Interpreting a visual source is very much different from interpreting a written text. The visual source analysis needs different skill sets. Political cartoons are ink drawings created to bring in humor and critical opinion about the political events happening at the time of their creation. These are particularly popular in the newspapers and magazines of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Now too in the present world with the advancement in technology, political cartoons have survived and are prevalent in magazines, newspapers, and websites. Apart from humor, writers and cartoonists have dwelled on the mode of political cartoons to persuade controversial topics. These cartoons have been excellent communication tools.
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Political cartoons without any doubt, are the most eye-catching parts of a newspaper or magazine. Caricatures of famous politicians are made even more eye-catching either with their oversized attire or larger-than-life torsos. One look at the cartoon brings a smile to our faces in the morning and also brings our favorite politicians down from the pedestals we have placed them on.
Analyzing a political cartoon can be a very tedious task. There are various elements the cartoonist uses in his work, So you need to be well-equipped to understand and interpret the cartoonist’s message in the cartoon.
We need to consider three main points when we start analyzing a political cartoon. These are
Let us explore the points one by one
While studying the subjects, language and literature or history, teachers might introduce you to political and editorial cartoons as a means to enhance your language skills or communication skills. And while doing this task, you are required to understand how these cartoons are created and how to analyze them by breaking them down into various components.
These cartoons are mainly designed to talk about the political events that are happening at the time of creation. It is always better to be aware of the political issues in today’s society. Now as a reader, your task is to fully understand the message the cartoonist wants to convey through the cartoon. While you write your analysis, you need to consider the answers to these questions
Political cartoons are definitely humorous. But that is not the main idea in creating the cartoon. The cartoonist wants to persuade you. He wants to sway your opinion towards his point of view. And a good political cartoonist can change your mind on an issue without you realizing how it was done.
The cartoonist uses various persuasive techniques to get his point across. Not all cartoons use all the techniques, but definitely will use at least a few of them. Once you are able to decipher the techniques, you are in a better position to understand the cartoonist’s point of view. You should identify any political slant or bias that the cartoonist might have. The different persuasive techniques usually used are
Like in the other texts, Cartoonists use simple objects or symbols that signify larger concepts or ideas. They are commonly found in our daily lives – for example, Red Cross stands for the organization that helps victims of war or natural disasters. The two basic symbols to talk about the United States are Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty. So, at times symbols may be obvious as mentioned above, but not always they are obvious. You need to identify the symbols and figure out what they convey subtly.
Cartoonists may usually exaggerate or distort certain characters/people, places, or other elements of drawing either to make it easily identifiable or to convey a point of view. In political cartoons, cartoonists often include caricatures of well-known politicians while exaggerating their facial features or oversized dresses. One such example would be to draw a politician looking extremely fat to emphasize his greed for power. Identify the element of exaggeration in the cartoon to decipher the message conveyed.
Sometimes cartoonists use labels to make the context of the cartoon clearer and to enable the reader to interpret why the object or person was labelled so explicitly. For example, a briefcase might be labelled with a company name. Sometimes captions or titles, either above or below the cartoon may be presented to let the reader know exactly what is happening in the cartoon itself.
Text bubbles or thought bubbles let us know the dialogue and what the person is thinking respectively. In many cartoons, people holding placards represent a protest or a stance on a political issue. You need to identify the labels in the cartoon and ask why the cartoonist decided to label them and does the label make the meaning of the object labelled clearer.
The analogy is the comparison between one thing and another which is totally different for the purpose of explanation or clarification. By comparing a complicated issue or a situation with a more familiar one, cartoonists help the readers to understand the complicated issue and see it in a different light altogether. Look for the analogy made in the cartoon and once you have identified the analogy, understand whether the cartoonist’s point of view is clearer now.
We have already explored the exaggeration technique which the cartoonist uses to bring in the humor while trying to convey a message. Similarly, irony too can be used to achieve the same humor and to highlight how ridiculous a situation may be. It actually allows the reader to picture how the ideal political situation should be rather than how rosy it looks. Look for the irony in the cartoon and figure out whether the irony helped the cartoonist express his point of view clearly.
After you have gone through the cartoon enough to be able to understand the cartoonist’s point of view fairly, consider the answers to these questions to get a better understanding of the cartoon in order to start your analysis.
With all the points explored above, you are now ready to write your analysis.
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