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Visual Rhetoric - Research Paper Example

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In this essay, the issue of visual rhetoric is analyzed. Namely, the personality of Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest U.S. political leaders of all time is studied. Yet, in terms of visual imagery, the man is generally pictured as unnaturally taller than those surrounding him. …
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Visual Rhetoric
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Visual Rhetoric Prof. ________________ "The Schoolmaster Abroad" At Last Published by T. W. Strong, New York, March 1861; no. 4 in Strong's Dime Caricatures series (www.indiana.edu). Today we think of Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest U.S. political leaders of all time. Yet he was assassinated and, even in early 1861 prior to the Civil War, was threatened with assassination. His office was a turbulent one which moved him into this nation’s most costly war. Political cartoons were many and showed varying sides of Lincoln. Yet, in terms of visual imagery, the man is generally pictured as unnaturally taller than those surrounding him. Whether a comment about his political activity or not, and certainly as a statement about Lincoln’s more than average height, the depictions serve to place him in hierarchy. Relative heights of figures in visual texts subtly indicate their status relative to the others depicted. This cartoon was published in New York about a month before the Civil War began. Because its immediate audience was Northerners, some of which were not in full agreement with the issues surrounding interstate tension at the time, it served as an anti-secession statement, propaganda-like in its nature. “. . .interpreting cartoons is a complex process that requires people to draw on a whole range of different literacies. These include a broad knowledge of past and current events, a familiarity with the cartoon genre, a vast repertoire of cultural symbols, and experience of thinking analytically about real-world events and circumstances (El Rafaie, 2009).” People viewing “The Schoolmaster Abroad” viewed it from the perspective of a public steeped in the issues of its day and the conflicting cultures of the North and South. At the close of 1860, James Buchanan asked in his State of the Union address, “Why is it, then, that discontent now so extensively prevails, and the Union of the States, which is the source of all these blessings, is threatened with destruction? “ By this time the Missouri Compromise had been put into place, prohibiting slavery in the western territories even if they were to become states later on. Buchanan saw the Southern states’ intolerance with the North’s interference in slavery as a direct infringement of their state’s rights to make decisions. Because slavery was an integral part of Southern agriculture by 1860, the prohibition of the practice was an immediate threat to both economy and culture there. Buchanan agreed with the South and forewarned that trouble would ensue. “. . .the people of the North are not more responsible and have no more fight than with similar institutions in Russia or Brazil (Buchanan, 1860).” He continued at length, though, to dissuade secession, both by individual Southern states and by allowance of Congress. Enter Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln promised not to extend slavery, in accordance with the Missouri Compromise. Because the U.S. had added large amounts of territory (California and New Mexico) as a result of the Mexican War and the Oregon territory up to the 49th parallel after signing a treaty with Great Britain, only the existing Southern states were allowed to maintain the practice. The Republican Party’s position on slavery led to its 1860 victory – most party members were not for abolishing slavery nationwide. Lincoln was not anti-segregation, but only anti-slavery. He stated that he was against equal rights for voting and holding office and was for colonization of blacks outside the U.S. Lincoln also sided with his party in resenting the “South’s political clout. . .For the South, the question of whether slavery would actually go into a territory was of less moment than establishing the principle that slavery must have equal standing to free labor. Honor and security demanded that slavery be treated as no less sacrosanct than freedom (tulane.edu).” Lincoln won the election in the North, but did not win the entire nation’s popular vote. However, Lincoln was a tactful man and expert on interpreting and managing public opinion. He was naturally intelligent, and considered wise as he matured in political office. He tempered his political manipulation with humor turned on himself, with an always anti-dogmatic position, and with a talent for storytelling. He didn’t make his political views into personal vendettas, saying to one politician, “A man has no time to spend half his life in quarrels (The Lincoln Institute, 2011).” He believed that government was, indeed, based on public opinion and this cartoon furthered his intent. So Lincoln depicted as by far the tallest figure in this political image is fitting. The Southern states are depicted as boys – unruly, but perhaps being persuaded by Lincoln to get out of the water of the Secession Pool, to stop embarrassing themselves and get dressed, to become acceptable members of society. The implication by this Northern cartoon artist is that the Southern states were immature, perhaps an attitude publicly held by at this time. Behind Lincoln are the other non-threatening Southern states, dressed and looking happy and well-behaved. Lincoln, dressed like Uncle Sam, admonishes the naked boys, “Come, Boys! they are all waiting for you----You have staid THERE long enough! I will forgive you this time if you will try to do better in the future. Only think what a bad example you show the other boys!” He has an unruly girl by the arm who exclaims, “You let me alone! I will play in the mud if I like!” She seems to have dropped a toy gun, cap, and palmetto flag (South Carolina’s state symbol). As South Carolina, the first state to secede, climbs out of the pool, it cries, “You let me alone! I will play in the mud if I like.” Three other states chime in, “Well, we’ve been playing hooky enough; I guess I’ll go back!”; “Boys, he is after us! I’ll reconsider!”; and “If that’s UNCLE ‘Abe’, I’ll put my trowsers right straight on again (indiana.edu, 2011).” This cartoon was produced by the T.W. Strong company and probably drawn by the artist John Goater. He conveyed Lincoln as the disciplinarian, both by his drawing and the title affixed to it. Lincoln has a girl by the arm, and is coaxing the boys back to their peers, much as a schoolmaster might do to his students. Lincoln’s tactfulness and own sense of humor show, while his firmness on this issue prevails. The cartoon was deposited for copyright just eight days after Lincoln’s inauguration. Its purpose, besides depicting Lincoln as a firm persuader, was to show how silly the Southern states were for even thinking about seceding, when the majority of their region was content, or so it seemed at that moment. Perhaps part of the artist’s message was to indicate how ridiculous an idea secession was, especially when only such a minority seemed ready to take action. He did not foresee the future. The device of interpellation, or subjugation is used in the cartoon to assign relative ranks to the North (represented by the taller and more authoritarian figure of Lincoln) and to the “naughty” South (some of which is behaving in the background, while others play in the pool). This type of representation served the North’s purpose in 1861, when unifying its people against the South was important. Secession was being discussed in government – was it constitutional or not – but in this cartoon it is shown, quite simply, as acting badly, as diminutive, as dirty little boys. Interpellation is a means used often in political cartoons, even in recent times. The piece below was reportedly used by the U.S. military to interpellate or show how silly Saddam Hussein was. The text was airdropped for the purpose of persuading Iraqis to change their allegiance, if they had it, to put the thought into their heads that their leader may be driving himself and them toward disaster. Certainly a leader who would run around naked, then cut off his own head isn’t strong enough to create and maintain a prosperous, respectable, and safe life for his citizens. Airdropped image of Saddam Hussein (mrdonn.org, 2011) The meaning of the word propaganda is “any technique that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor (mrdonn.org, 2011).” Of course political cartoons are used as propaganda, this one depicting Hussein and the earlier Civil War examples. Opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of Iraqis may have been changed somehow (not necessarily in the way the users of the piece intended) by looking at this visual text. Citizens in the Northern states prior to the Civil War may have changed or reinforced their opinions and attitudes toward the South by the texts they were given. Their behavior may have been changed as well; they may have even enlisted when the war came to fruition. The invention of lithography made the “Schoolmaster” and many other political cartoons of the time much less expensive to produce and reproduce, so that they could reach wide audiences and have a definite effect on public opinion. The texts allowed for the marriage of words with visuals to create a timely message which was direct, delivered with humor and easy for the public to understand, a primitive precursor to the web, brand, and signage images we see today. The Schoolmaster visual text was a product of its times, culture, and intended audience’s values and beliefs(author, date – Picturing Texts – you’ll have to supply). Works Cited 1. The Lincoln Institute. Abraham Lincoln and Public Opinion. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Library/newsletter.asp?ID=124&CRLI=172 2. America in Carcicature 1765-1865, Cartoons of the Civil War. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/cartoon/schoolmaster.html 3. What is Propaganda and Why Do We Care? Web. 6 Nov. 2011. http://propaganda.mrdonn.org/techniques.html#INTRO 4. Author, Picturing Texts, etc. p. 17. 5. El Refaie, Elizabeth. Multiliteracies: how readers interpret political cartoons. May 2009. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. http://vcj.sagepub.com/content/8/2/181.short 6. Buchanan, James. 1860 State of the Union Address. 3 Dec. 1860. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=946 Read More
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