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British and German Cartoons as Weapons in World War I: Invectives and Ideology of Political Cartoons. A Cognitive Linguistics Approach.

British and German Cartoons as Weapons in World War I: Invectives and Ideology of Political Cartoons. A Cognitive Linguistics Approach. By WOLFGANG K. HUNIG. Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang. 2003. 242 pp. [pounds sterling]23. ISBN 3-631-50211-7 (pbk).

Punch and Simplicissimus, best known for their debunking of social behaviour, also included trenchant political cartoons, especially during the First World War. Wolfgang Hunig examines 325 examples to reveal parallels in invective against the enemy. Through the interplay of the sketches, the headings, and the captions, different patterns of humour, irony, and sarcasm emerge that either support or contradict prejudices and stereotypes. Using the methods of cognitive linguistics, Hunig focuses on the condensation of complex ideas into a single image and into a related metaphor. The abstract or unfamiliar is made both visually and verbally concrete, often by reference to well-known cultural examples. Figures such as John Bull or Kaiser Bill become metonymies when they represent nations; emblems such as the British Lion or the German Eagle provide rich sources for the use of discourse spoken by commentators to express invective or ridicule.

Hunig develops a convincing theory of mental spaces and blends. These interconnect and create an artificial world where the viewer or reader is fascinated and then manipulated to accept its premisses. The cartoonist strikes a balance between 'downright aggression and humorous insinuation' (p. 26) in order to appeal to feelings of superiority, relief, or incongruity. The scenarios may become totally absurd, but they provide the necessary distance to make the propaganda acceptable. Hunig differentiates between scenes that are everyday, non-combatant military, war, counterfactual, or metonymic, and further subdivides these as communicative situations, internal interactions between sketch and caption, and communicative situations that interact with the captions. Such categorization and the explanation of eight types of invective may seem excessively analytical and schematized. It leads, however, to the significant point that they are all used in both periodicals, whereas two extra types in Punch declare that the Germans have no culture and hate the British, and one in Simplicissimus claims the British are responsible for the continuation of the war. Hunig includes fifty-four of the actual sketches, but also describes all those examples where only the verbal parts are included.

For the most part the interpretations are at best enlightening, occasionally either far-fetched or possibly more sophisticated than the average viewer or reader would understand. Very occasionally, and excusably, they miss quirks of British culture that perhaps no outsider would understand. One wonders, for instance, if 'we gave 'em wot 4 not 1/2', misunderstood by German staff officers as the description of a new British explosive, really implies that 'The Germans are ignorant and stupid, e.g. this German officer is unable to understand colloquial English' (p. 138). And do the alternative uses of a German spiked helmet (shopping basket, ashtray, flower pot, etc.) show that 'The Germans are militarily inferior; therefore an alternative use for German helmets must be found' (p. 145)?

In his section on results Hunig concludes that 'British cartoons have a more down to earth or matter of fact character, while the German cartoons seem more "poetic" and erudite' (p. 202). British light-heartedness is used to emphasize superiority, whereas German references to mythological figures make their cartoons less direct. More importantly, Hunig finds that 'the cartoonists encourage their readers to believe in an easy military victory rather than raise a critical voice against the war' (p. 208). He extends the research by reproducing the results of a survey in 199 I of German and English pupils' views on their opposite nation and reflects on the fact that only one out of a list of twenty-four judgements corresponds to the invectives found in the earlier cartoons. Germany was, however, still considered a military nation and the British still assessed as snobs. Hunig leads up to but does not quite comment on the apparent loyalty to national governments early in the First World War and the perceived indifference of the young generation of 1991.

There are several minor misprints in this book, and on pages 179 and 180 the commentary on cartoon no. 135 is repeated. For those studying the development of British-German relations, or the use of political propaganda, or the interplay of picture and word to express humour and invective, this is a book not to be overlooked.


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Author:Keith-Smith, Brian
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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