idea of happiness. One thing’s for sure: one cannot be truly happy without first listening to their needs.
Mind The Non-Existent Gap
Demographic congestion in big cities is turning into a vital issue. When urban residents are forced to leave their cars in the garage because of traffic, they tend to use the subway. But even the subway can be a crowded place in this day and age.
This image is inspired by London’s subway and makes for a remarkable visual illustration of what going to work every morning feels like. Living in a big city has its pluses, but it comes with a price, as every big city dweller should know.
The Disposable Workforce
The labor market is as competitive as any other type of economic market, but is it a good thing? Since there’s never a 0% unemployment rate, bosses have all the power. They can fire workers because they know there will always be another man or woman ready to apply for the position.
In a way, company bosses have the ability to treat laborers the same way people treat matches: you use one for as long as you can, throw it away, and grab the next. This is not the same as saying that bosses are evil, but rather that there’s still a lot to do when it comes to protecting workers.
Love Is… Complicated
This John Holcroft image makes a powerful statement about interpersonal relationships. Love makes life meaningful, but love stories can sometimes develop into the opposite of what love should be. Like a bad apple, relationships can sometimes become rotten over time.
In extreme cases, controlling husbands and wives can make their partners feel like they’re chained to love. Women, by far, are the primary victims. In 2020, Reliefweb reported that domestic violence still affected an unbelievable 35% of women all over the globe.
Women As Livestock
It’s a fact that the female body can have a powerful, even visceral effect on men. But that doesn’t mean women should be treated like livestock, as a mere piece of meat designed to please the male gaze. Sadly, though, this still happens way too often in modern-day society.
While the advertising industry aims at both men and women, the exploitation of the female body is by far more prevalent. It’s common sense that men and women are equal, so why are these unwarranted displays of female exploitation still allowed?
Pollution For Profit
Different politicians have different ideas when it comes to the environment. But climate change is more than a political issue: it’s a worrying economic problem. How can humans continue to enjoy increasingly comfortable lives without an increase in the level of pollution?
The question makes for a head-scratcher. Technology is still humanity’s best hope, but there’s no question that some changes need to be made for the planet to survive. Crucially, it’s essential to internalize the fact that saving the environment is far more important than turning a profit.
Violence At The Cradle
Parents want to protect their children at all costs, but the world can be a violent and cruel place. Toddlers are exposed to violence shown in movies, video games, and music from an early age. In some regions of the world, the horrors of war are still a reality.
Society is still fascinated by violence, and guns continue to be legal in many countries. Kids need to be protected from these harmful influences, but they also need to learn about how to protect themselves and, most importantly, respect others.
Ideally, contracts are designed to protect the little man. But more often than not, they’re used as an instrument of coercion. Workers may feel like they have no other option but to fulfill their contractual obligations, even when they don’t want to or are unable to.
Contracts are a vital part of society, not just in the labor market. When one creates a new social media account, for instance, a contract is made. It’s crucial to thoroughly read a contract (even the online terms and conditions) before agreeing to comply.
Not all John Holcroft satires paint a terrible picture of society. This image, showing the power of the smartphone, tells a different story. While corporations do have more power than they should, they’ve also helped make the world better by creating some incredible products.
Smartphones have made everybody’s life indescribably easier. They make for a phone, a camera, a clock, a calculator, a map, a newspaper, and even a weatherman. The infinite possibilities that fit into 6 to 7 inches of technology are simply incredible.
Banks Are Getting Fatter
In western societies, credit is a part of everyday life. When people want to buy anything that costs more than a couple of hundred bucks, they run to the bank and ask for money. As a result, banks have amassed a whopping amount of capital and power over debtors.
The housing market makes for a perfect example of how banks work. Homebuyers tie themselves to loans for decades, leaving all the leverage in the hands of the banker. Banks then use their interest profit to make speculative financial investments and become wealthier and more prosperous.
This illustration is supposed to be satirical, but it’s so trivial and familiar that it almost looks like a painting of an unremarkable street corner. In the fictional Cafe Flex, people cannot move their eyes away from the screen. But is this any different from what real life is right now?
Technology, namely the Internet, has allowed humans to connect faster and more widely than ever. However, the constant connection came with a hefty price. People are so busy minding their online friends; they seem to have forgotten about what’s around them.
Video Games Are Leveling Up
Video games have come a long way. Once seen as a fun way of passing the time, they are now at the center of a $300-billion industry with over 2.8 billion die-hard fans! But some young men and women love video games so much they end up neglecting their “other” life.
Video games are getting better and better, and some are bona fide works of art. But they’re also dangerous. In 2019, the World Health Organization listed “gaming disorder” as a behavioral addiction. This condition is believed to affect 26.8% of gamers worldwide.
Corporations are getting so big they’ve lost their humanity. Workers are no longer seen as people: they’re just numbers, ranked according to performance. The corporate world is so obsessed with growth and efficiency it completely forgot people should be treated with humanity.
For this reason, workers are seen as replaceable, and corporations don’t care about who they are or what their needs could be. Corporations only seem to understand numbers, so what about this one? Employee stress levels have risen almost 20% in the last three decades.
Living For The Tweet
Social media is made to be addictive, just like casinos and slot machines. It’s hard to look away from the neverending feeds, to miss out on the most recent news, or to ignore the latest Internet fad. It’s the first thing people see in the morning and the last thing they look at before falling asleep.
Social media is splendid, but good things can sometimes have an adverse impact on one’s life. It’s necessary to always be in control and not allow Twitter or Facebook to make up the rules. Breaking the cycle from time to time (with a one-week Internet detox, for instance) is very important.
The Plastic Waste Kraken
Roughly 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. It’s massive. But humans, with their relentless need for growth and consumption, still have an impact on the animals and plants that live in the ocean. The primary source of trouble? Plastic waste.
Sadly, our planet’s oceans are littered with 51 trillion microplastics. That’s about 500 times the number of stars in the galaxy! Recycling can undoubtedly help, but only 9% of all plastic waste actually gets recycled. According to UNESCO, plastic waste results in the deaths of one million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals every year.
Money For Shelter
All people should be able to afford a home. After all, access to shelter makes for a fundamental human right. But housing prices are so over-the-top these days that more and more families are forced to rent. It’s a natural consequence of the free market, but is it really?
While it’s understandable that housing prices are rising, buying a home is definitely more complicated than it used to be. Between 1997 and 2016, average house prices grew a whopping 259%! On the other hand, average wages rose just 68% during the same period.
Most people cannot wait to see the ideal number on the scale. But weight is relative: if one’s healthy and feeling good about themselves, why even pay attention to the scale? Bigger boys and bigger girls are beautiful too, regardless of their weight.
Naturally, it’s essential to stay healthy, and keeping a balanced diet is a vital part of it. Eating healthily and working out is key to living a happy life and avoiding potential diseases. Looking skinny, on the other hand, should never be the ultimate goal.
Drafting the perfect resumé is vital to finding a good job. But while the labor market should be prepared to deal with all kinds of people, it seems like corporations have already decided on the profile of the people they want to hire.
The profile of the ideal worker is so standardized in this day and age that it’s hard for workers who do not fit the norm to find a job. John Holcroft is trying to raise awareness of the issue with this brilliant satire, in which future workers are compared to a recipe.
Less than 20 years have passed between 1990 and 2008, but so many things have changed! Technology is moving forwards at a rapid pace, and humans are being left behind. While televisions get better and better, humans stay the same—apart from a few extra pounds!
New gadgets, updates, and inventions are coming out every year, and it’s getting hard to keep up. But while technology is constantly improving, no one seems to be working to improve the human body and mind. The result is daunting: we have better machines, but not always better people.
Congratulation’s On Being Spammed
The Internet is bigger than it was a decade ago, so why is it less exciting? In the good old days, getting an e-mail was so rare it felt like a special occasion. Today, though, there’s so much information, ads, and spam that people almost wish their inboxes were empty.
E-mail makes the life of professionals way more manageable, but is there a chance the Internet is not fun anymore? Nowadays, online access is so widespread that doing something as simple as checking e-mail can be overwhelming. And don’t get us started on those tiring pop-up ads!
Surfing The Web
The website DataReportal decided to look at the time people around the globe spent surfing the web. Their conclusion was remarkable. In 2021, Internet users were expected to spend an unbelievable 12 trillion hours online, making for a combined 1.3 billion years!
It’s not just the Internet, though. In the United States, adult citizens spent an average of 13 hours and 38 minutes interacting with media. Out of these 13:38 hours, 7:50 was spent with digital media! It begs the question: do people do anything other than surf the web anymore?
The legendary sturdiness of the Nokia 3310 cellphone has been the basis of countless online memes. Comparing the 3310 to modern-day smartphones feels a little bit like comparing a tank to a flimsy bike. But why are gadgets so fragile if companies have access to incredibly advanced technology?
The question can be answered with two words: planned obsolescence. The term refers to an industrial design technique meant to artificially limit the life of an object. This means that brands are purposely creating weaker products to fit into their business models. All for profit!
Feeding The Ego
In a way, social media is based on the idea of positivity. It’s all about likes, love, and encouragement. But is it really? More than an entertaining way to interact with friends and family, social media can also be a source of anxiety and is changing the way people think about themselves.
People often no longer think of who they are without considering social media. Instead of finding their self-worth within, they frequently try to make up for their fears and insecurities online. Is social media just a way of feeding the ego with meaningless likes and followers?
The world has changed a lot in the last few decades. Hundreds of years after the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, people are living through a massive Digital Revolution. The transition from analog to digital is so prevalent now that even vacuum cleaners are turning into computers!
Moving forward can be frightening, and it will pose a lot of challenges. But as long as humanity keeps what’s truly important in mind, everything’s going to be okay. Advanced machines make for handy tools, but that’s no reason to snub the ones that truly matter: the flesh-and-bone users.