Political cartoons and World War I

War bonds

In all families there are relatives, some are old, some are young, some are funny and some are stern. Each of us has a story to share, and many times at least one relative takes part in that very tale. However, in the United States we all have one Uncle who has been part of the history of our American family since the War of 1812: Uncle Sam.

Linking the name Uncle Sam with the federal government dates back to a businessman  Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson (1766-1854) stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers began referring to the “grub” as “Uncle Sam’s.” When the local newspaper wrote about his supplies, Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government.

After that newspapers across America have used the image of Uncle Sam; a most familiar face that has seen us through good and bad times.

Today’s blog brings to you the political cartoon Bringing the Truth Home to Us by Jay N. Darling and first published in the 1918 in Des Moines Register. It is a depiction of Uncle Sam carrying a dead soldier, representing the first reported U.S. casualties from World War I.

Bringing_the_truth_home_to_us_-_Jay_N._Darling

 

 

And so, we can agree that the saying, “a picture speaks a thousand words” is all too true.

The stark reality of war is part of our history and regretfully exists in our present. Hopefully, the future can find a way to have it be a sad memory and not one to repeat.

 

 

 

 

First image: 1917  lithograph

 

Esteemed thinker: Pablo Picasso

newspaperEvery evening when the news is about to be reported on the television, the program begins with a jingle of music, just a few notes… notes which really translate to mean “here comes gloom”. These pre-program notes, though simply intended as a prompt, have sorrowfully become a conditioned stimulus that produces the conditioned response…dread… Admittedly, it is a good example of “classical conditioning” for it seems that just the word “news” punctuates a negative connotation, so much so that we even have adopted the saying, “No news is Good news!”

However, news has always been of interest regardless of the method of delivery. What has become dramatically universal is the current cross-over between entertainment, gossip, and authentic news. Although some television programs call themselves “news shows” one soon has only to discover this may just be part of the name… where information is formatted in a one-sided set of opinions that are biased or lacking in full disclosure… (all under the guise of ‘the news’).

Yellow journalism, a term coined in 1898, was based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration to sell newspapers. However, one has to think, are we still stuck in the days of jaundice, for apparently one needs a dose of quinine to get through some t.v. programs touted as “News”.

PABLO-PICASSO- Today’s blog introduces one of the most renowned artists of all time, the esteemed thinker: Pablo Picasso (b. Spain 1881-1975). Picasso dominated the 20th century Western Art, spreading his influence beyond art into many aspects of culture and life.

In 1914 he and other artists produced collages with made of complex materials imitating the effects of painting in dense arrangements of cut and pasted papers. During that time newspapers were printed on cheap, wood-pulp paper stock that rapidly darkened and became brittle when exposed to air and sunlight. Picasso used newsprint fragments cut from them in many of his papiers collés and paintings and, occasionally, as supports for drawings.
Associated with pioneering Cubism, alongside Georges Braque, he made major contributions to Symbolism and Surrealism. Painter, sculpture, printmaker, his legacy lives on.

Not wishing to belabor the idea of news, one has to ponder if just perhaps Picasso too found “news” intriguing with his collage titled Guitar (Spring 1913). Made from cut-and-pasted newspaper, wallpaper, paper, ink, chalk, charcoal, and pencil on colored paper enjoy his entertaining and thought provoking work.

Picasso_collage Guitar

First image: Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer, Published: 1910 May.

Charles Dudley Warner and the newspaper

town crier Once upon a time ago the only means of receiving news was via the “mouthpiece” of a town crier… a person who because he could read and probably had a loud voice, would go about the town, stand in a designated location and impart to the public information from the King; where upon he would then “post” it on a door of an inn or other such place. It is said that he was protected by law since not all the news was greeted with civility. (Hence the expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”) And then, there was the invention of the mechanical printing press…thank you Mr. Gutenberg, a most ingenious fellow from Germany who opened the world of local news into mass communication in the 15th century… the printing revolution had begun…though it was a most laborious but effective means of reproduction. And as technology progressed, so has the system of mass producing; no longer are small blocks of letters needed to be placed individually to create independent words, but the voice of the writer now is digitally set.

There are very few places where the newspaper hasn’t graced our lives. For centuries news has magically appeared in the wee hours of the morning just waiting to be unfolded and read. They have traveled with us on the subway, found morning coffee dripped upon their pages , rolled up for an occasional disciplinary tool for that naughty puppy, lain flat across the bottom of the canary cage , and even insulated newborns in bitter cold apartments. The newspaper has dotted our lawns, provided job security for countless youth, and even though scoffed at for staining our finger tips with ink…it has been like a friend who not always tells us what we want to hear.

However, the 21st century has not been kind to our faithful companion, who even expanded its “greetings” to early and late editions. Folks today have changed their habits; like those who once ate a wholesome breakfast at the kitchen table, presently have little patience for even a café grande” in the car. So it appears that taking time to peruse a newspaper has diminished into moments to scan paperless waves ….

Charles Dudley Warner _2 Today’s blog reinstates esteemed thinker: Charles Dudley Warner to the forefront; friend to Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain; he is a noted and accomplished 19th century essayist and writer. Extracted from his essay “American Newspaper” I give you his “clever” writing that will take you on a cerebral sabbatical away from the hustle bustle of the day.

“… Yet it must be confessed that here is one of the greatest difficulties of modern journalism. The newspaper must be cheap. It is, considering the immense cost to produce it, the cheapest product ever offered to man. Most newspapers cost more than they sell for; they could not live by subscriptions; for any profits, they certainly depend upon advertisements. The advertisements depend upon the circulation; the circulation is likely to dwindle if too much space is occupied by advertisements, or if it is evident that the paper belongs to its favored advertisers. The counting-room desires to conciliate the advertisers; the editor looks to making a paper satisfactory to his readers. Between this see-saw of the necessary subscriber and the necessary advertiser, a good many newspapers go down. This difficulty would be measurably removed by the admission of the truth that the newspaper is a strictly business enterprise, depending for success upon a ‘quid pro quo’ between all parties connected with it, and upon integrity in its management…

The power of the press,” as something to be feared or admired, is a favorite theme of dinner-table orators and clergymen”… The power of the press is in its facility for making public opinions and events. I should say it is a medium of force rather than force itself. I confess that I am oftener impressed with the powerlessness of the press than otherwise, its slight influence in bringing about any reform, or in inducing the public to do what is for its own good and what it is disinclined to do..

The publication of the news is the most important function of the paper. How is it gathered? We must confess that it is gathered very much by chance. A drag-net is thrown out, and whatever comes is taken. An examination into the process of collecting shows what sort of news we are likely to get, and that nine-tenths of that printed is collected without much intelligence exercised in selection. The alliance of the associated press with the telegraph company is a fruitful source of news of an inferior quality. Of course, it is for the interest of the telegraph company to swell the volume to be transmitted. It is impossible for the associated press to have an agent in every place to which the telegraph penetrates: therefore the telegraphic operators often act as its purveyors. It is for their interest to send something; and their judgment of what is important is not only biased, but is formed by purely local standards. Our news, therefore, is largely set in motion by telegraphic operators, by agents trained to regard only the accidental, the startling, the abnormal, as news; it is picked up by sharp prowlers about town, whose pay depends upon finding something, who are looking for something spicy and sensational, or which may be dressed up and exaggerated to satisfy an appetite for novelty and high flavor, and who regard casualties as the chief news. Our newspapers every day are loaded with accidents, casualties, and crimes concerning people of whom we never heard before and never shall hear again, the reading of which is of no earthly use to any human being…
And there is scarcely ever a cause, or an opinion, or a man, that does not get somewhere in the press a hearer and a defender. We will drop the subject with one remark for the benefit of whom it may concern. With all its faults, I believe the moral tone of the American newspaper is higher, as a rule, than that of the community in which it is published…”

Esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis

Jacob riis “A picture speaks a thousand words…” An adage that we have all heard, all recognize by its metaphoric content; but I wonder… is this the rallying cry of the photojournalist? For when we are witness to that “split second” moment caught on film, it is forever documented. With the camera being in our hands as early as the 1800s, we are able to step back in time and literally spy upon our days-gone-by; often its effect has the ability to embellish or diminish our perception of the past.

Early photographers like their counterpart the early journalists and writers often became the champions of the disenfranchised; describing and photographing parts of society that were often ignored, brushed aside, or even invisible to the public who were not in immediate contact of those less fortunate.

And so, today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: Jacob A. Riis (1849-1914) social reformer, writer, and photographer that brought to light the plight of the city’s poor. Riis himself was an immigrant that arrived in New York City in 1870 from Denmark. Having taken many different jobs, he became a police report and began to document the slums of New York City. Through his writings and photography he became a change agent, fighting for reform, for better housing, sanitation, care for the poor, and especially the children. He believed that all men who were moral citizens, regardless of economic status, should have an opportunity to better their lives and break free from poverty. His book of 1890, How the Other Half Lives created public uproar and intitiated a movement for change.

huddle riis From one of his many works titled, The Battle of the Slum, we cannot help but be moved by his firsthand account. Here is Mr. Riis in his own words….

“… The slum is as old as civilization. Civilization implies a race, to get ahead. In a race there are usually some who for one cause or another cannot keep up, or are thrust out from among their fellows. They fall behind, and when they have been left far in the rear they lose hope and ambition, and give up. Thenceforward, if left to their own resources, they are the victims, not the masters, of their environment; and it is a bad master. They drag one another always farther down. The bad environment becomes the heredity of the next generation. Then, given the crowd, you have the slum ready-made…”

“…High rents, slack work, and low wages go hand in hand in the tenements as promoters of overcrowding. The rent is always one fourth of the family income, often more. The fierce competition for a bare living cuts down wages; and when loss of work is added, the only thing left is to take in lodgers to meet the landlord’s claim. The midnight visit of the sanitary policeman discloses a state of affairs against which he feels himself helpless. He has his standard: 400 cubic feet of air space for each adult sleeper, 200 for a child. That in itself is a concession to the practical necessities of the case. The original demand was for 600 feet. But of 28,000 and odd tenants canvassed in New York, in the slumming investigation prosecuted by the general government in 1894, 17,047 were found to have less than 400 feet, and of these 5526 slept in unventilated rooms with no windows. No more such rooms have been added since; but there has come that which is worse…”

housing riis