Popular Political Signs: Jesse Jackson\'s Presidential Candidacy as Depicted in Editorial Cartoons (1989)

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"Popular Political Signs: ]esse]ackson's Presidential Candidacy as Depicted in Editorial Cartoons" in Semiotics 7988,ed. Terry Prewitt (Washington,D.C.: SemioticSocietyof America; University Pressof America, L989),pp. 50L-506. ISBI\T0819174785 Historical Note: Lynda Lee Kaid, JacquesGerstl6, and Keith r. Sanders (eds.)' Meiliated, Politics in Two Cultures: Presiilmtial Campaigning in the United States and Etance 119881(New York, NY Praeger Publishers' 1991); rsBN 0-275-93595-7 The papers published tn MediatedPolitics in Two Cultures are the result of a Franco-American project initiated at a coordituting conference in the Fall of 1987 at the Universit6 de Paris I (Sorbonne). I was the only American there who spoke French and I led the American participation (a professional translator was hired for the other Americans). My paper was on "Populnr Political Signs", an analysis of visual semiotics friend and col(which was paired in the project with the paper by Greimas Group in league Henri Qu6r6, an original member of the A. J.-y Paris). My paper was rejected by the project editors becausethe white versus black racism I demonstrated in a semiotic analysis of the Cartoons was felt to be too controversial at the time (politically incorrect). The cartoons were used as examples of overt racism compared to the covert racism apparent in, e.g., the cover images and text in Time arrd Newsweekmagazines at the time. In resPonse to this overt censorship, my paper was immediately published by the Semiotic Society of America in 1988 because of its timely in situ analysis. Unfortunately at that time, there was no possibility of printing the all the images referred to in the analysis (they are included in the PDF versionof. "PopularPolitical Signs" online at Academic.edu/Lanigan). Ironically, no publisher could be found initially for MedintedPolitics in Two Cultures. Eventually, Praeger Publishers agteed to print itir.199'J., some four years after the project started. My analysis was later confirmed by Susan J. Dougles, "Time does Jacksonin with subliminal message",ln TheseTimes [newspaper], April 20- 26, 1988,page1.6.

$Mr0rrc$ 1988 Editedby

Terry Prewitt Universitvof WestFlorida

JohnDeely Loras College UniversidadeFederalde Minas Gerais,Brasil

Karen Haworth Universitvof WestFlorida


Lanharn o New York . London



RichardL. Lanigan SouthernI I I i nois Uni ver sitY

Editorial cartoonsin major newspapersserve a full range of axiological pu.porur--potiti"ai iifti"at, and iestheticj-ai a popular form of communication.In iaci itte editorial'page cartoon functions as-both a rhetorical and ideological .ppi..tur ia f" noi"tiif Sarthes) to blend levels of popular mqmory (aesthetic .bnOition)into argumentsfor or-againstthe decision(ethicalcondition)to support ;;ting io; (politidl condition)a palticular candidate.A numberof typical cartoons t""iiiii"ili-rsrjacison's p.esiientialcampaignin the DemocraticPartyprimariesare using a phenorienologicalversion-1f.the standardHjelmsleviansemiotic "nuiyr.O" modll as inter-preiedprimarily by Barthes(Lanigan 1988:223)' wtretheiFrenchor German,makeuseof the Contemporaryptrenonien6logists, (l).th.e .!.riviumof. logic' rhetoric between historicllly relationshipthat de;eioped unJ p*ti",'and (2) the philosophicaldisciplin-eof axiology, la,Tely, G;;;-;;;i, i"ofitiJs,ethics,and aeitttetici.'The modern conjunction of thesetwo disciplinary iraditions is ejpecially apparentin editorial page_cartoonswhere newspapersare 1988presidentialelectionin the United States' itrr .6"tt 6f t'tti ;;;ili;; "ut."nt pairs (l) logic/politics, (2) rhetoric/ethics,and (3) This is io say, the analytic us'eflfln anatyzingthe connotation,denotation, poeiici/aesttreiics becomeespe'ciatty ."0-r.-dfityi"nets of meaningin a semioticsystemof discourse.In Barthes'termsthe Signiiiri 6.;nhetoric'systeir entailsthe togic-rhetoric-poeticcomponent,while the category. politics-ethics-aesthetics Siinified --irr.or,Ideology'iystementailsthe --'---of lesseJacksonwitirin the DemocraticPartyprimaryelectio-ns invokesand evo$: a popular ""naiO.ii situaiion for analysis.The candidacy_ offers a unique to voteitself.This memory right and the nonviolence, racism, rights, *;ilt oi ciuif is a cutiuralartifajt that embodiesa semioticsystemof valuesthat emergeempirically in the editorial cartoon. It is in the cartoo; that (lst) picture and (2nd) writing U."or.-. rfreioric'(in tire crder of experience,the cartoonis an oral representation Also as a reversibility,it is in the it is Fouclult;s-ruptureof d.iscourse). ;a;";.;; ."r[oon tit"i (ist) writini tZnOl picture becomean "ideologyu(in the order of "ni of desire;it is Foucault'sbirth of ai inscribed'tepresentation ;;;it;i,-1il ']"iilror.ir is the pofiiicaimemory is the popularand one of its monuments e-i;;;;"i.-i;if,o.t, editorialcartoon(Lanigan1984:3l-33). let me Beforeturning Io the actualanalysisof severalrepresentative_cartoons' bear on the they as methodology and tireory of say a word about thJconjunction 501

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Strugglingta HangOnrAgain

.. 502


analysisof politicalcartoons.As you may know from readingvolume69, numbersl/2 of Slmiotiia pubtishedthis year,Ray Morris ( 1988)wrote an excellentartigle-entitled "English-CanadianCartoonson Relationswith France,.1960-1979'.ln this essay' Moiris (1988:a) coversthe traditional theory of the political cartoon'He says' Cartoons generally appear on the editorial page, at the point of transitionbetweenthe front pages,which are mainly political news, and the latter sections,which are mainly publiciiy material. They offer a commentaryon the news, and'domesticate'[in Goffman's senseldistant personsand eventsby showingthem to be analogousto well-icnowncharacters,local scenes,and familiar stories. Here,cartoonsare popularmemory!Unfortunately,this type of theoreticalsummary facts' found on descriptionblindlyfollows the journalistic ideal modelof separatinS, the f.ont page,fr;m opinions,lound on the editorial page,and from fantasy,found in the advertisementPages. While Morris convenientlyignoresthe revolution in journalism wrought by the'new journalism'movementof the 1970sthat ruptured the fact/fantasydistinction, I do not. Not only doesjournalisticproseblend fact and opinion on all its pages' but, journalistic pagelayouts,graphics,and cartoonsare as opinionatedas they are faciuit (Lanigan l9S8: !'03).The visual coding of proseand picture is-not innocent, in point, we and it ii hardly meant to be objective.As a current exampleand.proo_f with a RepublicanParty editorial all chuckle at irustration of Americannewspapers view who are moving the Doonsburycartoonstrip of Gary Trudea.ufrom the cartoon page,with high visi6ility, over to the editorial pagewith.its smaller-puAlic. In the contextof-Hjelmslev'stheory, my point is simple.wh.ilethe journalist can make efforls at separaiingthe front pagefacts from the editorial pageopinion' and thereby adjust connotativemeaning, the same journalist,cannot control the denotations.ThCconnotativesignifier wilt alwaysremaina combinationof fact and opinion while the connotativeiignified will combine fact and fantasy.There is a cirtain journalistic advantagein this semioticcondition, sinceprose-must be usedto only through decodeind deconstructthebpinion or fantasy--for both are accessible that fopular fact, the stuffof proie! It is preciselyto this enticingtheoreticalcontext iutorrisfalls victim. He constructsan elaboratedigital logic modelbasedon informati;; theory and a modificationof Riffaterre's hypogramso that prosepossibilitycan always eiptain the cartoon he is analyzing. Pictures become sentencesand the is comPlete. hypostatization Against this prosemodel of cartoonreconstruction,I shall be describingthe Jacksonclrtoons as visual icons.We shall not be concernedto formulateexplanatory of the cartoons.Rather,we shallusethe words that redescribethe message sentences pttiarurin the cartoonsasvisual partsof the picture.Vords in cartoonsare visual "nA memories.Thesewords evokevisualsignifiersand then invoke the relatedsignifieds as valuesin thosememories.Wordsin cartoonsare, in Foucault'ssense,rupturesof an ongoingdiscoursewhich specify the socialdesire to judge o.thers'The graphic, pictorLl p-artof the cartoonsare likewise the birth of the social power to be the i.iion *io does the judging. In short, we are dealing with the transpositionof The best simple thesisfor this analysis itructures, with a semiotiJ phenomenology. A is that offered by Todorov (1970: 174\ in his provocalivebook The Fantastic: nwhatin StiucturatApproich to a Literary Genre.Hesaysof the fantasticmadefact, the first woild *,as an exceptionhere becomesthe rule". ln the journalistic context *J may teformulatethe theiis to read that 'what is a fantasticexceptionannounced one headlineor in a backpageadvertisementbecomesthe rule of the *itfr "'pug"


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editorial page".So, we come to the appropriateness of Barthes'model of semiotic analysisin which the'rhetoric'of the signifierplaneis combinedwith the'idoology' of the signified plane in one systemof signification.That is to say, we come to tho editorial page cartoon that blends the prose of fantasy in the headlineswith the picturesof fantasyin the advertisingsection. In terms of a concreteanalysis,I am going to discusstwo cartoonsthat illustrate the theoreticalthesis I am advancing.One cartoon is simply a picture without words. It invokesa discourseof meaningat variouslevelsof connotation, denotation,and reality signification dependingon the viewer'scultural archive of discursivereferents,i.e., thoseeverydaypracticesof visuatand verbal signification that can be called upon for phenomenologicalreduction and interpretation.The secondexamplecartoon is the reversesituation in which the complexpresentation of languagein the cartoonforms a universeof discourseby which to interpret the picture and, thereby,constitutea new descriptionof experience;and, its subsequent future possibilityfor reductionand interpretationin the phenomenological style of embodiedsignification(Lanigan 1988). The first cartoon with which I am concernedappearedin the Star-Tribune newspaperpublishedin Casper,Wyomingon its editorialpagefor July 24, 1988.This is a simplecartoonconsistingof a large imagemeasuringsevenby seveninchesand printed in black/white contrast.The imageis combinedfront face and profile of an animal head initially perceivedas two donkeyshead to head;one is black and the asa frontal view, the imageis that of a horsewhoseface other is white. Reconsidered is black on one side and white on tho other. This imagewould look like mere gray shadingwere it not for the imagereversibility where the neckse-f the two profiles remind us that the black,/whit€contrast is not for one "headnimage alone, This cartoon is an example of Barthes' nrhetoric' model of signification where the connotationand reality signifier is mediatedby a denotativesignifier,/signified(see the schemaof Figure | ). The donkey cartoon has a simple level of connotationin which the two profiles of a black donkey and a white donkey in face-to-facecontiguity represent the racial conflict of JesseJacksonas a black candidateand any of the competinS white candidates.At the denotationlevelof analysis,the signifier of the black/white profile donkeytakeson a new signified.For anyoneknowledgeable aboutthe western Unites States,the front face view of the cartoon representsa horse.The resulting reality level of signification as a signifier/signified on the expressiveplane of *rhetoric' is a jackass,i.e., quite literally a half-donkey (eitherhalf black or half white is the "racial' tension)and half-horse(bothhalf one political"animalnand half another).From the simple presentationof the image without verbal language,a discourseis invoked as a practiceof choiceand its meaningevokedas a contextof reality.JesseJacksonis the experientialsignificationof the jackass,a familiar animal specificallybred for strengthbut inadvertentlydenied a clear identity of attitude. Hence,the popularmemory knowledgeof the jackassas stubborn,as an unexpected form of uncontrollablestrength,asthe bestand the worstof two possibilities,asmore problemthan solution,and so on. The rhetoricalforce of the reality significationis quite cloar to the viewer. You are better off without the jackass,the combinationof uniquenessthat is unpredictable.You shouldretreatback to the donkey (allusionto smart,but weak white candidateslike \Yallace)or to the horse(allusionto dumb, but strongblack candidateslike Jackson). The secondcartoonwith which I havea concernillustratesthe Barthiannotion of ideology"or the placeof contentwhereperceptionforms an explicit discourseof valuejudgments.The cartoonby the editorial cartoonistMacNelly appearedin the ChicagoTribune and is printed in black/white and is approximately five incbes


SaneRed in the Rainhp.^r..



I deo l o g y


onnotalion - Sd

Connotation - ,Sr

"in 68" ["red"> redneck> no revolutionl

"Wallacen nredo> fieft side > revolutionl Denotation - ,Sr

Denotation - Sd

Denotation - Sr

[Candidate > truck-'in > down the road'!

[for President > "Some Red" > precedentl

Reagan [ c ent e r > m idd l e o f roadJ

["rainbow" > storm over > red-again > re*aga*nl

Reality - ,Sr

Reality - .Sd


' ' 88" ( n o " i n " ) [? red > black > revolution {on the left, the rear-view mirror has no facelJ

[rig ht > truck-i n' J

Figure l. "Some Red in the Rainbow" I

square.Let me describe it visually and then detail the verbal languagewhich it. contextualizes The imageconsistsof an old fashionpick-up truck with roundeddriver's cab and a traditionallong bed with exterior fenders.The truck showsage,but endurance and utility. Weseethe truck from the back as it headsdown a country.road with trees and shrubsframing the road.There is a singlemaledriver whoseplain white neck is visibleundera baseballhat and whoseheadis distinguishedby largeprotrudingwhite ears.In the cab window, we seea shotgunpointed from right to left (a dangerous practicethat signalsthis is no ordinary driver; the gun shouldpoint the other way, ieft to right). fhe truck has one mirror on the left side with an obviousreverseof visual field to show the right; there is no imagein the mirror. The languagein the picture consistsof the captionfor the cartoonthat reads .SomeRed in the Rainbow".Within the imageitself, thereare threebumperstickers. One is on the left side of the bumper and reads "WALLACE in '68". The other bumperstickeris on the right sideand reads"Jesse'88".Both of thesebumperstickers (a -.are black letter on a white background.In the middte of the truck's tailgate functional locationdisplayingthe up or down possibilityof practice,yet designating a 'view from above' as it were), there is a third "bumper" sticker that reads 'REAGAN in'80". It is half btackand half white;the word REAGAN is printed in white letterson a black background,while the "in '80" is in black letterson a white functionsbothparadigmatically Here,theblack/whitecolorcombination background. (one side of the (letteis or numbersversusbackgroundfield) and syntagma,tically bumpersticker versusthe other as a reversibleground and field).



As is illustratedin Figure l, the ideologicalformationof discourseconstitutes itself as a combinationgf signifier and signified planesof connotation,denotation, and reality reference.The discursiveformation in semioticterms is quite apparent. The archiveof discoursecontainsthe semanticfields associated with itre coiriept of a s-outhern'redneck',that of previouspresidentialcandidates,the idea of'color" as a factor in elections,and the generalnotion of re-evaluation,revolution,'reds,. At the level of connotationthe "WALLACE in '68" bumperstickerfunctions asa connotationin which wallacesignifies(via the left side positionon the bumper) th€ generalconceptof'red" as-in'redneckn,but a particular redneck--namelyoni who tried to lead a revolution in American politics not unlike the failed revolution of the southernstatesin the Americancivil war. As a signified ideology,however, Wallacefailed in l96E (just as the southerncivil war causefailed, but is remembered in popular memory).He becamea redneckwho could not stimuiatea re-evaluation on the part of the generalAmerican voter. At the semanticlevel of signifier denotation,the cartoonvisually specifies that w€ aredealingwith a "candidatefor president'.Candidatesare peoplewho travel down many roadsin their campaignsfor the country. They get oui into the country to seepeople;th9 media constantlytells us where they are going, how things looi< "down the road' for them. within the denotativesignified, we alsohavethe concept of the'precedent'for the'president".with a kind of phonotogicalcodeof homonymi, we understandthe force of the cartooncaption in which "somered in the rainbow" tradeson the'some red" precedentfor president,namely,Georgewallaceas well as allusionto the wizard ol oz where one finds the rainbow at the end of the road. Fantasyoffers the fact of reality as that nwhich will have been'*tgborrowa phrase from the semioticphenomenologist, Alfred Schutz(Lanigan l98S:)03). Turning to the ideologicaldenotation,we havethe 'REAGAN in'80* bumper sticker.Recall it is positionednot on the bumper, but in the middle of the tailgite. 'Reagan' is the denotativesignifier and in uirt '80, is the signified. Somesimple contrastsinform this presidential'position".First, Reaganwas elected,wallacewas "left' behind. Reaganis a middle moderateby comparisonto waltace'sextremism. REAGAN in white lettersremindsus of a "white" success,the positiveassertionof rednecks,and contrastswith WALLACE in black letters,the negativeassertionof rednecksin racial prejudice against'blacks". Reaganis middle of the road and wallaceis to be appropriately'passedon the left'. Is it appropriatefor Jesseto pass on the left? In the context of the signified "in '80", we are askedto recall that'the 1980electionwas the end of a storm, the end of the caqter administrationwherea southern *rednecknas president failed. The presidency is red-again (note the phonologicalhomonym again where red-again is ureagan"and is red-again/re*-aga*n). At the reality level of signification,we turn to the ',Jesse '88',bumpersticker. As a rhetorical signifier/signified, nJesse"is immediately differentiated from REAGAN and WALLACE; lower caseletters versuscapital letters.past reality of success(REAGAN) and failure (WALLACE), both big and obvious results,are possibilityof "Jesse's" comparedwith the nsmalln chancefor success, for beingchosen a candidate.Jesse'sbumper sticker on the right side of the bumper signifies a possibility,he hasa'right'to try. He can keepon "truck-in',down the presidential road--he may arrive or he may not! In terms of the ideologicalreality of the signifier/signified, we have the designationof 'E8* on the bumper sticker. In contrast to the other two bumper stickers,the word'in'is conspicuouslyabsent.The absencesignalsthe presenceof the current situation, of the reality that Jesseis not going to be JACKSON. The formality of MR. PRESIDENT(A la REAGAN) is not going to happenro Jesse.yet,



just we do not yet Fnow if the negativeeffect will alsooccur in which Jessebecomes figV'fniNp f nCfSO-N, to be held in reverencewith a fond memoryof a good "iif'. i* ialu wat-LACE). In "'80'we are left with a question:Can the colorsof evaluation iXri!ii"";r liag of ried-White-Blue) signify a new reality, the new.rainbowof Red, ivilti;, ;d Blu-e/Black?Can Jessebe ttG fiist black president?The implication is no; UfliljOt""O is not blue-blood(=white).Whitedid not changeto red (Wallacefailed). failed and Reagansucceeded)' returned to white (Carter White ' 'the rhetoric of ideology and its ideology.of rhetoric as fhe zu.raty of discursivereality is imagedin the rear-view mirror on the truck in the cartoon.The tt"t no imagein it; we do not seethe driver; the driver hasno color, neither rii.r.A nor black! Thtblank mirror is the imageof a white person:white is the absence fil political messageis quite unmistakablelWhile there is somered in the ;il;b.. rainbow, there is no btack in the rainbow!

REFERENCES -LANIGAN, RichardL. ol Rhetoric:EideticPracticein HenryGraltan's f SSa. SemioticPhenomenology Discourseon Toleranie. (washington, D.c.: center for Advanced & UniversityPressof America)' Researchin Phenomenology 198E. Phenomenologyol communication: Merleau-Pot1ty',s .Thematicsin Communicoliiy aid Semiology.(Pittsburg:DuquesneUniversityPress). Ray. MORRIS, - -Cartoonson Relationswith France. 1960-1979," iSS8. ;English-Canadian Semiotica69.1'2, l'29 TODOROV, Tzvetan. 1970. Introductiond la littirature lantasique (Paris:Editionsdu,Seuil).?age referencein this papaerareirom the Englishtrans.by R. Howard ?nlle Fantastic: A Strictirat Approachto a Literary Genre.(lthacu Cornell UniversitY Press,1975)'

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