September 01, 2006

Drawing Russia

Any doubts about the impact of political cartoons would appear to have been settled by the global furor over the 12 caricatures of Mohammed that originally appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. Yet the violent and sometimes lethal demonstrations organized by Muslim groups on several continents mainly confirmed something that cartoonists themselves have not always been eager to acknowledge – that editorial cartoons have always been far more effective in propagating ethnic, racial, and social stereotypes than in influencing anyone’s political views. 

Nowhere has this been truer than in the United States. While American cartoons have historically concentrated most of their caricaturing on the Irish, Jews, African Americans, and Native Americans, they haven’t spared any cultural group, including the Russians. The intention has never been flattery.

Practically since Thomas Nast took on William “Boss” Tweed in New York City during the late 1860s and 1870s, American editorial cartoonists have been hailed as the Republic’s ultimate gadflys – those who, in one well-traveled phrase, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” 

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