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Political Protest

Cartoon And Caricature In Early Modern Europe, Nineteenth Century, Twentieth Century, Painting, Murals, Photography

Protest, in the context of this entry, is understood as more or less public visual dissent from an official governmental authority or from customs sanctioned socially by the dominant classes. The protesting voice may be that of a minority or a majority but is here defined, following historiographical and ethical norms, as being directed toward "good causes": democracy, civil rights, justice for all, equalization of resources within societies and between countries (e.g., North and South), halting ecological destruction, freedom from repression, and especially (in the twentieth century) a world without war or fear of war. The lack of these qualities has been most vigorously protested in the so-called Western democracies, where a certain freedom of speech is offset by governments' control of the major media of printed press Realistic cartoon. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem/March to War of the Pope (1521) by Lukas Cranach. and television. The avenues of protest discussed in this entry include cartoon, comic strip, painting, mural, and especially poster; the latter are most conspicuously mobilized in mass demonstrations, such as those found worldwide in the early twenty-first century opposing the U.S. war in Iraq. This peaceful expression of public opinion, uniting literally millions of bodies in one place at one time, may be the most powerful manifestation of the lack of democratic access to the approved organs of power and information, that is, major communications media and government itself.

Those opposed to the goals of the iconography of protest, when they cannot ignore it, characterize it as the propaganda of the ignorant, and insofar as such iconography constitutes "art" (if not "Art"), critics set up false dichotomies between aesthetic merit and political message, between form and content, the former falling in value in inverse proportion to the strength or immediacy of the latter. The best "visual dissent" is remembered, indeed is immortalized as such, on aesthetic as well as moral grounds, the two aspects being inseparable. While visual protest is here being considered as a mass medium, that is, as imagery available to large numbers of people at one time and over time, new ideas generate new media. To the major public vehicles of visual protest cited, one may add such minor and individual political manifestations as graffiti, a banner unfurled over a freeway, the message chalked on walkways, lapel buttons, refrigerator magnets, bumper stickers, and, above all, T-shirts. Moreover, the poster fixed on an office wall or a newspaper cartoon pinned to a bulletin board may have a social afterlife or ripple effect long after the event that occasioned it has been forgotten.

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