Yaakov Kirschen, the creator and genius behind the Dry Bones political cartoons, knows all journalism is “advocacy,” and the realm of political cartooning is no different. Now, in an effort to pass on what he has learned about the field since Dry Bones first appeared in the Jerusalem Post in 1973, he is opening the Dry Bones Academy of Cartoon Advocacy and Activism, which he describes as an attempt to empower a new generation with the tools to speak out against “the enemies of civilization who incite violence against Jews and Christians throughout the world.”
The academy is a virtual campus, with all classes and materials online, making it available to students throughout the world with no traditional school-year calendar, age or physical-restriction limitations.
To train the next generation of “cartoon activists,” he intends to offer his students hands-on experience and exercises, which will all be reviewed and critiqued.
This is important because Mr. Kirschen sees the students in his academy as warriors engaged in the current “cartoon war,” which pits “civilization and sanity against blood-thirsty chaos.”
Artistic Talent Unnecessary
While Mr. Kirschen has much to teach aspiring political cartoonists, he says one element of the trade that does not have to be taught is how to draw.
Students will learn how to create a political cartoon; how to function as editor, writer and artist; how to use panels, strips or a hybrid; and how to use humor as a serious tool. They will also learn how to be funny.
According to Mr. Kirschen, it is important for students to understand “the secret sentence” or “what happens in the reader’s mind” when viewing a political cartoon.
Students will gain familiarity with the technical tools of cartooning as well, including the principles of scanning, coloring and cartoon lettering.
Students will learn how to distribute their work, especially using social media.
A great deal of the academy’s instructional program is based on an original study by Mr. Kirschen, published by Yale University Press, which examines the manner in which political cartoons have historically been infected with several unique images and themes that demonstrate the presence of the “Jew-hatred virus.”
Ironically, he says, he could not find any such codes that are used against any other religious or national group.
As an artist-in-residence at Yale’s now disbanded Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Mr. Kirschen was asked a few years ago to study the relationship between anti-Semitism and political cartoons. He suggested that anti-Semitism is a cultural virus whose contagion is spread through the use of a specific codified set of viral graphic image codes. He says the study of this process is “memetics,” a branch of behavioral science that examines how ideas are spread virally from one person to another.
Metaphor Sets the Topic
To explain, he recalls that, in the 1960s, Richard Nixon was portrayed by cartoonists as “a sewer-dwelling slime who, as he emerges from the sewer, is welcomed by dopey people.”
“If a columnist said this, it would not be accepted. But the political cartoonist isn’t actually saying that Nixon lives in a sewer. The power and danger of a metaphor is that it sets the topic.”
He recognizes that the Nazis raised the use of anti-Semitic political cartoons to new heights, and, he says, this process has continued.
“The effective use of political cartoons by the Nazis to pass their ideas into people’s heads is really scary. Nazis were not fun-loving people who told jokes and loved cartoons, but they discovered the incredible power of this tool,” he says.
For many years after World War II, finding anti-Semitic cartoons was no simple feat. Today, he says, it is easy. “I went on Google Images and wrote in ‘Jews.’ In no time, I had more than 500 anti-Semitic cartoons,” he says.
One of them, drawn in 1890, featured a spider with a Star of David conquering the world.
According to Mr. Kirschen, virtually all anti-Semitic cartoons use symbols from “three code families”: the dehumanizing codes, the stereotyping codes and the moral-inversion codes.
The Jew as a spider is just one of the dehumanizing codes. Others include the Jews as drinkers of blood and other demonizing images, such as baby-eaters, attackers of babies in their mothers’ arms, and creatures with claws, horns or reapers (symbolizing death).
Political cartoons using stereotyping codes show Jews as rich, ugly, money-grubbing, powerful and able to manipulate banks, the media and the world.
“Taken together, the dehumanizing and stereotyping codes present the idea that Jews are powerful, demonic, evil, ugly controllers of your world. The reason such cartoons with these anti-Semitic image codes virtually disappeared for several decades after World War II is that the Holocaust, with its counter image of piles of Jewish bones and living skeletons behind barbed wire, served as an “antibiotic” that attacked the virus.
This meant that the virus, which Mr. Kirschen describes as “the belief system that still seeks to portray Jews as dangerous to the rest of mankind,” needed to evolve into a “Holocaust-resistant strain.” He calls this new transformation “moral-inversion codes.” Specifically, these are post-Holocaust cartoons that depict “Jews as Nazis.”
One anti-Semitic moral-inversion cartoon that Mr. Kirschen finds particularly offensive takes the famous image of the Jewish little boy with his hands up as he walks past a Nazi soldier, and substitutes a Palestinian child and an Israeli soldier (identified with the Star of David).
In the U.S. and Britain
In 2003, the Chicago Tribune ran a cartoon depicting Ariel Sharon’s wispy hair, puffy eyes, droopy lids, pursed lips and bumpy chin. His nose, however, morphed into a big, crooked bird’s beak. In the cartoon, Mr. Sharon says, “The path to peace has become brighter,” and it is obviously because he is going to follow the money being offered to Israel.
That same year, in an act Mr. Kirschen calls “astounding,” a cartoon depicting then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating babies was named the best cartoon of the year by the British Political Cartoon Society.
Denial of Anti-Semitism
In 2009, Pat Oliphant, perhaps the most widely circulated cartoonist in the world, drew a cartoon showing a Nazi stormtrooper (who had morphed into a Jew with a Jewish star) attacking a woman and a baby. The star is on top of a wheel, which, Mr. Kirschen says, gives it more weight because it can be seen as marching along. The star is framed by top and bottom bars, making the star part of the Israeli flag.
When Mr. Oliphant was challenged with the charge of anti-Semitism, the cartoonist insisted it was simply an “expression” of his beliefs.
But, Mr. Kirschen points out, in light of his study, it is clear that the cartoon, depicting Jews as Nazis with devouring mouths targeting babies in their mothers’ arms, fits the moral-inversion code.
Once again, the authorities in Cologne did not understand why the cartoon was anti-Semitic.
“We should be letting all the groups that are being attacked by Islamofascists understand that they have been paralyzed by watching the Jews and the anti-Jews. But the Islamofascists’ target is not the Jews; we’re just the worm tied to the hook. Western society is the fish that is the real target. We need to tell the fish that although eating worms is what he naturally does, it’s bad for him, that if he eats us, there’s someone holding the line ready to eat him and he will die. Jews and anti-Semitism is a strategy for infecting society so it cannot protect itself. We have to alert society to this threat to which somehow they have been frozen into a lack of response. The answer is not the Jews. The answer is Western society that is about to be destroyed and which has to protect itself.”
He is hoping that by educating interested students around the world, the new Dry Bones Academy will serve as a means to end the memetic viral spread of anti-Semitism in political cartoons.
Those who register for the program will also be entitled to a number of perks, including Mr. Kirschen’s “Dry Bones Haggadah” (he calls the Haggadah the “secret book” of Jewish survival and continuity) and his “Trees, the Green Testament,” a graphic novel in which he tells the story of planet Earth and the Jewish people from the viewpoint of the trees of Israel. “It’s a reassertion of the traditional Judeo-Christian idea in cartoon form,” he says.
They will also receive Mr. Kirschen’s Yale paper on anti-Semitism in cartoons.
To register, go to http://Thedrybonesacademy.com.
To visit the academy itself, go to: http://www.drybonesacademy.com
For further information: write to Mr. Kirschen at [email protected]
By Susan L. Rosenbluth,
(excerpted and printed with permission)