Just a Touch of Evil

Posted by on May 7th, 2010 at 1:22 PM

You might think editoonist Jimmy Margulies went a little too far in his deployment of symbolic imagery in the cartoon below, but even if you agree with the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman that the cartoon trivializes the Holocaust, I think you must admit that giving Adolph Hitler’s famous moustache the shape of the state of Arizona makes a powerful statement about the potentially fascist effect of the state’s new immigration law.

With that law, as Michael Cavna observed at his Comic Riffs blog, “Arizona puts the AZ in nAZi.” That’s a pretty symbolic typographical maneuver itself.

What Margulies did in his cartoon makes telling use of the medium’s capacity for conveying a message succinctly, and therefore dramatically with impact, by means of a visual metaphor. Nicely done.

Foxman has another point of view, expressed in a press release from ADL: “We are seeing these offensive and inappropriate Nazi and Holocaust comparisons come to the fore in the public debate once again. We saw it in the health care debate, and now we are seeing it with Arizona. It is disturbing that in speaking out against the bill a number of individuals have taken to using Nazi comparisons, in describing the legislation as being reminiscent of Nazi policies that required Jews and others to carry identity cards, or in comparing the governor and other Arizona officials as being like Hitler.”

Foxman said it might be “politically expedient” to invoke such symbols, but “no matter how odious, bigoted, biased and unconstitutional Arizona’s new law may be, let’s be clear that there is no comparison between the situation facing immigrants, legal or illegal, in Arizona and what happened in the Holocaust.” Then he referred specifically to Margulies’ cartoon.

It’s Foxman’s job as director of the ADL to keep our feet to the fire on matters that pertain to irrational discrimination and groundless stereotyping and mindless racism, but I doubt the Holocaust can be trivialized, as he seems to fear. It can be denied by fabulists and other specialists in alternative realities, but it cannot be trivialized.

Cavna interviewed Margulies on April 29, and Margulies explained—”and reinforced”—the Nazi analogy, “stating that it was appropriate to tap not only its potency, but also its literal memory”:

“As a Jew of Eastern European descent,” Margulies said, ” I am well aware of the unique horror of the Nazi era. It is all the more important that I, and others of good conscience who are able to reach an audience, do so in the face of abhorrent laws such as Arizona’s. I do not think it diminishes the memory of the Holocaust to point out that the law in Arizona is uncomfortably reminiscent of Germany’s in targeting one or more minorities. Before the concentration camps, there were smaller measures enacted which set the stage for greater acts. The Arizona law gives police too much power by casting as suspects anyone who looks to be Latino or foreign-born.”

Exactly.

One thing leads to another.

Some objectors to the Arizona law see it as specifically empowering police to ask for citizenship papers from anyone they think looks suspicious. While the law doesn’t do that (cops can ask for papers only of those who seem to have committed some infraction of a law), it opens the door to such practices: it seems the thin edge of a wedge that could conceivably lead to practices much more invasive—much more fascistic. One thing leads to another.

Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, and he moved at once to begin consolidating his power. The concentration camp at Dachau opened on March 20, and by the end of the year, 49 other such camps were operating throughout German. Communists and Socialists, those in the political parties opposed to Hitler’s National Socialists (Nazis), were among the first occupants of these camps. Jews, gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other political and religious dissidents soon joined the Communists and Socialists. By July all political parties other than Hitler’s were outlawed.

On May 10—just 100 days after Hitler assumed power—hundreds of thousands of books were burned all over Germany as libraries and bookstores were “purged” of “un-German” writings. The bonfires were accompanied by torchlight parades and speeches that proclaimed the death of “Jewish intellectualism” and the consequent “purification” of German culture. The works of such Jewish intellectuals as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud fueled the fires, as did the books of Heinrich Heine, a German poet of Jewish origin. A century earlier, Heine had written: “Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned.”

One thing leads to another.

And one of the beginnings was the appointment of Hitler as chancellor by the aged President Paul von Hindeburg, who thought Hitler, as the leader of Germany’s largest political party, could restore order in the country ridden by social unrest, economic dislocation, and bitter resentment over the terms of Germany’s surrender in World War I. Hitler did restore order—the order of dictatorship, absolute and unyielding.

“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane has also compared Arizona’s actions to Hitler’s Germany, according to Reuters, cited by Cavna a couple days ago. During a Reuters tv interview, MacFarlane said the Arizona law was more shocking than his own irreverent, hot-button tv shows, “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show”(not to overlook the equally outrageous “Family Guy”).

“It’s too much,” MacFarlane said. “It’s kind of a slap in the face; it’s not the way to handle it [i.e., illegal immigration]. Nobody but the Nazis ever asked anybody for their papers.”

MacFarlane then perpetuated the erroneous interpretation of the law: “Walking down the street, a cop can come up to you and say, ‘May I see your papers?'”

But MacFarlane gave it a twist that gave his misconception a satiric bite: “I think they should be required to ask that question in German if the law sticks around.”

Name calling, however apt, and symbol mongering, however imaginative, are scarcely useful substitutes for rational political discourse and reasoned debate. But Margulies’ cartoon is nonetheless a model of its medium, a remarkably effective example of the best uses of the resources of the cartoonist’s art.

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11 Responses to “Just a Touch of Evil”

  1. Dirk Deppey says:

    Screw you, Godwin’s Law!

  2. Jared Gardner says:

    Amen, Dirk. It only proves that sometimes the comparisons to Nazis comes naturally with the territory. As someone whose family proudly honors Jewish and Latino forebears, I appreciate both Margulies’ cartoon and Bob’s analysis. To those (Jewish, Latino, or otherwise) who say this “trivializes the Holocaust” or anachronizes (neologism/unword alert) the experience of our millions of unofficial citizens.. well, if the comments box (and my own talents) allowed me to convey the connections even half as neatly as Margulies did, trust me, you would be howling with laught (or outrage) now.

  3. Jared Gardner says:

    by which of course I meant “laughter”. Ha?

  4. patford says:

    It’s Foxman who doesn’t seem to understand The Holocaust.
    The cartoon is dead on, why bother with appeasement when evil is staring you in the face.

  5. Mike Hunter says:

    ————————–
    R.C. Harvey:
    What Margulies did in his cartoon makes telling use of the medium’s capacity for conveying a message succinctly, and therefore dramatically with impact, by means of a visual metaphor. Nicely done.

    …Margulies’ cartoon is nonetheless a model of its medium, a remarkably effective example of the best uses of the resources of the cartoonist’s art.
    —————————

    Succinct and striking it may be; but also ludicrously simplistic, outrageously distorted. What it unintentionally points out is how painfully limited is the scope of complexity that single-panel political cartoons can express.

    Indeed, such simplistic attacks can serve as examples of how far we’ve fallen from, as you wrote, “rational political discourse and reasoned debate.”

    In contrast, comic-strip style political cartoons such as Tom Tomorrow’s can tell a story, show a train of thought, set of consequences, how a gross distortion grows accepted as The Way Things Are…

    —————————–
    R.C. Harvey:
    I doubt the Holocaust can be trivialized, as [the ADL] seems to fear. It can be denied by fabulists and other specialists in alternative realities, but it cannot be trivialized…
    ——————————

    http://rexcurry.net/barack-obama-adolf-hitler.bmp

    http://enduringamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/obama-as-hitler1.gif

    http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451b71f69e20120a52fdcbe970c-250wi

    ——————————
    Obama has imposed national socialism everywhere…Instead, he touted national socialism..It is the same dogma that was behind the worst murderers of all time: Josef Stalin, Mao Zadong, and Adolf Hitler…

    At one rally the caption “National Socialist Health Care, Dachau, Germany – 1945” was written over the piled corpses of Holocaust victims.
    ——————————-
    http://rexcurry.net/doctor2.html

    —————————–
    R.C. Harvey:
    …Margulies explained—”and reinforced”—the Nazi analogy, “stating that it was appropriate to tap not only its potency, but also its literal memory”:

    “As a Jew of Eastern European descent,” Margulies said, ” I am well aware of the unique horror of the Nazi era. It is all the more important that I, and others of good conscience who are able to reach an audience, do so in the face of abhorrent laws such as Arizona’s. I do not think it diminishes the memory of the Holocaust to point out that the law in Arizona is uncomfortably reminiscent of Germany’s in targeting one or more minorities. Before the concentration camps, there were smaller measures enacted which set the stage for greater acts. The Arizona law gives police too much power by casting as suspects anyone who looks to be Latino or foreign-born.”

    Exactly.

    One thing leads to another.

    Some objectors to the Arizona law see it as specifically empowering police to ask for citizenship papers from anyone they think looks suspicious. While the law doesn’t do that (cops can ask for papers only of those who seem to have committed some infraction of a law), it opens the door to such practices: it seems the thin edge of a wedge that could conceivably lead to practices much more invasive—much more fascistic. One thing leads to another.
    ——————————

    But, one thing does not necessarily lead to another.

    Lincoln closed down newspapers attacking his policies, just like the Nazis did. Did that lead to mass extermination of Southern sympathizers?

    That “Obama = Hitler” website above followed a similarly nonsensical sequence from the right-wing point of view:

    ——————————-
    Rush Limbaugh said: the Nazis were against big business — they hated big business. And of course we all know that they were opposed to Jewish capitalism. They were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working, one of which was the Autobahn. They were against cruelty and vivisection of animals, but in the radical sense of devaluing human life, they banned smoking. They were totally against that. They were for abortion and euthanasia of the undesirables, as we all know, and they were for cradle-to-grave nationalized healthcare.
    ———————————

    So, if a government is against Big Business and smoking; “insanely, irrationally against pollution”; for make-work projects like FDR’s WPA; for “cradle-to-grave nationalized healthcare”; then the concentration camps are a-coming!

    Likewise, there is the “Obama Socialized Medicine is legalized euthanasia” chain of non-thinking, where free health care (like the Nazis provided; the horror!) thus unavoidably leads to gassing “undesirables.”

  6. I guess one man’s concise symbolic image is another’s lame, predictable drawing. Editorial cartoons tend to be pretty lame, and here we have a perfect example. Never trusting the symbols, or their audience in reading them, labels are provided. How about the Arizona flag with the star replaced by a swastika? Wouldn’t even need words.

  7. R.C. Harvey says:

    If editorial cartoons are lame because they provide labels for people to properly understand them, it may be that the readers are the ones limping. Most editorial cartoonists have given up using any references to, say, the Bible because the average reader won’t get the allusion. Ditto literature generally. When’s the last time you saw a reference to Shakespeare in an editorial cartoon? The late Draper Hill at the Detroit News may have been the last editorial cartoonist to deploy references to art and literature; he was often regarded as “vague” in making the points he was trying for. Draper, however, consistently made his allusive cartoons readable at two levels—one, sort of general; the other, with the added spice of a literary or art history allusion. In devising the latter, he said, he was giving his readers that “little extra” for those who recognized the allusion. But Draper, alas, was the last of the breed.

  8. Mike Hunter says:

    Not that anybody’s likely to notice this, with the “out of sight, out of mind” way in which old threads get hidden at TCJ.com after their brief spell in the spotlight, unlike the old message board, but…

    Aside from anything “extra” like artistic/literary allusions, as a commercial artist, whose work must be functional rather than simply expressive, I sympathize with the burden one-panel editorial cartoonists labor under, when they depict persons – or states – who/which are rather nondescript. (Aside from Arizonians, who else would recognize that shape?)

    If editorial cartoonists wish for most readers to “get” their work they must label them; and then get razzed for creating “those bad editorial cartoons with labels all over them.”

    (Note that I didn’t gripe about Margulies dong this, but for his absurdly simplistic argument.)

    Here’s Tom Tomorrow’s “take” on this same issue; he gets to spin forth satiric variations, related issues and consequences:

    http://www.salon.com/entertainment/comics/this_modern_world/2010/05/11/this_modern_world

    But, gee; just because the illegal immigrants flooding into an area overwhelmingly happen to be of another race, does that mean that legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration is, therefore, racist?

    I guess those illegal immigrants would have to encompass many races; not to mention a wide array of religions (you could as easily call SB-1070 anti-Catholic), and a portion of Gay/Lesbian/Transgendered/Bisexual/Non-sexual folks (to avoid charges of prejudice against heteros) in order to escape its primary motivation being said to be for persecuting a group just for being who they are…

    …instead of for their breaking the law.

    (An article about the issue: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html )

  9. R.C. Harvey says:

    Tom Tomorrow’s comic strip is, of course, a completely different breed of catastrophe. A single panel cartoon is necessarily much less subtle; it cannot say, “On the other hand,” as Doug Marlette once famously said. A single panel cartoon presents a single idea–in this case, the idea that a “show me your papers” law is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s when the culture was getting ready to persecute Jews, a law that gives police much too much power, which, in turn, can be turned against us all. I admire Tom Tomorrow’s essential metaphor—blending the horrors of a colossal oil spill with the fear that the Arizona law could, like the oil, spread and contaminate our way of life. TT gets a good deal of mileage out of the conceit. But his message accummulates and, thereby, insinuates. Good stuff, but scarcely a slap in the face like Margulies cartoon.
    The whole immigration issue in Arizona,like most political news, is a monstrous distraction, designed to keep us from seeing some other, probably more significant, fact of life transpiring in another, unobserved cranny. Fact is, the law will soon be thrown out as unconstitutional: first, because the Supreme Court has on repeated occasions ruled that immigration is a federal matter, not a state’s right; second, because the Arizona law violates the 14th Amendment: “Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or proptery without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Singling out persons “suspected” of being illegal aliens deprives them of equal protection. Note the 14th Amendment is not exclusive to American citizens: “any person” is the language.

  10. Mike Hunter says:

    Certainly agree that the immigration issue is a distraction, in the sense that it’s a minor problem compared to the far greater ones out there.

    Police routinely stop people they consider suspicious (for assorted reasons: hanging about an area where drug transactions or soliciting for prostitution take place; fitting profiles of drug smugglers [which in some situations is not so much an ethnic as a youth or style thing], acting in a suspicious manner). Whereupon the first thing they do is ask for an I.D.

    It’d take a lawyer to speak authoritatively on this (of course, each side will surely have lawyers arguing utterly opposite interpretations), but in what way would police singling out persons suspected of breaking the law to merely ask to see some identification be to “deprive [them] of life, liberty or property without due process of law; [or] deny to [them]…the equal protection of the laws”?

    Never mind starting a chain of persecution with extermination camps at the end…

    Re political cartoons, in this era where “a slap in the face” is about as complicated as most communication about political issues get; where we are constantly offered false either/or dichotomies, I find myself much more appreciative of the more comprehensive approach a comic-strip political cartoon such as Tomorrow’s can take; the thoroughness with which a nonsensical attitude can be dismantled. Even if it necessarily lacks the concentrated power of a single image.

    Um, if it’s a political comic strip, can it be a political “cartoon” too? And are they still calling them “editorial cartoons,” when now – instead of reflecting a newspaper’s editorial stance – those publications routinely take possible heat off themselves by labeling them as “So and So’s Opinion”?

  11. R.C. Harvey says:

    The question of how to interpret the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment has been, in effect, the history of that amendment, according to Wikipedia, which presents what seems to be the whole of that history. The short of it, though, as it applies to today, seems to begin with John Marshall Harlan who dissented in the infamous Plessey case (1896) that segregated buses and passenger trains (among other things) based upon race, saying: “[I]n view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Such “arbitrary separation” by race, Harlan concluded, was “a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution.”
    Since Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Justice Harlan’s dissent in Plessy has been vindicated as a matter of legal doctrine, and the clause has been interpreted as imposing a general restraint on the government’s power to discriminate against people based on their membership in certain classes, including those based on race and sex.
    The doctrine, in effect, contends that (if the law categorizes on the basis of race or national origin or infringes a fundamental right) the law is unconstitutional unless it is “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling” government interest. In Arizona, they’ve taken particular pains to “narrowly tailor” the law to serve a “compelling” interest. But that will give lawyers something to argue over.
    As for editorial/political “cartoons” (meaning “single panel cartoons”), even those who practice the traditional form occasional use strips of panels, like a comic strip. And then the Pulitzers gave prizes to both Trudeau and Breathed for comic strips with political messages. Where does that leave us? I guess you ask the cartoonist what he thinks he’s doing……