Hillary for Prison or Why We Like Caricature

One of the problems with political satire in any form is the tendency to create caricatures. This of course, is something that can also be done with text, but is especially poignant with imagery. Today’s post is an example of that.

In the 2016 election, we saw plenty of variations on the “Hillary for Prison” slogan and cartoon. There were images of her behind bars, her in orange jumpsuits, and her with balls and chains. The media was saturated with these depictions.

hillary bumper sticker
“Hillary for Prison 2016” bumper sticker by StickerDogs.

If you lived under a rock during the 2016 election — god bless you — let me explain this idea.

Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State, used a private email server and a personal email account to do official state business. Madness ensued. Since I am not a tech person, I don’t want to try to explain the situation, because I’m sure to get it wrong. (For more in-depth information about the scandal, check this article out.)

This email scandal was one of the frequent rallying cries from the opposition. This was why Hillary For Prison and Lock Her Up! became frequent chants at Trump rallies.

By focusing on one issue and using images and memes to back that issue up, the right was boiling Hillary Clinton down to a caricature. There are many reasons why people might be skeptical about Clinton’s potential success as president, and the email scandal might be one of them. The email scandal, however, should not be the only one, or even the focal point. But it was. Why?

One of the main reasons why is because of that powerful imagery. There are many aspects of Hillary Clinton’s professional career that could be analyzed and criticized. And while cartoonists can surely make powerful pieces that make readers think more deeply about her professional career, some don’t. In short, they’re considering what will sell more. The complex Hillary Clinton or the Clinton behind bars? The answer is clear.

As humans, we like consistency. We like simplification and clarity. In political cartoons, we want to be able to make quick connections, which is why pop culture references are so popular in the medium (“Popular Culture in Political Cartoons: Analyzing Cartoonists Approaches” by Joan Conners). Our brains want a prisoner Clinton, not a layered and complicated Clinton. We want a Boss Tweed that’s a fat, corrupt politician because that’s what we know. We want our caricatures.

The problem, of course, is that then we are losing so much depth. Boss Tweed may have just been another political boss in the political machine, similar to many others, but Thomas Nast made him a very specific icon. This is exactly what the right did to Clinton. We saw a three-dimensional candidate be turned into nothing more than the subject of “Lock Her Up!” jeers.

We imagine that we lose depth and layers as a person gets further in history. Yeah, sure we don’t know about Tweed. He’s from the 19th century! But Clinton is still living, and the caricature is well-formed already. Time is a factor, but not a deciding one. The deciding factor is how well we, as an audience, choose to look for the other layers that make someone complete.

Feature image: Courtesy of Richard Lopez. Licence information at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode. 

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