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How to Decode a Political Cartoon


How to Decode a Political Cartoon – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: How to Decode a Political Cartoon

How to Decode a Political Cartoon
  • "political" that which is concerned with public
    affairs or government
  • "cartoon" a sketch or drawing that interests or
    amuses by portraying persons, things, political
    events or situations etc. in an exaggerated way

  • SATIRE - uses humor to lower something or someone
    in the readers or viewers estimation. It is not
    mean-spirited and its point is not to harm. It
    exposes human folly to make room for improvement.

What are Political Cartoons?
  • Political cartoons usually appear on the
    editorial page of your daily newspaper. They
    generally deal with events or issues currently in
    the news and are, in essence, visual editorials.
    Like the writer of an editorial, the cartoonist
    is trying to make a point.

What are Political Cartoons?
  • When you look at a political cartoon produced
    many years ago you are seeing it out of its
    original context. In order to "get it" you will
    likely need some background information from
    classroom discussion, a textbook or your own
    research. Once you have a general idea of the
    topic at hand you can start to decode the message
    the cartoonist is trying to convey.

Tools Used By Cartoonist
  • Exaggeration
  • Allusion
  • Analogy
  • Symbolism
  • Caricature
  • Stereotype
  • Humor
  • Personification

  • Exaggerates one or more features of a person or
    thing. It attempts to say something about the
    person/things character, beliefs, actions or
  • Makes them easily recognizable.
  • Made Obamas ears large

  • Facial expression and body language can be used
    as signs to communicate ideas.
  • In some cases a cartoonist may use shading to
    indicate the "good guys" (light) and the "bad
    guys" (dark).
  • Jimi Hendrix

  • Represents something else. It is a often a
    material object that represents something
    abstract or invisible (for example, the Statue of
    Liberty to represent freedom or the stars of the
    confederate flag as KKK).

  • Uses an object to note a similarity to something
    else. For example, John Bull (England) as an
    octopus of imperialism

  • Expresses an idea through a contradiction between
    somethings literal meaning and the intended
    meaning. For example, picturing a U.S. president
    with a crown on his head.
  • SARCASM- is a form of irony. The element that
    turns irony into sarcasm is the appearance of
    mockery, or bitterness.

Pray Keep Moving Brother
"Pray keep moving, brother" As the civil rights
movement heated up in the 1960s, black Americans
cultivated the technique of peaceful protest,
using it in dignified and disciplined
demonstrations against segregation at lunch
counters and other places. Here Herb Block
focuses on the ultimate irony of segregation in
places of worship preaching the brotherhood of
  • Works by taking a real or imagined trait of an
    individual to be true of the group to which the
    individual belongs. They express bias and can be
    unfair and harmful. The black man is sketched to
    look like an ape, with large lips and no shoes.

Analogy Allusions
  • Another very important technique is the use of
    analogy, in which one event is represented by
  • An allusion is understandable only to those with
    prior knowledge of the reference in question
    (which the writer assumes to be so).
  • A one-sentence or one-phrase (or image) reference
    to another event, character, etc. in the Bible,
    mythology, or current event

Three kings follow star to Barack Obama, savior
of the Democrats.
  • Cartoonists sometimes use words (titles,
    captions, name tags, balloon comments or
    dialogue) to help the viewer.

  • When you look at a political cartoon you should
    consider the biases of the cartoonist. The
    cartoonist, after all, is trying to make a point.
    When and where was the cartoon published, and in
    what type of publication? Who is portrayed in a
    favourable manner and who is not?
  • Cartoons can display a number of other biases as
    well (such as political, religious, racial or
    ethnic, vocational, economic or gender biases).

Decode the message by using the following method
  • Scrutinize the characters. Can you name them by
    drawing on your knowledge of local and world
  • Examine the characters' attire and other visual
  • For example
  • facial expressions does the character's face
    convey anger, fear, intrigue etc.?complexion
    describe the character's facial appearance
    (clean-cut and shaven, scruffy etc.)body
    expression and appearance describe the
    character's physical appearance (slouched, arms
    waving frantically, small stature, broad and bold
    body etc.)attire what is the character wearing?
    (suit and tie, underwear, hats etc.)exaggeration
    of facial or physical characteristics compared
    to a photograph (e.g., chins, mouths, bulging
    eyes, long noses etc.)
  • Identify objects you see in the cartoon
    (buildings, fences, something the character is
    holding). Notice words on the objects and
    background features (sky, walls, water).
  • Discuss the main ideas expressed in the cartoon's
    text. Is there a common theme?

Once you have looked critically at a cartoon you
can try to interpret it.
  • In summary, when you look at a political cartoon
    you should take the following steps
  • seek out the necessary background knowledge
  • determine the issue being considered
  • study the devices the cartoonist has used
  • identify any possible biases and try to interpret
    the cartoon.
  • In short, what is the cartoon about, what
    techniques does the cartoonist use, and what does
    it all mean?
  • Once you have looked critically at a cartoon you
    can try to interpret it.

  • The Election of 1860
  • Figures left to right clockwise John C.
    Breckinridge dances with James Buchanan. Dred
    Scott seated plays the violin. Lincoln dances
    with African American woman. John Bell dances
    with Native American. Stephen Douglas dances
    with a sovereign in rags.

Candidates and Platforms
  • The Election of 1860
  • Figures from left to right In upper left hand
    corner a figure looks out a window titled Before
    Stephen Douglas with one foot through the
    Cincinnati Platform and the other on the Mason
    Dixon Line waves two flags SOUTH. Dred Scott
    Decision. and NORTH. Unfriendly Legislation.
    Lincoln stands on a No Extension of Slavery
    platform holds tight with his right hand the rope
    around Douglas' neck which reads Squatter
    sovereignty, and brandishes a rail with his left.
    John Bell stands on the ground without a
    platform and has a bell over his head John C.
    Breckinridge seated behind him writing New York
    Ledger his head is also under the bell.

  • Text from left to right John Bell Bless my
    soul I give up. John C. Breckinridge That long
    legged Abolitionist is getting ahead of us after
    all. Stephen Douglas I never run so in my

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The Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)
  • In this editorial cartoon from the 1856
    presidential election, James Buchananin the
    light suithelps hold down the head of a "Free
    Soiler" while Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas
    and President Franklin Pierce shove an
    African-American slave down his throat. The
    freesoiler's head rests on a platform marked
    "Kansas," "Cuba," and "Central America," probably
    referring to Democratic ambitions for the
    extension of slavery. In the background left is a
    scene of burning and pillage on the right a dead
    man hangs from a tree. In 1860, Douglas, who
    wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, would
    carry Pennsylvania, but lose the presidential
    election to Abraham Lincoln.

Montgomery Bus Boycott
Sorry but you have an incurable skin condition
"Sorry, but you have an incurable skin
condition" In many areas, black doctors were
excluded from practice in medical facilities.
This not only deprived them of opportunities, but
deprived many patients of all colors of treatment
they might otherwise have received. In 1963, the
AMA and a black medical association agreed to
form a joint committee to halt injustices toward
African American doctors.
Its all right to seat them. Theyre not
"It's all right to seat them.They're not
Americans" President John F. Kennedy called for
southern governors to assure "a friendly and
dignified reception" for foreign diplomats
visiting the United States, amid widespread
discrimination against blacks in restaurants and
other public places. The governor of Virginia,
where "massive resistance" to desegregation
originated, promised to provide southern
courtesy, but coupled his response with the
suggestion that diplomats identify themselves as
official representatives of their governments.
Herb Block's cartoon, based on an actual
occurrence, expressed the outrageousness of black
Americans in the United States being held as less
worthy of respectful treatment than foreigners.
Jerico, USA
Jericho, U.S.A. Herb Block compares the civil
rights marches around the exclusionary walls of
segregation to the Biblical march of the exiled
ancient Israelites around the walled city of
Jericho. The Israelites marched around Jericho
seven times and the walls came tumbling down.
And Remember, Nothing Can Be Accomplished By
taking to the Streets.
"And remember, nothing can be accomplished by
taking to the streets" Herb Block applauds the
growing activism of the civil rights movement in
this cartoon. Here he shows the Catch-22
situation of an African-American practically
pushed into the street by a white man, while
signs on all the buildings that line the street
speak of restrictions on African Americans.
I Just Got One of em, Just as She Almost Made
it Back to the Church
"I got one of em just as she almost made it back
to the church" In 1965, Alabama became the focus
of an intense effort to register blacks to vote.
On March 7, 1965, over 600 marchers for voting
rights left Brown's Chapel African Methodist
Episcopal Church in Selma on their way to
Montgomery, fifty-four miles away. On this
"Bloody Sunday," state troopers attacked the
marchers as they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge
at the Alabama River. Nearly 100 of the marchers
were hurt as they ran back toward the church.
Television cameras captured the violence, making
Selma an overnight symbol of racial oppression.
It led President Lyndon Johnson to push for the
Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Poplarville, Mississippi, U.S.A 1959
Poplarville, Mississippi, U. S. A., 1959 Although
in the 1950s some progress was made toward
attaining civil rights for African Americans,
lynchings continued until the late 1960s. On
April 25, 1959, a group abducted Charles Parker
from prison in Poplarville, Mississippi where he
awaited trial on charges of raping a white woman.
On May 4, the FBI found his body in the Pearl
River near Bogalusha, Louisiana, executed with
two bullets. The Governor of Mississippi said he
would bring the matter before a grand jury at its
next regular session months later.
  • Decode the following political cartoons with a

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Confederate flag
Democracy While Black
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  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • Political Cartoons
  • Instructions
  • Create a political cartoon depicting the Civil
    Rights Movement
  • You must invent an appropriate slogan and have
  • Your illustrations must be fully coloured
    hand-drawn (or traced).
  • Checklist for Creating Cartoons and Posters
  • Decide what aspect of the Civil Rights Movement
    that you wish to convey your message with. Give
    reasons for your decision.
  • Identify your topic Event, person etc..
  • Express your point of view and the message you
    want to convey
  • Determine what symbols are appropriate and
    historically accurate
  • Choose the words to convey your message.
  • Hand-out with marking rubric given out in class