Political Cartoons (CATS & ECIM)

FDR New Deal Cartoon

I like the COATS acronym for helping students break down the basics of most political cartoons. For stronger students, however, I wanted something to help them think through cartoons with a bit more specificity - maybe in a bit more depth. 

Political Cartoons often...

Assume a familiarity with Current Events

Assume the reader recognizes Common Symbols

Use Exaggerations & Distortions

Use Caricatures & Stereotypes

Use Allusions to Literature or History

Use Labels / Captions / Text

Use Irony / Sarcasm

Have a Message or Point the Author is making by using these tools. It is not generally “fair”.

So... Current Events Common Symbols Exaggerations Distortions Caricatures Stereotypes Allusions Labels Irony Sarcasm. The CECSEDCSALIS method - brilliant!

I juggled the letters and rephrased the elements and finally came up with something... well, something horrible. Memorable, but awkward.

I've decided that's its strength, however - the twisted awkwardness MAKES it memorable, like Grandma's mole or that lesson you tried to do with puppets your first year in the classroom. 


You know - CATS & MICE, but facing one another. Like an Old West Gunfight, but without the guns. Because, you know, their adorable little paws and all... not practical. 

The good the bad and the ugly - The best theme tune ever

OK, it's a stretch - but it covers the Elements, and leaves the Message/Summary last, where it HAS to be. 

C - Current Events 

A - Allusions to Literature, History

T - Text/Labels/Captions

S - Symbols

E - Exaggeration/Distortion

C - Caricature/Stereotypes

I - Irony/Sarcasm 

M - Message/Point

Ready to try it?

Herb Lock Fire

"Fire!" (Herb Lock, 1949)

C: This cartoon was published in 1949. The Soviets had expanded their control to most of Eastern Europe and China looked likely to fall to Communism soon as well. The ‘Red Scare’ at home was infringing on individual liberties as well – HUAC, ‘The Hollywood Ten’, etc. McCarthyism was just around the corner. 

A: The arm & torch are from the Statue of Liberty (see Symbols). The famous poem on its base welcomes the exact sort of immigrants most under suspicion for Communist sympathies, so maybe there’s an additional layer of irony in that?

T: “Fire” (title and being shouted), “Hysteria” (label of yelling man). Fire is traditionally yelled as a warning of danger, not excitement or joy. The man is labeled so we'll understand he represents a movement or mindset rather than an individual. 

S: The arm and torch are clearly the Statue of Liberty. The flame traditionally represents both liberty (hence the name) and the Enlightenment – also use ironically.

E: It would take a pretty tall ladder to reach the top of the Statue of Liberty, and the real statue doesn’t have a live flame. This is not a realistic action – it would be impossible.

C: The guy doesn’t seem to represent an individual or a demographic so much as a mindset, so I don’t think there are Caricatures or Stereotypes used here.

I: Major irony here – ‘Hysteria’ is about to douse the Flame of Liberty/Enlightenment, presumably to ‘protect’ the country. The cry of ‘Fire!’ indicates fear of this flame and suggests it’s perceived as dangerous. This is, of course ridiculous and misguided. 

M: The current (in 1949) hysteria over Communism is not only misguided, but dangerous. Our fundamental values are being threatened by the ways we’re responding to perceived dangers. To use a different metaphor, the cure is far worse than the supposed disease. 

On a side note, aren't you glad we don't overreact like this today and ignore real issues in favor of trampling individual freedoms while claiming it's all to keep us "safer"?

Me, too!


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