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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.
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.
As we become more and more adept at using our fingers to transpose our thoughts, such as via emails and texts, so has the art of conversation become relegated to being much more succinct. However, there are times when longer conversations are a necessary tool , especially during an occasion such as at a party…which leads us to the reality that we all know those persons or person who engage us in conversation, only to drop us like a hot-potato when someone else, more to their liking arrives … leaving us standing idly by the cheese dip and hoping to strike up another conversation with an alternative guest.
Then there is the conversationalist that likes to jump into the exchange even before you may have completed your thought. For them the “me show “never has ended and is only at a pause while you are speaking. Makes you wonder if they are really listening to you; I would have to say not.
Having a conversation with yourself can also cause much confusion, as well as instigating particularly strange looks from others. This chat to yourself needs to be relegated to personal space, such as the car or shower.
Conversations on the telephone, this may be a safe bet, for not being able to see the party on the other end can keep you from seeing their eyes rolling. However, these conversations are too often cut short when it is interrupted by that all too popular noise…the click… meaning that someone will trump you…(Alas this reminds us of the party goers.)
And lest we not forget that there was a time when meals were accompanied by good food and good conversation; sadly only to be have been replaced by inanimate objects, the cell phone.
So… take heed for if you find yourself engaged in a conversation, do not get to used to this tête-à-tête because it most likely will be over before you even know it.
Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) 18th century satirist and author of the great work Gulliver’s Travels. Born in Dublin, Ireland, his father died when he was only seven months old, his family relied upon relatives for financial assistance. In 1704 he published his humorous take on religion, A Tale of the Tub; becoming an active figure of the Dublin society and politics becoming a blunt critic in efforts of improving Ireland.
For your pleasure today I have snipped from his book The Battle of the Books, and bring you a portion of a most humorous essay titled, “Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation”. Although the mid 1700s was a time when people prided themselves as being conversationalists, we will soon learn from Mr. Swift that this art was not without its trials and tribulations during his time.
And now, without anymore interruptions, let us take a few moments for the illustrious writer, Jonathan Swift.
“…There are some faults in conversation which none are so subject to as the men of wit, nor ever so much as when they are with each other. If they have opened their mouths without endeavouring to say a witty thing, they think it is so many words lost. It is a torment to the hearers, as much as to themselves, to see them upon the rack for invention, and in perpetual constraint, with so little success. They must do something extraordinary, in order to acquit themselves, and answer their character, else the standers by may be disappointed and be apt to think them only like the rest of mortals. I have known two men of wit industriously brought together, in order to entertain the company, where they have made a very ridiculous figure, and provided all the mirth at their own expense…
There are some people whose good manners will not suffer them to interrupt you; but, what is almost as bad, will discover abundance of impatience, and lie upon the watch until you have done, because they have started something in their own thoughts which they long to be delivered of. Meantime, they are so far from regarding what passes, that their imaginations are wholly turned upon what they have in reserve, for fear it should slip out of their memory; and thus they confine their invention, which might otherwise range over a hundred things full as good, and that might be much more naturally introduced…”
First image: 1909 by Marcel Duchamp, pen and ink
Second image: Portrait by Charles Jervas
Humor is like a twin sibling that grows up with you. It is always there by your side however, it too changes and matures; whereupon things and ideas that you once considered humorous may now take on a less than funny state. For what makes you laugh now is quite different from what made you laugh as a child. Take the comic section of the newspaper…it is a curious thing…when you were young the drawings lured you into their story cells, but once inside the cartoon bubbles were not very funny…even to an extent that they really made little sense; creating a disappointing sham to your six year old mind. (After-all… your concept of satire and irony was just forming.) And it was not until you grew older that the humor contained within each comic strip made you laugh.
As ideas and values have transformed with time, from one decade to another, what amuses us to the point of laughter has gone in and out of vogue. Which moves us along to another phenomena; laughter is a uniquely human quality. Yes, I too have sensed that an opened mouth pet looks like they are laughing, and yes, the dog’s tail wags wildly when you talk in a “silly and endearing voice,” as if they found you to be rather amusing. However, no matter how much teeth and gum they show, I would have to say we humans hold the lease on laughter.
Today’s blog brings back our esteemed thinker: Henri Bergson. Like many before him the idea of humor and laughter was “no laughing matter” for there was and likely still is wonderment about it. Mr. Bergson found a “common ground” regarding humor, the comic, and laughter in his essay titled Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. And so, let us take a pass through the early 1900s and contemplate a snippet extracted from his words.
“…the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple. This intelligence, however, must always remain in touch with other intelligences… Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo, Listen to it carefully: it is not an articulate, clear, well-defined sound; it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another, something beginning with a crash, to continue in successive rumblings, like thunder in a mountain. Still, this reverberation cannot go on for ever. It can travel within as wide a circle as you please: the circle remains, none the less, a closed one.
Our laughter is always the laughter of a group. It may, perchance, have happened to you, when seated in a railway carriage or at table d’hote, to hear travelers relating to one another stories which must have been comic to them, for they laughed heartily… However spontaneous it seems, laughter always implies a kind of secret freemasonry, or even complicity, with other laughers, real or imaginary. How often has it been said that the fuller the theatre, the more uncontrolled the laughter of the audience!
On the other hand, how often has the remark been made that many comic effects are incapable of translation from one language to another, because they refer to the customs and ideas of a particular social group! It is through not understanding the importance of this double fact that the comic has been looked upon as a mere curiosity in which the mind finds amusement, and laughter itself as a strange, isolated phenomenon, without any bearing on the rest of human activity…
To understand laughter, we must put it back into its natural environment, which is society, and above all must we determine the utility of its function, which is a social one. Such, let us say at once, will be the leading idea of all our investigations. Laughter must answer to certain requirements of life in common. It must have a SOCIAL signification…”