In the picture, “The Cuban Melodrama” we see the “noble hero” of the United States protecting a distressed and pleading woman, Cuba, from a villainous Span. As a media outlet, Puck served to reinforce the public’s beliefs on the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban people as a whole. This image really plays on the chivalrous ideology that, as Hoganson points out, many Americans believed was disappearing (1). Propaganda like this was taking a national revolution and using it as a platform to appeal to Americans’ sense of chivalry and self-entitlement. Hoganson states that “in the chivalric paradigm, women were the protected, men the protectors” and she also quotes Helen Kendrick Johnson who said women were the motivating factor and inspiration behind the physical power of men (2). These ideas are clear in “The Cuban Melodrama”. The innocent and pure woman was begging on her knees for help, a damsel in distress, and could have only been saved by the noble, strong, and manly hero, the United States.
This idea that the Cuban Revolution embodied chivalrous themes, reinforced by propaganda like this, overshadows the potential racial issues Americans would have had with the Cubans. As Hoganson says, in order for Americans to be motivated to help the revolutionaries, there would have had to been more at work than just sympathy and the desire to support democratic principles (3).White Americans had no problem denying rights to people of color in their own nation, so why would they be so encouraged to help the Cubans in their fight for freedom? One thing that I noticed in the image was that the figures all look fairly white-washed. The evil Spaniard and helpless Cuban have almost the same skin color as the American hero. I doubt a great number of common Americans had been to Cuba or seen Cubans so maybe this was a play to side-step the tensions over races, and just depict all the characters as fairer skinned.
Another example of how propaganda like this reinforced what Americans thought of the Cuban Revolution deals with how Americans viewed Cuban men and women. Americans were so enthralled by the notion that Cuban women were more docile and feminine that American women, and that Cuban men were more adventurous that these weakly based concepts became the truth in the minds of Americans and the media. The woman in this image is feminine and subordinate to the male figure, and that is generally how Americans perceived Cuban women. TO Americans, Cuban women were “the most feminine and simple in the world…[they] spent their time worshiping their husbands” (4). Knowing that Americans saw Cuban women this way, sympathizers played up the distress the women were in, and exaggerated stories of the Spanish attacking the women. However, there were actually accounts of Cuban “Amazons” fighting alongside male revolutionaries. Even these stories, detailing the Amazons’ skill in battle would conclude with observations of the same women falling to the ground, overcome by emotion and grief (5). The media was able to use American values, and its ego, to demonstrate how desperate Cuba was for aid, and how it would have been unjust for the nation to turn its back on a people whose helpless women are being oppressed and attacked. As much as the argument plays to Americans chivalry, it also feeds on their own greed. Hoganson points out that Americans saw Cuban men to be the epitome of adventure and prospect (6). The idea of fighting alongside these master of the wild captivated Americans. Men would be able to be the American hero depicted in the image and take a stand against the villain. The strong and brave hero drawn shows American men what they could do if they joined arms with the Cubans and the leave the corporate office in order to fight for the country’s liberation from Spain. Propaganda like this is a very important part of any conflict. Images have the ability to motivate a nation, for better or worse and under false or not-so-false pretenses, to join a war. This image in particular would have been especially motivation since it draws on the American desire to be a hero and protect the fair maiden begging for help.
C. Jay Taylor, The Cuban Melodrama, Puck, 3 June 1896
1.) Hoganson, Kirsten L. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), 45
2.) Ibid., 45
3.) Ibid., 44
4.) Ibid., 46
5.) Ibid., 46
6.) Ibid., 47