Political cartoons and freedom to express

mast head

Political cartoons have been around since 16th century Italy, satirizing their political personalities by caricatures of often unflattering likenesses. The addressing of political issues and events have since persevered and continues to be a niche through which visual rhetoric takes on observer’s voice, visual tokens of attitude, and persuasion. For the recipients, the interpretation of the cartoons is often a process necessitating a broad knowledge of past and current events, awareness with the cartoon’s genre and cultural symbols, and analytical thinking about real-world events and situations. Well- aware of its ability to influence, the cartoonist has the ability to impact a country’s brand or a person’s reputation; all the while, one may not assume that the encounter will produce the same reaction. For some it is baneful, for others it is poignant.  In a world of deep pluralism, the right to voice ones’ freedom of expression has sometimes been viewed as less than a mirror of our times and more as a hand- grenade.  join or die

And so, today’s post will take the jesters’ approach to politics and bring to you what is touted as the first American political cartoon, Join, or Die. First published in an issue of Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754, it was his warning to the British colonies in America “join or die” urging them to unite against the French and the Native people. Toward the head of the snake, “NE” represents New England, followed by “NY” (New York), “NJ” (New Jersey), “P” (Pennsylvania), “M” (Maryland), “V” (Virginia), “NC” (North Carolina) and “SC” (South Carolina).  Although there were four “New England” colonies, Franklin grouped them into one category to stress the need for colonial unity. At the time, the colonists were hotly debated the expansions ion westward into and past the Appalachian Mountains and fighting the French and their Indian allies.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a renaissance man of vision. Having had the foresight to use the power of images to create political conversation among the population, Franklin, through his “Join, or Die” cartoon, secured a strong opinion in a subtle, persuasive, and ingenious way.

First image: Masthead and part of front page of The Massachusetts Spy, or, Thomas’s Boston Journal showing a female figure of Liberty in upper left and rattlesnake labeled “Join or Die” symbolizing the 13 colonies, challenging a griffin, across the top created by Paul Revere on July 7, 1774.

Esteemed thinker: Harold Arlen

rainblow

Perhaps one of the most enchanting forms that takes shape in nature is the rainbow; an arch of colors that will appear as if out of nowhere.  From behind a veil of grey clouds, after a dreary day, the rainbow brightens the slate sky like a flashy peacock unfanning its feathers. This kaleidoscopic ribbon stretches itself across the sky for all to see, and then, without much warning, fizzles away, leaving behind a wanting of more.

Today’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Harold Arlen (1905, Buffalo NY- 1986 ) born Hymen Arluck, the son of an acclaimed synagogue cantor and became one of Americas greatest song writers and composers.  At the age of nine his mother bought him a piano, though slowly warming up to the instrument as a reluctant student of classical music. But his attitude soon changed when at the age of twelve he learned a ragtime piece. Suddenly he was inspired. Harold_Arlen_1960

He quit school at fifteen to play at movie houses and by twenty-one he had his first solo piano piece published, “Minor Gaff (Blues Fantasy).”

Arlen compositions were unique, longer than the 32-bar ditties his most composers of the time were writing. His songs had grand leaps from one note to another —often considered a challenge for singers — and traces of melancholy. In 1933, he was writing for Harlem’s most popular nightclub, and with lyricist Ted Koehler, produced a song that was exceptional, “Stormy Weather.”

In 1938, Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg were working the film The Wizard of Oz. For 14 weeks — and $25,000 — they composed one amazing song after another; they called them “lemon drop songs.” IT was “Over the Rainbow” that became a sensation for the movie and Judy Garland at the start of her career.

Arlene had a most successful career, collaborating with the greatest of the Tin Pan Alley lyricists, including Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler, Leo Robin, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields and Truman Capote.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and gifts

sky_compressed_with name We live in a world that often regards material things as having great value, and it is often not until one is feeling poorly that we begin to value health with greater esteem. Yet, this notion of placing importance on tangible items is not a concept that is germane only to our present century, but rather one that has been well rooted seemingly forever. And so it appears that we rank highly those gifts that fit among the category of expensive or prestigious.

Perhaps this trait is a characteristic inherent to most all humans, for realistically, who would like to trade their personal comforts with those who are less endowed with equal possessions. After a weekend of camping, a hot shower and clean sheets are indeed most welcome.

But there are gifts bestowed to us with unprecedented value and are delivered by unlikely sources, such as the artist, the poet, the musician, Mother Nature; this sampling of such makes us take pause and silently reminds us that valuable gifts are not just the things we like to wear or ride in, but those things that bear witness to the uniqueness of life…that we must stop for a moment and enjoy … just because….

Ralph Waldo Emerson 2jpg Following our theme of gifts, I welcome back the “gifted” and esteemed thinker: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) preacher, philosopher, and poet, considered having the finest spirit and ideals of his age. He was a bold thinker having penned essays and gave lecture that offer models of clarity, style, and thought, which guaranteed him a formidable presence in 19th century American life. Emerson offered his views on the harmonies of man and nature, intellectual and spiritual independence, self-reliance, and utopian friendship. He was a committed Abolitionist, a champion of the Native Americans, and a crusader for peace and social justice.

From his essay so aptly titled, Gifts, take a moment for his words. Written in the 1800s, they still resonate with reason.

“It is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy, that the world owes the world more than the world can pay, and ought to go into chancery, and be sold. I do not think this general insolvency, which involves in some sort all the population, to be the reason of the difficulty experienced at Christmas and New Year, and other times, in bestowing gifts; since it is always so pleasant to be generous, though very vexatious to pay debts. But the impediment lies in the choosing. If, at any time, it comes into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give until the opportunity is gone.

Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature; they are like music heard out of a workhouse. Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love and beauty. Men used to tell us that we love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure the flowers give us: what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed?

Fruits are acceptable gifts because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should send to me to come a hundred miles to visit him, and should set before me a basket of fine summer fruit, I should think there was some proportion between the labor and the reward…”

Esteemed thinker: George Santayana

telephone operator The utterance of sound comes in forms that are pleasing to the ear or displeasing to the psyche. We may be aroused by the mellow song of a lark coming through the window or may shudder when awakened out of a sound sleep by the ringing of a renegade alarm clock. The sounds we hear when we rise from bed may set our mood happily, such as the coffee pot starting its every day routine, or it may propel us into gloom such as by way of the newscaster giving us our daily dose of troubles.

Most all creatures in the world use their voice to convey sounds that may produce harmony or disharmony.
The dog barks in a threatening growl to warn or in a series of light snips to greet. The cat hisses when you accidentally step on its tail, (a most unpleasant cry and experience for both the stepper and steppe), or it may meow in a truly affectionate manner hoping that you will give it your attention.

But as for humans, we have been granted sounds that go beyond the ordinary; we have the gift of speech, the ability to communicate in staccato, such as with an imperative sentence… “Watch out!” or those laced in metaphor as in poetry. The sounds that flow from our lips are a powerful tool and can leave an impression deeper than one’s footprint stuck in mud. The first time a baby learns to say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, we are elated, for this sense of recognition is now a bond that goes beyond mere sounds.

And so, as we journey through the day and into the night the sounds we make, may it be a sigh, a groan, or dinner conversation, can play a most significant role. For with each utterance that we generate, there is some individual or creature that receives it… we can make music to the ears or not… but with certainty and limited effort, it is quite an extraordinary feat to create… this thing we call sound…

George_Santayana For today’s post I present to you the esteemed thinker: George Santayana (1863- 1952). Born in Madrid, Spain, he was a philosopher, critic, essayist, novelist, poet and known for being a naturalist before it became a popular subject. Rivaling Emerson in literary accomplishments, he made relationships between literature, art, religion and philosophy prominent themes throughout his writings. Santayana received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1889 and was a faculty member at Harvard University from 1889 to 1912, eventually earning a place now called Classical American Philosophy. He is notably remembered for his quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

From his book Reason in Art, I have extracted for you a small portion from the chapter titled “Speech and Signification”. Take time to ponder the words of Mr. Santayana for his thoughts and concepts are most provocative.

“Music rationalises sound, but a more momentous rationalising of sound is seen in language. Language is one of the most useful of things, yet the greater part of it still remains (what it must all have been in the beginning) useless and without ulterior significance. The musical side of language is its primary and elementary side. Man is endowed with vocal organs so plastic as to emit a great variety of delicately varied sounds; and by good fortune his ear has a parallel sensibility, so that much vocal expression can be registered and confronted by auditory feeling. It has been said that man’s pre-eminence in nature is due to his possessing hands; his modest participation in the ideal world may similarly be due to his possessing tongue and ear. For when he finds shouting and vague moaning after a while fatiguing, he can draw a new pleasure from uttering all sorts of labial, dental, and gutteral sounds. Their rhythms and oppositions can entertain him, and he can begin to use his lingual gamut to designate the whole range of his perceptions and passions…

Language had originally no obligation to subserve an end which we may sometimes measure it by now, and depute to be its proper function, namely, to stand for things and adapt itself perfectly to their structure. In language as in every other existence idealism precedes realism, since it must be a part of nature living its own life before it can become a symbol for the rest and bend to external control. The vocal and musical medium is, and must always remain, alien, to the spatial… Yet when sounds were attached to an event or emotion, the sounds became symbols for that disparate fact…”

First image: Title: TELEPHONE OPERATORS, Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer, Date created/Published: [between 1914 and 1917]

Esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky

Portrait of Strvinsky Inspiration comes to us when we least expect it. Its provocation can erupt suddenly as if fallen from the night sky while we wander the stars, realized in the chemistry lab mixing and measuring, or found while listening to the roar of Niagara Falls. As unique as a one’s fingerprints or as communal as a view from the Grand Canyon, whatever experience has crossed our path to stimulate us to create, to discover, to invent, to reshape, an inspiration is clearly an unexpected gift.

And though we are enamored by the monumental achievements that some are lucky enough to have endowed through some fortuitous inspiration; so too should the less celebrated accomplishments drawn from our personal and not so personal moments also be rejoiced. Some receive inspiration from the undertakings of others, as when we see a painting or hear a song; while some have harbored their muses since very young, only to have them hatch later in life growing in proportions that did not seem possible from what was believed to be a simple memory.

How and why we are inspired is not easily defined and where it leads us is as much an enigma. For an inspiration cannot be manufactured nor can it be anticipated, rather it is stealth and will find you when you least expect it. Covert, crafty, and often sneaky, it comes through the back door or enters boldly by way of the front….it arrives in many forms and any time… bestowing upon us a souvenir of life for us to manipulate.

stravinsky In today’s post I present to you a most inspirational figure; the esteemed thinker: Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Oranienbaum, Russia he is considered one of the 20th century’s most influential composers and artistic musicians. Though he grew up in St. Petersburg, he moved to France and then later to the United States, becoming attached to the cultural way of life in Los Angeles, California. Here he felt intellectually alive living among other musicians, writers, and artists. Stravinsky is best known for his unconventional arrangements, where he first earned international fame in Paris for three now well-known ballets: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913). Though receiving scathing reviews and harsh criticisms, they are considered today as being some of the most innovative and revolutionary works in music.

From his book simply titled An Autobiography (1936), I have extracted a small piece for your reading pleasure. Here are the motivating words of the great Igor Stravinsky ….

“… Apart from my improvisation and piano-practice, I found immense pleasure in reading the opera scores of which my father’s library consisted—all the more so because I was able to read with great facility. My mother also had that gift, and I must have inherited it from her. Imagine my joy, therefore, when for the first time I was taken to the theatre where they were giving an opera with which as a pianist I was already familiar. It was A Life for the Tsar, and it was then I heard an orchestra for the first time. And what an orchestra—Glinka’s! The impression was indelible, but it must not be supposed that this was due solely to the fact that it was the first orchestra I ever heard. To this day, not only Glinka’s music in itself, but his orchestration as well, remains a perfect monument of musical art—so intelligent is his balance of tone, so distinguished and delicate his instrumentation; and by the latter I mean his choice of instruments and his way of combining them. I was indeed fortunate in happening on a chef d’oeuvre for my first contact with great music. That is why my attitude towards Glinka has always been one of unbounded gratitude…

About the same time I heard Glinka’s second opera, Ruslan and Ludmilla, at a gala performance given to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. My father took the part of Farlaf, which was one of the best in his repertoire. It was a memorable evening for me. Besides the excitement I felt at hearing this music that I already loved to distraction, it was my good fortune to catch a glimpse in the foyer of Peter Tchaikovsky, the idol of the Russian public, whom I had never seen before and was never to see again. He had just conducted the first audition of his new symphony—the Pathetic—in St. Petersburg. A fortnight later my mother took me to a concert where the same symphony was played in memory of its composer, who had been suddenly carried off by cholera. Deeply though I was impressed by the unexpected death of the great musician, I was far from realizing at the moment that this glimpse of the living Tchaikovsky—fleeting though it was—would become one of my most treasured memories…”

First image: Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1914) by French painter, printmaker and writer Albert Gleizes (MOMA)