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How to Levitate an Elephant

The emblem of the GOP has been rotated a few times in recent years, as the upward-pointing stars that dotted the back of the elephant emblem that had signified robustness of party unity since the post-Civil War era, as a pacific sort of beast, with four feet stolidly placed upon the ground—

–was altered, in an inexplicable way, circa 2000: the downshifted and inverted stars on the now right-facing elephant, prompted symbolic speculation on the possibly malevolent intent of what seemed secret society symbolism at odds with a party that had once prided straight talk.

We had never looked closely at the stars in this abstract logo that seems a sleek embodiment of the American flag, But perhaps the internet made us look more closely at photoshopped details, altering our eyes and suspicions in new ways, as minor stylistic alterations assumed significance. Online conspiracy theories about the stars’ downward rotation smelled a corruption of patriotism, or a cryptic allusion to a pentagrammic symbol of satanism, offensive to a Christian Right–or revealing devious intent–that led the rebranding of the Republican Party after the Clinton years to be scrutinized on an internet awash with rumors of the diabolic nature of the feared influence of the Sigil of Baphomet, trademark of the Church of Satan, merging of black arts and party politics–if not Neo-pagan messages squirreled into the GOP’s message by unknown Democratic operatives, or revealing the rise of a hidden semiotic system that preceded the cult of Q.

If the turning of the stars circa 2000 was tied to everything from satanism to Skull & Bones symbolism mirroring the ascendancy of George W. Bush in the party, the rebranding that followed Bush v. Gore seemed a sharp revision of the combativeness of the elephant, that had regained its tusks–

–as the rightward-advancing pachyderm in the newly trademarked logo was both more animatedly moving, as if the red-white-and-blue elephant was sufficiently capacious for the party, stars shifted or not.

The alteration of the elephant as an emblem of party understandably morphed online. But what genealogy of the elephant was engaged by the new rebranding of the Republican elephant, long an icon of Republican identity and independence, at the 2020 Republican convention, leaping into the air as a swoosh of tusked red? In an era that maps “so called Republicans” who refuse to repeal Obamacare over President Trump’s wishes, as promoted by Trump surrogates in 2016 to condemn all who doubted, the red-suited elephant matched red states’ increasing purity tests for party loyalty, and less the joyous icon of Wendell Wilkie. If Wilkie’s elephant–a memento for donors–was a joyous beast of the party unabashed of its middle-brow origins in a circus ring, extending its trunk in unbounded optimism, the red elephant is far less fun or ebullient.

1. The mutation of the elephant to a politics of triumphalism in the 2020 Republican convention had precedent. But it seemed to map the coherence of the party as an alternate body for the endangered body politic, where racial differences didn’t exist, but we were spectators of a show: was the adopting the animal an eery white-washing of race in America, taking a symbol of a large voting block to a symbol of strength, purifying the elephant of its African origins? While elephants were long associated with triumphalism, as far back as Hannibal, were elephant seemed conducive to promoting the vision of a “law and order” President as if he were crossing the Alps, riding a troop of elephants of Republican voters not to impose peace and harmony on Gaul, but channel fascist talking points on the need for more law and order in American society? Bedecked with five oddly placed stars that recall its circus heritage the advancing elephant unveiled in Charlotte, NC suggested a march of red states across the electoral map, more than a show for partisan unity.

Despite its symbolic degeneration of the elephant as a symbol of party If coded fears underlay and racialized policing were implicit in the “law and order” persona that the President invoked, the origins of the elephant in the cartooning of Thomas Nast in 1870s. The image of the Republican Party that Nast devised in 1884, however, on the front page of Harper’s Weekly, “The Sacred Elephant,” suggested the stakes of leadership of the party to which Nast belonged at what seemed a juncture of its identity. The cartoon referenced the elephant as an image of probity in the same year that the albino elephant Toung Taloung arrived in New York with much promotion from P.T. Barnum, years after the African elephant Jumbo had become the centerpiece of his show,, by bringing the elephant that was long associated with the remote Kingdom of Siam–

–to promote a variety of elephant rumored more civilized and sacred than the African species, and even enjoy more privileges at the Siamese court. While the arrival was not to be compared with the feats of strength of the African elephant Barnum had earlier shipped stateside, the agents who procured the elephant helped introduce the foreign beast to a party icon as it notoriously provoked public debates over its “so-called whiteness” and Barnum argued an inescapably racialized descriptor might be judiciously applied to the elephant’s whiteness, although they should visit the show themselves to judge, practiced as he was in exploiting race in spectacles that promoted pseudo-scientific justifications of racial hierarchy to entertain audiences by confirming their superiority–even if the skin of the elephant was long seen as grey.

The Sacred Elephant Phineas Barnum imported from Siam gain increased attraction during sunset of Reconstruction as an icon: as questions of race and the extensive of rights to former slaves were debated in America, audiences came to question the whiteness of the “white elephant” whose “whiteness” was conflated with its sacrality or sacred nature. Barnum affirmed the sacred nature of the beast argued to be venerated in Burma’s court to promote the arrival of a white elephant his agent had bought from King Thibau Min of Burma, Toung Taloung, who was in transit via the Suez Canal to New York. If Nast loved depicting animals, his latest anthropomorphic cartoon shifted the circus animal to a costumed elephant embodying principles sacred to the party, in ways that courted anxieties over racial identity that the circus impresario stirred speculation of the newest elephant he had bought–courting public fascination with the ostensibly edifying spectacle of a “a technical white elephant” by acknowledging “there is no such thing as a really pure white elephant” but encouraging audiences to judge its purity. Already illustrated in Scientific American in March, 1884, Barnum’s new elephant was shown with an attendant of color, tusks intact, as an object of curiosity for a society that was redrawing its own color line.

Drawing of Toung Taloung, after the London Graphic, Scientific American, Supplement
(New York, March 1884)

Nast tapped Barnum’s promoting skills in using a Sacred Elephant as a symbol of party purity. Barnum had peaked curiosity in white elephants, venerated in Siam, stoked wide speculation about its relation to the “black” African variety, inviting white circus audiences to judge Toung Taloung’s whiteness for themselves in a spectacle of popularized racial sciences. For by judging racial differences and the depth of epidermal identity, Barnum invited pubic audiences compare differences between the one venerated in Siam and a member of court society in Siam and its African cousin as a scientific difference echoing skin color, even displaying elephants side by side as a responsible showman, for audiences to classify by themselves. And the appeal that he made to audiences was in the air by the time that Nast used a powerful image of the Sacred Elephant to represent the Republican Party in 1884, when the “separate but equal” policies encouraged by the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws were voided in public space, sanctioning segregation as well as the abridgment of constitutional rights by October 1883, the very year that P.T. Barnum brought a white elephant to display to a paying public so that it might view its difference from the African species.

The conceit that there were two races of elephants was a curious extension of the color line that justified the restriction of civil rights in Reconstruction to the animal kingdom, and world. The voiding of civil rights believed guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment led to a century of institutions of race-based segregation, as the abolition of slavery was re-interpreted removed, as by Occam’s razor. In limiting the prohibition of enslavement from plans to segregate “Inns, public conveyances and places of public amusement,” including circuses of the sort where Toung Taloung was displayed, as the color lines that existed in times of slavery were perpetuated. As in a symbolic rehearsal of the issues at stake in questioning what race-based separations constituted a “badge of slavery or involuntary servitude . . . but at most, infringes rights,” the circumscribed liberties and Jim Crow laws rejected the belief that it was the role of a government “to mete out equal and exact justice to all, of whatever nativity, race, color, or persuasion,” that tabled civil rights in ways currently roiling the nation–a posture of legalizing segregated spaces that perhaps requires reparation, and has deep resonance. For the result was a deep remapping of public spaces across the country, which has been poorly registered in maps, in which Barnum’s choice to promote the exhibition of a Sacred Elephant as a central feature of his show came to occupy something close to center stage if it was only a circus show.

When Nash held up Barnum’s white elephant as an image of the probity of his Party, he compared the Republican’s purity to the albino elephant’s whiteness in ways that helped establish the four-legged beast as an icon of the Party. P.T. Barnum’s probity would be under public attack, in the course of 1884, as both historian Sarah Amato has argued and literary scholar Ross Bullen examined, using the characterization of the albino Toung Taloung as “white” to oppose the beast to African elephants in circus shows; the sacred nature of the pacific elephant was distinguished by its Siamese costume to highlighted its distinct skin coloration for crowds. In the wake of mixed reviews the animal shipped from Burma at great expense through the newly opened Suez Canal was exhibited in London’s Zoological Gardens, generated debate, Bullen argued, about its “whiteness” that Barnum used o attract as large an audience as possible in New York, affirming the “true whiteness” of the elephant.

The accuracy of using an adjective that during Reconstruction evoked race turned on Barnum’s willing mistranslation of the “chang puedk,” an it was known, as if he were a “racial imposter,” as the mottled flesh of the elephant Pearl of Siam led Barnum to fend off accusations of fraud and charges of deception. The exhibition of Toung Taloung intersected with fears of racial identity and authenticity in Reconstruction by provoking questions of race and truth that were struggled with daily, as the population was parsed in the official census-takers by percentages of African blood. Whereas many dismissed Barnum for the showmanship of announcing arrival of a “White Elephant” that had been briefly exhibited before being shipped to New York was not as “white” as current racial categories would imply. Were the deep anxieties about the legalization of racial barriers across much of the nation not enacted in what Bullen called the “Elephant Wars” of circus entrepreneurs? it is striking how the monochrome icon that debuted in recent years exploited similar anxieties about race and racial difference.

Barnum promoted the eagerness of audiences to judge for themselves to generate spin for the show that would be the next pachydermal act after “his mammoth predecessor” Jumbo had jointed his troupe. Front page articles heralded the arrival of the “Sacred Beast” for “the Great Moral Show” had led Barnum to rush anxiously from his inner office in Madison Square Garden to examine the elephant in New York harbor, shouting “Call a Cab! Notify the President!” as if this were an affair of state to se the certified sacred elephant “who has never shown the slightest indications of the savageness which is a characteristic of most elephants,” named “Gem of the Sky,” and not only “extremely gentle and docile” but bearing a signed certificate to be a sacred beast from the Second Minister of Royal Elephants that had been presented to the agents “of the Great Wealthy Man Barnum of America”: beside news of a contentious Republican convention, the front page headline “The Sacred Beast Here!” was accompanied by an attestation from Frank Vincent, the former Consul to Siam, that Gem of the Sky was “one of the finest specimens of the sacred white elephant I ever saw in my life.” In India, Vincent, who had a second career as an authority on the beast, had earlier attested in Harper’s, a state’s power grew the more sacred white elephants it owned, the sacred white Barnum imported may have provoked some anxiety as the promoter hadn’t yet seen the beast’s hue.

The “Sacred Elephant” Nast included prominently on the March 1884 predated ToungTaloung’s arrival on the cover of Harper’s Weekly. But it was already an image of the validity of the showman Barnum, who had shipped it via the newly opened Suez Canal to London with fanfare, and it was now on its way: the icon partisan probity appeared some three weeks before the anticipated arrival, but three months after Harper’s ran an article by the author of The Land of the White Elephant, promoting the sacred white elephant “we are told to expect in May” as not white per se, but of a “delicate shade which distinguishes the nose of a white horse” and “with a head the color of cochineal”–even if you would not know it from the cover of Vincent’s own 1882 illustrated book ignited interest.

And when the cartoonist included himself as presenting the sacred four-footed beast above the legend This animal is sure to win, if it is only kept pure and clean, and has not too heavy a load to carry,” the question of the truly sacred nature of the animal to party members affirmed its purity more than its whiteness: if the elephant, as yet unseen by Americans, was rumored to possibly be not pure white, the purity of the elephant was more at issue than its intersection with a racial phenotype, but the issue was probably unavoidably lying just beneath the surface: while religion was separate from politics, perhaps the veneration of white elephants by Buddhists was foreign enough to not be taboo: if the white elephants were guardians of Buddha, and became an emblem of state service and bravery in Thailand, was not the circus animal an apt icon of political probity? Perhaps the costumed circus animal, unlike previous anthropomorphic emblems for political parties, foregrounded the sacred tenets, emblazoned on the belt that dignified the beast as precepts to direct the Party to the gated White House by winning the popular vote.

Thomas Nast, ,”The Sacred Elephant,” Harper’s Weekly (March 8, 1884)

Nast costumed the elephant to question who might lead the Republican Party to the White House in 1884 with fit decorum before the nation. By featured the royally costumed elephant as sacred as the venerated white quadruped arriving in Barnum’s circus, readers would see its costume as befitting probity of the party.

The “father of American cartooning” himself channeled Barnum as a showman displaying the Sacred Elephant to the public as a path the right rider might guide to the White House, and maybe that he might be able to promote in newspapers by his pen. The party’s proper costuming in a fit platform would accord reverence comparable to that Siam’s court and Buddhists population accord the white elephant Barnum had recently promoted in the press. Nast displays the zoological curiosity as the best public face for the Party to raise should it wish to be led to victory.

Detail of Nast as Barnum, holding newspapers, presenting Sacred Elephant
(Harpers Weekly, March, 1884)

The icon of the elephant was immersed in print culture. When the quadruped was adopted as an icon of the Grand Old Party in the 1880s it was less as the the result of Nast’s Aesop’s fables iconography: while he had shown a raging elephant in Third Term Panic (1874), in which the overweening cries of Democratic donkey, dressed in a lion’s skin, sent an elephant charging over cliff at the idea President Grant sought a third term, or a sleeping elephant lying at a dour Lincoln’s feet before 1880, Nast caricatured collective party divisions by non-human animals: but the quadruped transcended Aesop’s animals, by embodying the very moral precepts sacred precepts to the party. Posed as Barnum, Nast promoted the promise to elevate the party’s honesty, as if vouchsafing for the whiteness of the quadruped his circus would publicly exhibit!

The all-American circus animal became a stand-bearer and proud partisan emblem by championing its almost salvific role in public politics: as the circus man transformed the pachyderm distanced from the African elephants Barnum exhibited, such as Jumbo, Barnum’s newly displayed Sacred Elephant suggested a Party that subsumed race, to be ridden by a nominee revering civic values of Civil Service Reform, more than seeking profit from political office or personal gain, to ride to the White House without demeaning the decorum of a Party in danger of not honoring the sacred compact between it and its ideals. The elephant elevated party politics from the drama of corruption sought to dignify party principles beyond intraparty dispute.

But displaying a sacred elephant as an icon of party due veneration after P.T. Barnum’s performances exploited anxieties of racial difference: without orchestrating racial stereotypes as crudely as Barnum, Nast registered horror at violence visited on slaves in the south, without investing agency as a cartoonist in African American subjects, casting the deliverance brought by emancipation in paternalist terms as an end to southern humiliation that could be shared by the emancipated family: as if an act of emancipation by constitutional amendment liberated all racial inequalities and lifted race lines by promising well-paying jobs. The divide between races, so strong in nineteenth and twentieth century culture, could not be lifted, even if Nast believed–and hoped–that it might be. Indeed, the reduction of the meaning of “emancipation” that the institution of “Separate but Equal” allowed continued a racial polarity that divided America.

The cartoonist seized on the pure-white elephant to embody Republican standards. But he bequeathed a troubled if telling icon of political purity, that the current Republican candidate for President spooky channeled, almost to the point of channeling the elephant, as he recently addressed the Republican Convention before the current “red elephant” in Charlotte, NC–as if promising he would do his best to return to former status quo.

Andrew Harnik/AP

The solemnity of address quickly provoked a spoof parody website of a party “building a country just for us,” by announcing that the party “always stood for white wealth and power,” but “just couldn’t say so out loud” before: the elephant lacked stars, but elevated “Q”‘s cryptic pronouncements to a level of dignity as had Trump’s presidency–and the entrance of the party into a new level of circus entertainment of big-tent conspiracy theories that have leaked off-line to present Trump as an embattled hero of the Truth.

Parody Website

2. The Aesopian menagerie of fabled beasts was also embedded in clear constructions of categories of race and nineteenth-century racial sciences, in which the Sacred Elephant was to be opposed to its African cousin, much as Barnum ad opposed Toung Taloung, the Burmese elephant he acquired with the certificate of Siam’s Elephant Keeper, from the variety of Arican elephants he had exhibited in the past: the history of the elephant as a radicalized emblem of party is often forgotten in the amnesiac Republican Party, whose proponents cast Dixiecrats as the most racist of governors or see Andrew Jackson as a bulwark against Civil War. Yet the white soul of the party that Nast presented to the public embodied purity, principled advocacy of a civil service, and proud American-ness in a white alternative to the elephant that most circuses displayed.

Thomas Nast, “The Sacred Elephant,” Hoper’s Weekly (March 8, 1884)

Nast adopted the middle-brow entertainment of the sacred elephant as a sort of tease, and an invitation from a newspaperman cartoonist–indeed, a viral editorialist!–inviting readers to take the high road, and enter elite culture, a promise that all middle-brow entertainments offer. Nast vouchsafed that the principle of party honesty shifted from the circus arena to a political arena in which his party might save face.

The invitation to find an able mount for the dignified white would hardly be distinguished by its sagging skin, but restore a needed dignity in a time of party corruption, promising a degree of purity eplaced by the current use of a pure-red elephant to suggest a similar sort of purity of party, if of one of openly less principled nature? Barnum had gone to great lengths to emphasize the sacred nature of the quadruped he had bought at Siam’s royal court, where elephants were fed select diets, serenaded to sleep by musicians, and entered the human world as links to the divine. Nast–a life-long Republican–had penned the raging elephant as the Republican Vote in 1874, in ways often cited as an origin of the mascot that would symbolize a large party in American political iconography as a beast. The choice of the sacred animal as able to advance to the White House should the party “keep the animal pure and clean,” consolidated the anthropomorphic image as a symbol of the party with deeper valence than many histories of cartooning or party mascots admit: the Sacred Elephant Barnum had bought and was on its way to be exhibited in the United States when Nast drew it was not only a piece of Americana, but a quadruped whose sacred character the American public would be asked to confirm.

Nast invested the Sacred Elephant with figural significance to the destiny of the Party’s value, dignifying the animal he used to depict the Republican Vote as a standard-bearer of the party’s purity especially compelling for his party to identify with and adopt in future years. The whiteness of the Sacred Elephant, even if it was qualified, would suggest not only the purity and cleanliness that Nast evoked, but the purity of its race. For the Sacred Elephant was also soon to be know for eliding race–a not so fine point implicit in the reverence it was accorded, unlike its African cousin, who seems depicted in the 1874 cartoon. Barnum was prompt to draw the distinction in displaying the new sort of elephant he would be displaying in his spectacle as a different variety of beast, much as Vincent had described the garlanding, serenading, and feeding of sacred elephants in Siam by their keepers. The diademed creature in exotic costumed was public-facing–and, like a circus animal, on view for open scrutiny and examination for evidence of its probity, unlike the deceptions and cunning showmanship P.T. Barnum generated interest in the sacred elephant Toung Taloung to the public–in ways Vincent had begun. Barnum met doubts about his own fraudulent display of Toung Taloung as white on his competitor as the elephant “Light of Asia” that revealed a uniform white on its body as if to make due on the adjective–

–depended on a chemical bleaching, a practice that Barnum’s competitor Forepaugh began with the smaller elephant obtained, pre-bleached, from a London salesman as a competitor to Toung Taloung, a process that had continued as long as he lived and was publicly exhibited as an alternate draw to Barnum’s show. (Forepaugh’s boast of the “Largest Show in the World” countered the menagerie of the “Greatest show on Earth.”)

But rather than being the true article, bleaching or painting of this small elephant killed the beast in November, 1884–Vincent or other “experts” had presumably already questioned, perhaps with Barnum’s own encouragement, by questioning “the genuineness of this elephant” as white: Barnum noted that the toes of the elephant of his Forepaugh were noted by experts to be in fact “very often found in elephants of the ordinary kind, without any pretension whatever to ‘white blood,’” even if photographs the above to document its whiteness suggested otherwise. Barnum contrasted the benefits of his own allegedly edifying popular show as an exhibit of the differences among elephants from different habitats and different “races” as if mediating the globe: he mediated racial differences as rooted in science, the display of a Sacred Elephant appeal to the authentic self-presentation of the party to an electorate. While Barnum & Bailey did not adopt an actual emblem of a globe until after World War I, or 1925, that made good on the promise to be the “Greatest Show on Earth,” it provided a quintessential middle-brow entertainment, long focussed on elephants, including Jumbo, presented as the largest Giant Elephant in the world–an African Bush elephant, born in Sudan, and first exhibited in the Garden des Plantes–that compared the prized elephant Barnum enterprisingly purchased from the London Zoo, to the skeleton of a mastodon unearthed in the American West–

–a spectacle continued, after Jumbo’s tragic death in 1885, when he was killed by a train, to the exhibit of Jumbo’s taxidermies skin and skeleton–

Display of Giant Elephant Jumbo’s Skeleton, with tusks (1888)

–in a theatrical display of popular science of edifying aims, much as the Sacred Elephant polarized racial sciences in ways that its “purity” raised fears of miscegenation that underlay a dogma of barriers of intermixing that barriers in public space, education, and social promotion were supposed to maintain, by being openly mapped onto racial differences.

The plans for Barnum to introduce a White Elephant into the menagerie that he used to entertain audiences rested on a significant financial investment, but occurred at a time when race lines were defined across American states, as the repeal of

3. The attraction of Toung Taloung rested in how the genuine” nature of the beast’s famed whiteness was deployed. The question of racial identity and purity was engaged in Barnum’s show as Toung Taloung was opposed to the African elephants that Barnum usually featured, asking the crowd to judge them to provoke racial anxieties in its evocation of a proud beast, in ways that give new meaning to the “Greatest Show on Earth” in the years after he had merged in 1881 with the Great International Circus run by his competitor, Bailey. The elephant authority Vincent had boasted the sacred elephant was accompanied by a white monkey, with “fur as white as the whitest rabbit,” underling an analogy to racial segregation migrated to the animal kingdom with striking fluidity. It would circulate as smoothly to the circus stage. Toung would be contrasted as a mulatto, to the “decidedly dark elephant,” beside the African elephant, creating the judgement of the racial identity of the mulatto animating the contemporary play, The Octoroon. Nast would know the play, premiered in 1858 to acclaim, the Sacred Elephant he depicted seemed in his mind an image of the purity of the party–although the actual White Elephant had a quite mottled hide.

Even when conceding the lack of a pure parallel to racial difference, Barnum made sure racialized categories were prominent for audiences who were predominantly white. Barnum exploited Vincent’s claim Toung Taloung was “as white as God makes ’em,” without artifice, to increased the fascination of crowds in an elephant only superficially whiter in its “light complexion;” he openly engaged his white audiences’ obsessions with racial parentage by rehearsing racial categories Vincent had staked out, comparing the White Elephant to the whiteness “of a negro’s palm,” deploying racial difference to attract audiences to a show that often amused audiences by deploying racial differences and and hierarchies, even when rehearsed with members of the animal kingdom.

While Nast did not echo performance of global racial differences, his cartoon unavoidably addressed race within the United States by the attraction of the purity of a white elephant as a sign of honesty. The interactive nature of a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t debate on race that Vincent and Barnum began caught on long after Nast’s cartoon of the Sacred Elephant, but did it underlay the Barnum’s competitors did charge him with not keeping his word on “whiteness” nonetheless, that heightened anxieties of racial differences to eat into the audience for his popular show, displaying what was announced as “scientifically verified” if probably painted or dyed whiter elephant, claimed more genuine than the “rank fraud” Barnum bought. Circus-Master Adam Forepaugh, who exhibited elephants in a competing show, featured cycling elephants, pyramidal formations of elephants, elephants in military drill and “elephant seances”–as well as a giant elephant, in his show. Forepaugh expanded a show of twenty-five by “Light of Asia,” a small elephant named Tiny, bought from an overseas English dealer painted with over fifty coats of premium paint, to compete with Barnum by its greater purity of its brilliant painted, bleached or dyed hide.

Arrival of “Light of Asia,” 1884

In response, Barnum fell back on his usually trick of comparison among elephants: he cleverly dyed one of his own elephants for exhibition beside Toung Taloung, by a process celebrated in the New York Times for the ingenious skill of skin coloring for reasons far beyond the circus ring. Barnum’s process of chemical whitening was, the newspaper judged, “of less interest to elephants than another class of our populations,” indeed, mapping the elephant to categories of race among Americans: Barnum’s process would not blacks’ appearance identical with “that of the white man,” echoing the qualifications Barnum made about Toung Taloung, but if might transform the “cleansed Ethiopian . . . of a dazzling whiteness, rivaling snow,” in nothing less than “a complete answer to Job’s question of whitening the Ethiopian” readily “applied without the slightest injury to colored people” to create a new race of “ex-colored men.” (The breadth of discussion generated by the elephant ran from how Terre Haute’s Saturday Evening Mail jested that after the arrival in town of “BARHUM’S new white elephant named Toung Toulong [sic.] the papers are already teeming with jokes about the man who asked his wife why she resembled the white elephant, etc,” suggesting how widely discussion

In an age when race defined lines of exclusion, and many whitened their skin so that they might pass, to navigate racial barriers, display of the fraudulent white elephant garnered attention as a reflection on racial ideologies. The elephant Barnum exhibited came to be known as “The Fraud” enacted the dominant acceptance of a “natural” racial hierarchy in a circus show. When Barnum charged Forepaugh of disguising his own elephants with dishonesty, he provoked latent fears of disrupting a race-based hierarchy by a disguise; the Sacred Elephant was imbricated in ideologies of race long before Barnum brought the beast through the Suez Canal to exhibit, but he magnified these connections by staging a contest of whiteness as theater. Nast did not openly gesture to the emotional intensity of intersections of the white elephant with racial sciences when using the middle-brow entertainment of a sacred elephant to dignify his own party, but in dignifying his party by a sacred elephant whose exhibition was impossible to separate from race to foreground the purity of its values, as much as tying the elephant’s prodigious memory to conservatism, the polysemy of the animal in the circus-stage performed qualities of the elephant seemed perfect for the festive atmosphere of a political convention for much of the twentieth century.

4. The red elephant prominently displayed at the Republican Convention in 2020 was also, of course, an invitation to a membership of a club, and communicated a sense of those in the know. It of course communicated purity and authenticity in its red, quite unlike the probity of the individual candidate entitled to ride the beast as nominee, and the true hue of the candidate able to mount that rearing beast, who had regained tusks since 2000, if it managed to seem far more faniciful, and less of a streamlined not to the past. The party emblem recuperated the almost conscious elision of questions of race, only just below the surface of the circus beast in 1884, when the Sacred Elephant was mapped to its sacred status in Siamese society, now mapped onto red states that less valued social justice or deep inequities of education, voting rights, or health care, and seemed an apt icon to pander to fear.

The purity of the new mascot of the party seemed arbitrary, but was invested with meanings that, perhaps because its color was now pure red, bridged surface and depth as cunningly and effectively as the Sacred Elephant P.T. Barnum had brought to America to display.

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Sneak Attacks?

The anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima gives one pause as it marks the emergence of a world of remote military strikes conducted by GPS, or on a UTM grid that cast agency at a distance from ethics or ethical choice. One thinks not only of the global cartoons of global expanse that seemed to unroll geopolitical spaces for their American readers, but of the new ethics of point-based precision. For the point-based maps created vertiginously elevated the subjectivity of their readers across the 40,000 maps produced between 1941-45 by the U.S. Army Map Service so as to remove them from a shared ethical framework of humanity. The framing of military invasion as a game of geospatial dominance discounted the massive incalculable loss of human life in campaigns of prolonged fire-bombing and atomic holocaust.

Indeed, the narrative this cartoon bears traces of how this new spherical global space suggested suggested a territorial dominance across the new spaces of air travel: the cartoon that appeared after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945 are particularly striking as it appears to remove any sense of the agency of atomic holocaust; it cast the explosive logic of the atom bomb as a delayed quid pro quo response to the “Jap Sneak Attack” of 1941; it asked readers to consider not the effects or impact of the atom bomb, but, rather evasively, who really was “the Fellow who Lighted the Fuse,” as if he were to blame: before any images of the destruction of both cities was described, the Chicago Tribune included testimony of Enola Gay crew members, hailing from Chicago, as an exclusive, with a discussion of the physics of atomic bombs and a reminder that a number of B-29 bombers were posed for further destructive missions. The front-page color cartoon of the Tribune, in Hearst style, was the sole visual documentation of the bomb’s effects, masking the devastation of its impact by the geopolitical logic that led to dropping an atom bomb.

Carey Orr, “the Fellow Who Lighted the Fuse,” American Newpaper Repository

Who, indeed, was making the sneak attack? If the yellow and orange hued pyrocumulous clouds caused by atomic blasts suggested the fireball of a nuclear or atomic explosion, the cartoon clearly referenced not only the explosion that left 200,000 estimated dead in its immediate aftermath, but the fireball of the atomic explosion as a sunset of the Japanese Empire. The first dropping of an atomic bomb on civilian population by the United States–

–was sunset of the Japanese empire, seen from the empyrean perspective of the navigation of aeronautical space that allowed its delivery at precise global coordinates.

The atomic fireball left massive fatalities and injuries in its immediate radius, far beyond the devastation at the site of impact where buildings were flattened, leaving third degree radiation burns far beyond it. The cartoon provided a rationalization of the explosion in maps that provide a continued basis for reflection on the scope of aerial bombardment, departing from the maps of worldly retreat of Japanese Empire on which American newspapers had focussed and were created by late August 1945 by the U.S. Army Information Branch, as if to justify the impact of one devastating attack.

Japanese Empire from 1895 to 19 August, 1945/Army Transportation Corps, Aug. 27 1945
University of North Texas Libraries

Many cartoons of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. Army were explicitly racist or misguidedly celebratory. This famous front-pager made open reference, perhaps fitting Chicago, where Rand McNally was based, as the spherical projection enabled dominance of aerial space and mastery of the virtual space of air strikes: the globe was now not inhabited by people, but a spherical surface over which one flew. And while the sign planted on the unidentified island of Oahu is suggested to be the site of the spent match that started it all, omitting that the 1941 aerial attack was staged on a military base–Pearl Harbor–rather than on a civilian population. The colors of the apocalyptic conflagration are muted, as we see only harm coming to the scattered limbs and bloodied knife of a caricature of the Japanese soldier scattered in a stratosphere.

The images of airplanes clustered like so many gnats over the empire of Japan provided an increasingly common typos in maps that affirmed the status of Japanese cities as targets. Boosterish jingoist maps had presented Japan as “the target” of aerial bombing, but delivery of the Enla Gay’s payload confirmed the targeting of the island empire by announcing the ultimate superiority of airspace dominance, in targeting two cities:

We are perhaps still measuring our relation to the decision and effects of the atomic bombs dropped on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the interconnectedness of any two points on the globe was asserted by a spherical projection, the cartoon gestures to lines of longitude and latitude to link the unprecedented conflagrations of the destruction of Japanese cities to the rash act of aerial bombardment on a December morning, as if to suggest that the decision to suddenly drop two atomic bombs was a matter of just deserts in the new age of airborne explosives: the logic of air dominance had entered the cartooning landscape by 1943.

Of course, the real “sneak attack” one might have expected to see reported was not from the point of view of the pilots who had guided the two bombs dropped over Japan–oddly outside the field of terrestrial expanse that the staff cartoonist of the Chicago Tribune presented to readers the morning of August 6, 1945. But the space of flight commanders that cartoonist Carey Orr was invited to design celebrated the introduction of a new atomic age for its readers, that seemed to mark the global supremacy of the Americans in the destruction of Hiroshima that Harry Truman had commanded in Washington, DC, and that the US Army’s upper echelons had signed off on.

Readers of the newspaper acknowledged the impact of the blast the rocked large aircraft lying nearby, promising unprecedented damage as a result of a blast that obliterated a huge sector of the inhabited city–causing as yet unmeasured human casualties, spreading radiation illness among civilians-by a cartoon that clearly rendered the unprecedented degree of devastation as a consequence of the incursion of American airspace four years earlier, as the U.S. Navy threatened to “let loose more and more destruction on vital coastal installations,” with little regard for human life. The cartoon must have provided a critical way that this act of destruction could be mapped.

The pastoral scene rendered by cartooning was a sharp counterpoint to the way that the Manchester Guardian, for example, reported on the destruction that spread out from the hypocenter of the bomb in Hiroshima, carbonizing trees and reducing to rubble all but a skeletal framework of a building that survived the atomic blast that killed tens of thousands of civilians. While President Truman proclaimed to the nation with almost unhinged excitement (or glee) that “we are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above the ground,” as he went on to threaten a “rain of ruin from the airtime like of which has never been seen on this earth,” the cartoon oriented readers to a view above the ground, justifying the scale of the explosion in wildly disproportionate terms as the result of restoring balance in a geopolitical theater, not a nation, and omitted the scale of its devastating destructiveness by orienting viewers not to the scale of human destruction by which some 60% of the city was obliterated, but the smooth surface of a spherical globe. that enabled the heinous act to be performed, as if to echoed how the Enolas Gay target it with precision.

Mancester Guardian, August 7 1945

The different ethics of understanding the atomic explosion two thousand times more powerful than the largest bombs the RAF dropped on Germany was stunning in its scale, but muted in its horror by being rendered in a “lessons learned” jingoism Hearst newspaper style, but taking advantage of the regular comic strips that supplemented its news coverage from 1940-43, to describe the most consequential global news that day by a color cartoon, as if by detracting attention from the four sq miles the bomb had flattened by the bomb by imagining the aerial view from outer space as a set of pastels through which fly, as if comically, a disembodied head, limbs, and a hand, in an all too unsubtle warning of where playing with fire will get you, placing the unnamed “fellow” in place of the men who ordered the bombs of devastating tonnage dropped on two civilian centers: the “editorial” penned by veteran cartoonist Carey Orr–whose explicitly racist cartooning in his regular strip in The Tiny Tribune was a model for Walt Disney–oddly replaced the horror of the bomb with a sequence of pastels of pinks, oranges, and reds as the glorious sunset of an Eastern military theater, almost allowing readers to ignore that 60% of a city had been wiped out.

“The Fellow Who Lighted the Fuse,” MSU : Janet A. Ginsburg Chicago Tribune Collection

The cartoon that fails even to “map” Hiroshima displaced all responsibility for dropping of an atomic bomb–pointing the finger, circularly, at the very folks whose populations it incinerated and introduced radioactive illnesses. If one followed the long fuse that curved around the surface of the globe, those who understood the new doctrine of hemispheric dominance might trace the origins of the massive explosions that rocked the earth to the spent match that lay–notionally–on the islands of Oahu in Hawaii, where the evidence of who was the culprit in the recent air raid might be found–and located with geographic precision on exact global coordinates. The explosion was itself evidence of the interconnectedness of global war, and a decisive rebuff of images mapping a pan-Pacific Japanese Empire that radiated from the islands of Hawai’i that were a target of Pearl Harbor, that asserted the expansion of a Pacific empire in saturated reds in 1940 that took the Hawaiian islands as their center and focal point, to underscore the Empire’s active encroachment on American sovereignty.

1940 American Postcard after Japanese Flag

The tables were reversed in the double-duty that the atomic afterglow provided as a sunset of Japanese empire, and the precision strikes that pinpoint mastery of aerial targeting revealed. The cartoon underscored the power of bombing with such precision that the virtual landscape maps of the Army Service created; but the spherical projection erased any agency in the dropping of the bomb in ways that almost removed their users from humanity, replacing a landscape of national integrity with the world of geopolitics on grids, where the surgical strike of point-based intervention became more tempting than wars between nations, rewriting the harmony implicit in a leftist “One World” underscoring the shared humanity of global interconnections now allowed by high-speed air travel in a maleficent style.

Politicians like Wendel Wilkie optimistically assured audiences in 1940 that “there are no distant points in the world any longer,” by using the magic of a Universal Transverse Mercator, Richard Edes Harrison exploited available global mathematical projections to teach Americans, as the editors of Fortune magazine or Harrison himself put it, there was now “One World, One War,” as a single map was entitled in the the atlas that Harrison helped produce to allow readers to “Look at the World” with new eyes, eyes of global strategy, in a view of the world fitting the “air age”–and global war.

The FORTUNE Atlas for World Strategy sought to provide the magazine’s subscribers to Time might expect by offering the very needed principles used in the U.S. Military to map global expanse in wartime–and indeed, as William Rankin noted, enabling the synchronization of air, water, and land troops in unprecedented ways, by the very spherical UTM projection that the U.S. Army helped to develop, as if to allow them inside on the new power of strategic mapping that the U.S. military sought to promote.

Courtesy David Ramsey Map Collection/Cartography Associates

The resuscitation of such recondite Renaissance global projections as the azimuthal equidistant, that Gerardus Mercator used to map the pole, to foreground the notion of a global theater of military dominance by air–

–was later adopted, in something of a recuperation of the logic of a “one world” argument, as Rankin noted perceptively, in the wreath-bound emblem intended was a of global harmony in the United Nations, as if the war or cartographic logic of aerial bombardment had not occurred; what had provided a strategic sense of reducing global expanse in a world of air travel and the global reach of airborne bombs was repurposed by 1945 that for all practical purposes affirmed the centrality of American in a global discourse that dislodged the UTM projection from military theaters of war, as if to try to recreate a map of less militaristic intent, that ensured the global map would be continued to be framed by olive branches.

Harrison’s maps are the pictorial precursors of our ubiquitous satellite maps of today, yet hand drawn with great cartographic skill for specific arguments, detailed in text, statistics, and diagrams that erased the problems of military strikes across borders in a terms of a logic of efficiency and geometry–and of theaters of dominance.

They expanded emblems of transcontinental air travel to a global optic as Edes Harrison reinvented cartography as a skill of global dominance for American Strategy, far beyond the form of “transcontinental travel” of the recent past from New York City, unveiled in January 1942, as America entered into the global war effort, and sought to “sell” the war to domestic audiences through the logic of military maps by revealing geostrategic aims of airspace, as much as technologies of transcontinental air travel.

Global dominance in air travel was soon to arrive, opening up American dominance for a time in this global airspace, but the war became a critical time to promote this world view at the same time far beyond American frontiers: as war was increasingly fought in the air across Europe and the world by 1942, when the United States was joining, Life magazine assured readers that the United States frontier of Alaska was only “wait[ing] for war” in January 1942, months after Pearl Harbor, as the United States was readying itself for a showdown with the “ancient and imperial power of Japan,” the air map not only displaced the national map, but guaranteed a global purchase by high-speed air travel that could be readily imported to a military theater, now that the United States Air Force was stationed outside Anchorage in the Elmendorf Air Base, ensuring a Pacific Theater of War.

Harrison in 1943 gave us the simple ease of “seeing” Japan rom Alaska–from “our” own territory, as if, prefiguring Sarah Palin, on the horizon from her own window in Achorage–presents the globe absolutely free from cloud cover, in all its topographic elegance, the Sea of Japan and the island’s extensive mountain ranges from the Sakhalin islands all present with a tactile quality of a molded plastic relief map, with a level of naturalistic local detail and topographic accuracy that the surface of a Rand McNally globe could only aspire–and which was, the reader knew, a virtual space as much as one that a person could ever apprehend, even from the air, but was the promise that airspace dominance provided to Americans in 1943-4.

The detailed topographic aerial views that Edes Harrison so expertly designed of four approaches–or possible incursions–into Japanese airspace seemed designed to familiarize readers to the prospect of high-speed air travel in ways that worked hand-in-glove with the U.S. Army Map Corps–

“Japan from Alaska,” from Richard Edes Harrison, “Four-Approaches to Japan” (1943)

–into whose horizon line the reader could gaze, as if with wonder, seeing the island empire revealed on the horizon as lying essentially in its purview. The territorial proximity of the Empire of Japan seemed so near the Aleutian plans, that the text promising to reveal “various approaches to Japan” that could span, in the rapid travel across airspace, “the huge continental mass that Japan is trying to subdue” by confirming “the close geographic relationship that can be put to work in Allied offensive action” in the air–while conceding “difficulties of supply” of such offensive actions.

Richard Edes Harrison, “Japan from Alaska” (1943)

The shaded hemispheric relief maps of Richard Edes Harrison’s landscape maps of course offered evidence of a new purchase on global military theaters to civilian audiences in such elegant full-color inserts included in National Geographic and other publications. His global perspectives orient readers to global dominance that intersected with the ability of the Army Map Corps, as they naturalized the adoption of UTM coordinates by the U.S. Army to coordinate military forces in global war. The critical nature of maps for global war were indeed apparent after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the United States realized that few maps existed of this theater of war, William Rankin has noted: as if to conceal the absence, Newsweek assured readers that Washington DC had become in short order a veritable “city of maps” months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as if to assure them of American mapmakers’ readiness to meet military needs in global war: “it is now considered a faux pas to be caught without your Pacific arena,” editors assured readers lest they still entertain some inner isolationism. Newsweek openly linked Harrison’s pictorial map to dominance over theaters of combat: the increased accuracy of such bifold pictorial maps served to process a spherical earth beyond national bounds, as President Roosevelt geared up to move troops, navy fleets, and air squads around the globe.

Richard Edes Harrison, “Russia from the South” (1944) courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

There were, Harrison assured readers of news maps made for the U.S. Army Service Forces, or Army Maps Corps, at least “four approaches to Japan” on the table by 1944, despite the considerable distance across the Pacific–which really, he implicitly argued, should not seem so far in an age of airspace and high speed flight–

Richard Edes Harrison (May 8, 1944), Army Orientation Course. Army Service Forces. courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

–and the simplicity of these approaches “to Japan”–from Alaska, from Manuchuria, from China-Burma, and from the SW Pacific–presented a defined “Pacific Theater” sought to orient readers to the nature of global geopolitics on grids. Relations of global geostrategy seemed complicated, in the specific, but Edes Harrison simply simplified the legibility of a global landscape no one had seen.

Richard Edes Harrison, 1943

The pictorial landscapes that cast military theaters as verdant topographies were absent from war, but the picture was, readers would have known, quite different on the ground: the view might have been able to be naturalized as a continuous spherical map to suggest the close ties of air travel, but the same islands of the Alaskan peninsula were themselves “theaters of war” as well as stepping stones, where American army bases and U.S. Army and Navy airfields existed, providing the infrastructure for the global airspace that Edes Harrison’s bifold landscape maps promoted through their elegantly expansive pictorial form.

These islands that rest on the “seam of the Pacific and American geological plates” offered a powerful strategic bridge–and theater of combat–that is all but erased in Harrison’s hemispheric maps, which use the continuity of a UTM grid to define continuity, as if the illusion of perspectival unity habituates viewers in the know to the contraction of terrestrial relation that air power allows, without needing an infrastructure of air bases and refueling stations, or indeed human lives.

National Parks Service, Aleutian Islands

The unique global perspective that Edes Harrison offered Americans of the approach to Japan from Alaska was almost a creation of the U.S. Army Map Service geodeists, who plotted the continuity of air flights from these bases, as if to plot alternate flights from the Aleutians or Marianas–the eventual actual fligthtpath Big Boy and Little Boy took–as if they were options on the table of future geopolitical strategies. The set of landscape images superceded any notion of national airspace, suggesting the “freedom of the skies” if not a global theater of geopolitics over which the United States presided from the air.

Richard Edes Harrison, “From Alaska,” from “Four Approaches to Japan” (newsman)
Richard Edes Harrison, “From the SW Pacific,” courtesy David Rumsey Map Collection

the approach over and into Japanese airspace–here reduced to a thin strip of land lying upper center on the global space Edes Harrison showed, must have normalized the possibility of an airborne invasion or bombing campaign as a game of sliding across a newly mapped global space. And when the Chicago Tribune asserted a false equality of wartime bombing, even in the case of the unicum of the unprecedented power of an atom bomb, as a tit for tat, that suggested in a color scheme straight out of Tiepolo–complete with cottony puffs of billowy clouds–that dramatically suffuses the cartoon panel with light, that cuts against the dismemberment of Japanese bodies, and, amidst the violence of airborne limbs that fly across the globe like so much detritus, assured readers, that the explosion was to be ethically accepted as a response to the “sneak attack.” American readers of the Tribune should feel no qualms at the dehumanized victims of the atomic strike or feel ethical qualms of deep, deep unease at the prospect of a world whose inhabitants bathed in radiation more than celestial light.

American Newpaper Repository

The tragedy of showing the dropping of atomic explosives by a cartoon map on the front page of “the world’s greatest newspaper” some seventy-five years ago recast the act of dropping an atom bomb as only the due delayed response for the Japanese Imperial Air Force’s aerial attack: the magnified register of this response was perhaps hinted at, or acknowledged, in the color scheme that recalled the bizarrely majestic illusionistic perspective in the Wurzburg staircase of in the truly global Apollonian perspective it offered over the continents, for visitors to the Wurzburg Residenz–a fresco that seemed to suffuse the stairwell and pick up the light that streamed through large bay windows below it, as one proceeded to the Imperial Hall on the first floor, on the way to the baroque Kaisersaal dominated by images of the genius imperil: was there a gesture to the frescoes of a sun god bathed in light in the cartoon of the explosive force of Genius imperil?

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Apollo and the Continents (1752-53)

The cartoon may not have been a reference to the Tiepolo ceiling fresco that dominates the gallery through which one ascends the imperial staircase in Wurzburg, in a monumental passageway of Vitruvian ideals. The ceiling of the vescoval residence that echoes was the culmination of several vaulted ceilings Tiepolo designed and executed of planets orbiting round a sun god, bathed in radiating light, this one placing images of the continents in each cornice and caricatures of the world’s races on the ceiling fresco’s sides; the celestial court to which the visitor ascending the staircase ascends presents emblems of three continents–America, bearing a griffon, Africa, and Asia, but is dominated by the remove of the Apollo ringed by a golden glow. The cartoonist seems to have replaced Apollo by the Enola Gay, bathed in celestial rays that is the modern seat of cosmographic globalism.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Apollo and the Continents (1752-53), detail of ceiling fresco

Whereas Tiepolo rendered the continents paying service to the Sun God as if a courtly society, what was an allegory of triumph is rendered as a triumphant tha tconceals the purely destructive intnent of America; if Tieopolo’s characterization of the continents was tinged by racism, and racial prejudice,  the celestial celebration is now rooted in military triumph over the Japanese floe, the dawning of an atomic age whose radiance is rooted in new rays, hardly so removed from the terrestrial sphere–and now hardly an allegory at all–but perhaps only able to be imagined on August 6, 1945 as the dawn of a new age marked by the release of cataclysmic energy of divine transcendence.

There was, of course, little actual transcendence or any sense of transcendent sublime down on the ground, where actual humans lived. The dropping of the “Little Boy” atomic bomb that targeted Hiroshima was hardly an allegorical event, but was probably easier to see that way by the folks who dropped it, and wanted to see in it the conclusion of the war and the beginning of a new age. The explanation the cartoonist offered of the logic of dropping the first atomic bomb ever was preposterous indeed. The Japanese planes had attacked a territorial outpost over one third of whose inhabitants had recently been Japanese, before the United States government placed them under martial law–including its courts!–from December 7, 1941 through 1945, interning the small minority of Kibei who claimed loyalty to Japan, until the U.S. Supreme Court voided as illegal the military takeover of the civil government of Hawaii, and the internment of those Japanese-Americans in relocation centers on the islands where they had, under considerable duress, come to renounce American citizenship.

The Tribune, as if making due on their marquee promise to be the “Best Newspaper in the World,” offered a local perspective on the obliteration of two Japanese cities for readers. For it promised, for what it was worth, exclusive coverage of the “Atom Bomb Crew’s Story,” that Americans were more likely to read about: as if obliterating the inconvenient fact that island of japan was inhabited, or that four square miles of Hiroshima had been just purposefully reduced to an “obliterated zone,” the sort of thing we should never try to create, and presented the “awesome scene from the plane” for all Americans to share–especially Americans already habituated to the removed view of a global landscape and hemispheric logic: the presence of the Aleutian peninsula that was so critical in the war, and the proximity of Alaska to the Pacific theater as Harrison had described it, both described the “inside story” of the Chicagoan in one of the planes that dropped the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, and provoked cries of “My god!” from those “battle-hardened American airmen” ten miles away on the Marianas, as more bombers waited to run raids “on other enemy targets” without noting or considering their human costs of such brutality; the dominant tone of the exclamatory headline is celebration and festive.

American Newpaper Repository

The cartoon is above all a celebration of the cartographic logic of wartime globalism that show the world as interrelated, and linked discreet points in the spatial continuum of airspace. This was the space Edes Harrison and the U.S. government had promoted served to advance priorities of strategic hemispheric dominance, to be sure in an extension of the “freedom of the air” of civil aviation, but in a logic and illusion of global mastery that was to militate against global peace for the second half of the twentieth century.

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Alberto Uderzo’s Maps

“All Gaul Was Divided into Three Parts . . . “

The cynicism of the Republican party’s attempt to redraw the electoral map of the United States certainly withdraws from reality:  when you’ve lost a big election, just take a few steps back, breathe deeply . . . and re-write the map.  It’s hard to take seriously the attempt–as if gerrymandering wasn’t recent history.  If votes didn’t materialize the first time, just change the rules of the game:  these are only conventions; why not protect the economic homogeneity of the electoral district to get more votes?  We’ve recently obsessed as a nation with questions of boundaries and drawing firm lines in maps, a pursuit which hasn’t got us that far in international affairs, or anywhere worth being.

If drawing boundary lines in the sand or in Ohio are powerful exercises in power, my favorite case of delineating boundaries for readers is from the popular comic, drawn by Uderzo from 1959, each issue of which began from the stark boundaries of an imagined ancient world:  even without consulting Ferdinand Lot’s Les invasions Germaniques:  La pénétration mutuelle du monde barbare et du monde Romain (1945), the identity of Gaul/France was the recurrent theme of Goscinny and Uderzo’s rendering of the adventures of the blond Gaul Asterix and his band of fellow-villagers as they continue to resist Roman invaders to their lands.  Indeed, the Gaulist conceit of the cartoon series plays with the idea of national and linguistic diversity in the ancient Roman world, imagining a past of fixed territories, clear borders, and national aggression that mirrors our own, or mirrored what would be a clearly defined region of Gaul–as if by a modern boundary line–from which a magic potion allows them to undertake the against-all-odds deviance of one city, not yet fallen to the Roman troops, and to preserve their identity even if they are within the Roman empire.

 

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The potent image of Gallic resistance that the comic strip has inspired has spawned theme-parks, stuffed animals, live-action films, and legions–sorry–of admirers, as well as probably having directed the imaginations of more kids to antiquity than any other media.  (So powerful were the connotations of resistance that when Uderzo’s daughter wrote a column for Le Monde in 2009, protesting the sale of the series to the French publisher Hachette Livre, she wrote that it was “as if the gates of the Gaulish village had been thrown open to the Roman Empire,” to give voice to fears that the resourceful cartoon characters discovered in 1959 would be exploited by marketing, as if they would be Disneyfied–a fear Uderzo himself counter-charged was only motivate by greed.

 

 

 

Uderzo’s now-iconic “Map of Gaul” introduces every one of Asterix’s adventures.  But the map becomes a them of a relatively early book in the multi-volume collections that is un-coincidentally entitled Asterix and the Goths.  On the comic book’s cover, the imaginary boundary line that bound Gaul/France was concretized for readers of the strip, as the boundary line between became the stage for action:  Uderzo marked a dashed line (familiar from road maps or national atlases) on the ground, to essentialize differences between France and Germany, if not intentionally to mask how the historical determination was actually more fluid than Uderzo rendered the boundary line between Gaul and Germania for readers, but which the wily Francs were about to invade, even if that meant leaving the flagstones that Roman conquerors had used to pave roads in Gaul.

 

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Border to Germania

 

Historical accuracy or verisimilitude wasn’t exactly the point for the authors or readers of Asterix.  But celebrating a mythistory very much was:  much as our hero stands for the defense of Gaul against the invading Roman Empire, the looming shadows of the helmeted Goths in this image echo the Bismarck-style helmet that date from World War I, and cause our hero to turn his attention from the Roman legions that Obelix stands posed to clobber, reaching for the sword to face a new enemy.  After all, the colors of the map are evident in the land that he defends:  Gaul is green; Germania yellow.  The border marking is clear, and the border sign notes the different fonts used in each land just as the Germans speak in Gothic letters in the speech bubbles in this comic book.

Demarcating regional boundaries was of course not so much a reality for the ancient world, or migratory Goths, as they are in historical reconstructions.  But the comic essentialized France by the gallantry and derring-do of its Gallic ancestors–as the counter-weight and barbaric other of the Goths to the east.  In each adventure, Gallic wiles defied the formal boundaries displayed in the frontispiece in Uderzo’s map of Gaul’s division into three parts in they year 50 BC, where all of Gual is indeed divided, . . . save one town that holds out to the north in Caesar’s time . . .

 

Gaul 50 BC.png

The regional divisions of Gaul are pseudo-scholarly, if not antiquarian, and the joke of the towns that are revealed, surrounded by Roman camps, by the magnifying glass, is matched nicely by the cracks of the earth caused by the cracks in the Gallic landscape, as if by an earthquake, caused by the aggressive planting of the Roman standard in the south of France, casting more than a shadow over the region’s fertile plains.

There was a something of a tradition of an imagined creation of boundary-lines in Renaissance editions of Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, to be sure, that is echoed in Uderzo’s clever cartographical cartoon.  The insertion of such boundary lines into the landscape is  reflected the increased national segregation of regions in Renaissance maps and national atlases.  They paralleled, to be sure, the fantasy among Germans that the region Tacitus described to the Romans in his Germania revealed the antiquity of the Germanic people.  National maps were popular in France from regional maps from 1550, or the national atlases of Bougereau and others, and commissioned by the monarchy–even if they were far less colorful than Uderzo’s cartoons.

 

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The notion of the invasions of Goths in a later date was rendered as a cartographical violation of French territory in the great medieval philologist and demographer Ferdinand Lot’s 1935 Les invasions germaniques, an erudite study republished in two years as Les invasions barbares, a work whose cover oriented the work around its central subject–France, in the guise of Francs–despite Lot’s positivistic evaluation of historical evidence.

 

 

Lot.png

 

A subsequent edition of the map was noticeably far more reticent:

 

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But let’s go back to the comic books.  Uderzo’s boundary line in the two-color Asterix map is an actual sequence of dashes, thick dashes, beside a marker which seems to have been drawn in the Gaulish/Roman side–Gaul is predominantly indicated in the sign, and, betraying the question of who wrote/drew it, the presence of Gaul in the Roman Empire is noted as something of a parenthetical afterthought. This is a boundary line for twentieth-century observers of the map, in ways unavoidable when the first comic was printed in 1959:  Asterix is a national hero who brilliantly and craftily defended, after all, occupied Gaul with ingenuity and help from a magic potion. The region’s bounding is totally unlike the tribal distributions that characterized Europe’s peninsula:

 

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And so it’s not a surprise that maps are always coyly present as a conceit in Asterix, as well as national identities that the Gallic hero visits with or without his local bard, including not only Spain, England, and Rome itself, but even America.  This fantasy of mapping was part of the fun, as well as part of the creative anachronism.  Why were maps such a recurrent part of the comic, save as guides to narrate the Gaul’s worldly adventures?

Asterix was only something of a semi-serious hero who defended the cultural boundaries of occupied Gaul.  But the defense of occupied Gaul was of course a powerful motif in the twentieth century, and the recurrence of maps in the entire series–from the brilliant  frontispiece that begins each book, and is included below, by way of summation–repeatedly employed maps as the perfect stage for Gallic ingenuity and wit.  The man from Gaul had a certain international fame recognized on the covers of later volumes:

 

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Well, that combines a map and aerial view, but seems straight out of a classroom map, if not a Michelin touring guide.  But Asterix and Obelix encountered plenty of signs like that of Paris carefully marked on their travels and itineraries across the ancient landscape that looked suspiciously modern in the iconography of their design:

 

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But the line between Gaul and Germania, or the land of the Goths, is the on-the-ground view of the clear demarcation that existed in the minds of all the Gauls at that time, runs the conceit of the comic book, or, er . . . all except in one town.

 

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Such is the beauty of maps, and their power as iconic images.  It’s not surprising that such resistance was shown when  Uderzo, who had worked so lovingly and hard to create these characters got slammed in the national press in 2009 by his own daughter for planning to sell the franchise after his own death as betraying a national hero to “the modern-day Romans–the men of finance and industry.”  Uderzo eventually appointed his own assistants to continue Asterix’s adventures.

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