It's No Laughing Matter
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Cartoon Analysis Guide
Use this guide to identify the persuasive techniques used in political cartoons.
Print guide (PDF, 10 KB)
Cartoonists use simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas.
After you identify the symbols in a cartoon, think about what the cartoonist intends each symbol to stand for.
Sometimes cartoonists overdo, or exaggerate, the physical characteristics of people or things in order to make a point.
When you study a cartoon, look for any characteristics that seem overdone or overblown. (Facial characteristics and clothing are some of the most commonly exaggerated characteristics.) Then, try to decide what point the cartoonist was trying to make through exaggeration.
Cartoonists often label objects or people to make it clear exactly what they stand for.
Watch out for the different labels that appear in a cartoon, and ask yourself why the cartoonist chose to label that particular person or object. Does the label make the meaning of the object more clear?
An analogy is a comparison between two unlike things that share some characteristics. By comparing a complex issue or situation with a more familiar one, cartoonists can help their readers see it in a different light.
After you’ve studied a cartoon for a while, try to decide what the cartoon’s main analogy is. What two situations does the cartoon compare? Once you understand the main analogy, decide if this comparison makes the cartoonist’s point more clear to you.
Irony is the difference between the ways things are and the way things should be, or the way things are expected to be. Cartoonists often use irony to express their opinion on an issue.
When you look at a cartoon, see if you can find any irony in the situation the cartoon depicts. If you can, think about what point the irony might be intended to emphasize. Does the irony help the cartoonist express his or her opinion more effectively?
Once you’ve identified the persuasive techniques that the cartoonist used, ask yourself:
- What issue is this political cartoon about?
- What is the cartoonist’s opinion on this issue?
- What other opinion can you imagine another person having on this issue?
- Did you find this cartoon persuasive? Why or why not?
- What other techniques could the cartoonist have used to make this cartoon more persuasive?
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Visual Analysis Of Political Satire/Cartoon
The image I am analyzing is rather stark and begs the question, which is the more valuable commodity, brains or brawn? The image is clearly a commentary on the state of the American economy and, peripherally, the government. It has long been said of war that it is good for the economy, thereby implying with the statement, “I figure it’s easier to find a war than a job these days”, that the nation has adopted a somewhat cavalier attitude towards the act of war.
The cartoon succeeds as political and social satire because the image is based on simplicity of design, a complex statements presented through the visual elements and the manner in which the drawing conveys an immediate reality faced by those graduating from college or even high school. Because there is no background art whatever in this cartoon, the viewer is not distracted by background “noise” so the image itself is considerably more impactful, allowing the statement to take full effect.
It is this simplicity that engages and holds the viewer. The contents of the image are only the soldier/graduate and the academic/graduate. The image is balanced in symmetry, created a solid and central focal point for the viewer. The similarity in appearance between the two figures lends the impression that either of the figures could literally be any graduate, any person, anyone’s son or daughter, facing these kinds of challenges. The caption lends to the balance of the image. The only visual element that delineates a difference between the two figures is costume; one is a soldier, the other an academic.
A closer examination of the few visual elements of the cartoon carries more significant impact. The two figures are gripping their diplomas with their right hands, thus suggesting that these two place significant value on those diplomas. I do feel that the image minimizes the impact on the lives of enlisted persons in that going to war is a viable and simple option, even a better option. In the last several decades, war has been a prevalent option for many young people whether they hold a diploma of any kind or not.
The final element of the cartoon where visual impact is created is the sense of immediacy. Graduates – either high school or college – need to secure employment quickly and this image clearly conveys this. What is important here is that the image completely reflects the reality of the military having become a viable and reliable employer. The drawing itself expresses this quite well, in my opinion, because it is, in fact, a modern reality that young people can so causally discuss any scenario which could include death without an overwhelming sense of risk.
It is imperative that the elements of this cartoon be presented exactly as they are. The absolute simplicity of the image engages both the eye and the mind. So impactful is the images on its own, that it doesn’t even really need the statement included. The statement does lend a final bit of anchoring to the cartoon, but is not contingent in lending it final meaning.
The multiple messages regarding the economy, education, available employment and the government would be arrived at by any rational, logical thinking person.
Ultimately, this cartoon works quite well as social satire as the image leans heavily on the simplicity of the design while carrying a significant and impactful commentary.