Guest Post, Tim Kelly

The WVC Associated Students are sponsoring a series of Dr. Seuss related events including an exhibition of Seuss inspired student work.  The exhibit will run from April 23rd through May 3rd.  A reception is scheduled for Wednesday, May 2nd from 5-7 p.m.  The show and reception will be held in the newly renovated Campus Center Art Gallery. 

While many younger students are familiar with Seuss’  children’s books, few are familiar with his overtly political cartoons.  Seuss is a good jumping-off point for a broader discussion of political cartoons and their impact on political discourse.  The following excerpt is from a 2006 all-user e-mail written by Tim Kelly.  Dr. Kelly teaches History and Political Science at West Valley College.  His Seuss addendum was written for this post.

Political Cartoons

The goal of any political cartoonist is to affect change through the ability to inform, educate, and (though not required) amuse.  Most important, the cartoonist seeks to evoke a response on the part of the viewer.  While there are many historic examples one can point to, let me offer just a few from a U.S. historical perspective.

The power such visual art can have on viewers was not lost on Boss Tweed of 19th century New York’s Tammany Hall who, though once taking solace in the fact that most of his constituents could not read, still found the “damned pictures” of cartoonist Thomas Nast contributing to his political decline.  Sadly, political cartoons have also been the chosen tools of racists and nativists to vent their hatred and promote racial and ethnic stereotypes in American culture.  But they have also been used to criticize such racist attacks against minorities in America, as well as to promote the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.

Indeed, throughout the 20th century, political cartoonists (on both the left and right of the political spectrum) helped to shape the political debates over issues such as Eastern European and Asian immigration, Progressive reform, New Deal legislation, “McCarthyism” (a term coined in 1950 by Herblock, a political cartoonist for the Washington Post), and Vietnam (the Levine caricature of Lyndon Johnson pointing to his “Vietscar” in the shape of Vietnam after a gallbladder surgery is still a popular cartoon printed in many U.S. history textbooks to this day).

Cartoonists such as Conrad, Oliphant, Auth, Ramirez, Doonesbury, Tinsley, and so many others (both at a local and national level) continue to seek to shape our social and political views whenever we open up our newspapers to the editorial sections.  Sometimes they are successful, and sometimes they are not; but they do have an impact on our political discourse.

Even a children’s book writer/artist such as Dr. Suess can be said to have an impact on issues ranging from environmentalism (The Lorax) to the arms race and nuclear war (The Butter Battle).

More on Suess’ political cartoons here.

 Who Stole the People’s Money?   by Thomas Nast               New York Times       August 19, 1871

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