SECRETARY FOR Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has a penchant for transforming a cutting one-liner from comedian Groucho Marx into a real-life drama. Take, for example, his classic comment: AAPolitics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.'' After belittling student protesters as a AAheadache'' and denigrating the media by drawing an analogy to the dictatorial pig Napoleon in George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, Mrs Ip has now launched an attack on the comic book, Broom-head, which pokes fun at her. Ironically, Mrs Ip, whose sensitivity to being lampooned is well known, decided to take her case to the media by submitting for publication her own article, headlined AAVictimised by gender'' (South China Morning Post, August 7), in which she complained that Broom-head was full of sexist attacks. She said such female political leaders as former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi and current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had never been subject to systematic attacks on the basis of their appearance. She went on to declare that Hong Kong was running the risk of becoming AAa city with first-world infrastructure but substandard ethics and manners''. First of all, it is debatable whether Hong Kong really has first-world infrastructure, given the spate of construction scandals at government-owned housing sites. But, in any case, Mrs Ip has missed the point. The various women to whom she points rose to prominence within democratic political structures. Elected leaders can be voted out of office Mrs Ip cannot. Democracy is a concept missing from the SAR Government's canon. So making jokes at the expense of our top officials is about the only means we have of expressing discontent and a very mild method it is. According to gossip circulating in the Security Bureau, Mrs Ip has been stunned by the lukewarm support she has received. Her hairdresser, for example, says only that her hairstyle suits her age (Mrs Ip turns 51 on August 24). Some women's rights groups have even added salt to her wounds, pointing to her insensitive policies and saying she deserves whatever criticism she gets. Meanwhile, the Security Bureau says Mrs Ip wrote her article and sent it to the media on her own while on leave. That's a polite way of saying the bureau washes its hands of the matter. There has been no tangible support from the Chief Executive's office, either. One senior official was even heard to quip: AAFor an official to complain about the press is like a ship captain complaining about the sea.'' If Mrs Ip continues to view Broom-head as an attempt to humiliate her instead of taking a step back and reflecting on why she is the object of so many mean-spirited jokes, that will be the saddest ending readers of Broom-head and the rest of us could imagine. Image-making is like mixing cement. Initially, a politician's public persona is pliable, but once it hardens into shape, little can be done to alter it. Being lampooned as a broomhead is not pleasant. But it might not be such a bad thing in the long run if our officials draw a lesson from this Broom-head episode and, instead of taking themselves too seriously, make like broomsticks with a mission to sweep away our social problems.