Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lincoln Image

The following post attempts to address Werner's 7 ways of reading an image. This is the image:

1.Instrumental This image depicts some pairings as a result of the Dred Scott decision on slavery in the South. Many of the candidates were interested in minority issues. In the upper left hand corner of the image is Brekinridge with Buckanan. Upper right is Lincoln with a black woman, a slur against his alliance with the abolitionists. Below Lincoln (lower right) is John Bell with a Native American brave. The lower left image is Douglas with an Irishman, associating him with the Imigrants and the Catholic church.
2.Narrative The image seems to be playing with the idea that the Dred Scott decision had a large impact on the election and how each of the candidates was able to run their campaign. Each of the candidates is depicted as being able to utilize the Dred Scott decision in their favor, hence the dancing. Brekinridge is happy, because it seems that the decision favors him on the surface – it's a win for slavery! Lincoln is depicted as happy because he can solidify his standing with the abolitionists by standing against the Dred Scott decision. Bell and Douglas seem to be happy because they can ride the wave of anti-slavery feelings.
3.Iconic The image includes icons of dancing and music playing. Dred Scott is sitting in the middle while everyone else is dancing. Dancing is often a sign of merriment, or disregard for more serious issues.
4.Editorial Taking the image holistically, something funny is happening. Dance is not something that people in protest do, nor is dancing something someone does to demonstrate a serious ideal. The artist is obviously trying to indicate that these politicians are dancing around the real issues of race and slavery. The politicians are not addressing the true issue in a meaningful way. The politicians should adjust their thinking and begin addressing the real issues of the election.
5.Indicative Each candidate in this cartoon is listed in a somewhat detrimental manner. The artist seems to be indicating that all of these candidates are putting their best foot forward, and carrying some skeletons in the closet. None of the candidates, in this artist portrayal, are pure and right for the candidacy. There are no icons of righteousness, nor icons of positive meaning in the actions of the characters.
6.Oppositional The ideas presented in the image are generally offensive to all parties involved. For the minorities because they are being regarded as associated with a political cause, and for the politicians because they appear to be playing politics, as we would say in modern parlance. The image is somewhat unfair to the Dred Scott case, as it had been an issue some 2-3 years past. (The Dred Scott decision came in 1857, and this picture is from the 1960 election.) If all fairness were given to the candidates, both positive and negative aspects of their ideals could be depicted, instead of having their ideals depicted purely in a negative light. I also wonder why the author depicted the Irish immigrant in such poor clothing. It would seem the slave girl should be in much worse clothing than an freeman.
7.Reflexive This cartoon tells us of the very complex nature of the political system and prejudices in the 1860's. Prejudice is not a simply matter of liking a majority group, but also of liking certain minorities less than others.


Reflection on this process.

I feel that I should reflect on this process because it was amazingly difficult. I felt like I had to make some very uncomfortable assumptions based on my knowledge in order to create this reading. I don't know if I was uncomfortable with the assumptions because of a lack of comprehending the picture, or perhaps I felt I was not getting the facts correct.

There were some areas of this image that were easier to address. There were, for example, few icons in the image, so the iconic reading was simple. The editorial and indicative readings were difficult because they seemed to be similar. Finally, I ended up making an assumption that a political campaign is a serious thing, and these candidates are being portrayed dancing, which is frivolous. I took this to be a negative view of the candidates and read it as such.

Over all, I think that my reading is uncomfortable because of inexperience in this area of reading an image.


  1. Interesting cartoon, I like the playful nature of the drawings. As you note in your indicative reading, however, the artist is not in a playful mood. He does not seem to favor any of the characters depicted. I think that your iconic reading is right on. It does seem like the author is outraged that these people are not serious and thoughtful about the issues at hand. Good work!

  2. Jonathan- I agree with your frustration. I found the experience to be difficult yet rewarding. I am very unfamiliar with the history of the time period and had a hard time doing my reading because of this. I think you are right that the indicative and the editorial readings are the hardest. I think that your commentary on the dress of the characters represented may be part of the indicative reading. You mention this in the oppositional section, yet I think you have made an indicative observation regarding the dress of the Irishman. This imagery plays on the contemporary perception of the Irish which speaks to the social and cultural milieu of the author.