Cartoons have been around since the 1700s and started as caricatures, which were drawings that were made to present subjects in a comical way.
Before I became interested the American political system I did not always understand political cartoons. This is how I knew there was something more to them than entertainment, because if that was the case then I wasn’t amused. I was confused. When I tuned out of the Cartoon Network and into reality in the mid 90’s I also entered into adulthood. With this came the responsibility to speak for myself intelligently, to react according to others’ actions and to comprehend the world around me.
The cartoon below created by Nick Sullivan in 2007 not only depicts an American Dream gone wrong for a family, but it also seems to be telling me what the American Dream is – a house, a car, consumer credit and other stuff that I had in my house, transported there with a car, bought with credit cards.
There is nothing particularly funny about this, but it is satirizing the American Dream by categorizing it as something involving money. “Political cartoons can be very funny, especially if you understand the issue that they’re commenting on. Their main purpose, though, is not to amuse you but to persuade you,” from a Library of Congress resource for teachers. That is a key difference between comedy and satire – criticism, persuasion and reflection.
Another cartoon by Steve Greenberg in 2001 has American Dream failure made clear, and also implies what the dream consists of, below. This one gently informs us that our dreams require capital. Is this a criticism of the political and social systems that made it so or the dreamers who have haphazardly accepted this as their own, as if programmed?
The reason I chose to include a cartoon in my American Dream Anthology was because in not doing so, I would be ignoring a rather large market of great material that cannot be communicated as effectively or efficiently in other forms.
Still today there are numerous cartoons that I do not immediately comprehend. That might be an unintended benefit to viewing them, not of course the disappointment I have in myself for not understanding right away, but the fact that I can later find out what is being criticized and from what angle. After I know what is going on, I can decide whether or not to be offended or to take something away from it.