Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Historical Images at a Glance: North Korea in American Editorial Cartoons. (Research in Brief)

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Historical Images at a Glance: North Korea in American Editorial Cartoons. (Research in Brief)

Article excerpt

Although editorial cartoons are among the most preferred parts of the newspaper (1), they have seldom been the topic of research, especially war cartoons. As a "communication of the quick," the editorial cartoon offers clarity and amusement as well as a speedy message, Harrison argues, despite possible distortion from such simplification or exaggeration. (2) He and others point out how editorial cartoons have long fascinated newspaper readers with a combination of realism, satirical drawings and caricatures often filled with parody, graphic outrage and even overt bias. (3) In general, cartoon opinions represent political attitudes through visual satire as noted by Nir. (4) With graphic political interpretations, many of which recall stereotypes, this study examines how editorial cartoons swiftly communicate particular political messages with historical references.

Certainly, there is scant or no research on cartoons' images types and symbols. In particular, there is little scholarly work done on how the editorial cartoons use historical references, those easily recognize images and symbols of the past or within the readers' memories. For example, historical references might be analogies, similarities to a then present. Neustadt and May argue that historical analogies can be one technique used to analyze the past. (5) For cartoons, past images and symbols would still be relevant and bare some insight into a current circumstance. The presumptions made in the cartoon would not only define the situation but also would help establish the concerns and aims of the day because of a recent past. Such uses would identify the problem and perhaps shed some light on options.

Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine how American editorial cartoons used historical references in their visual presentations during three wars or conflicts. Those confrontations occurred with North Korea during the Cold War. With no official, internal U.S. information agencies to push propaganda images, such as the World War II Office of War Information or the World War I Committee on Public Information, the American editorial cartoonist creativity initiated an American adversary, in this case, North Korea. For this study, we examined three major events for historical references from three decades concerning the Korean peninsula. They were the Korean War, June 25, 1950-July 27, 1953; the capture of the Pueblo gun boat, January 23-December 23, 1968; the killing of U.S. officers along the border of the South Korea and North Korea demilitarized zone, August 18, 1976, referred to as the DMZ.


The methods used here are twofold. The first is historical, using the editorial cartoon. Through a content analysis, we determined whether historical symbols and figures were used. An analogy would be the symbols or figures from an historical event or stereotypes of events, such as Nazi symbols or Hitler for World War II.

One broad research question was asked: How did editorial cartoonists use historical referents in editorial cartoons?

We examined 79 editorial cartoons for all three time periods from The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlanta Constitution, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Des Moines Register and the Dallas Morning News. In particular, we looked for symbols and easily recalled referents that could be important for a "communication of the quick."


Among the editorial cartoons for all three time-periods, only 7.6 percent of the cartoons used the history-related graphics. Of those, the greater percentage, 32.9 percent, used symbols, such as Uncle Sam and the "Stars and Stripes" to describe the United States and the "Kremlin" and the "Hammer and Sickle" to depict the Soviet Union. No such symbols depict North Korea.

All historical symbols related to the conflict between communism and democracy. …

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