Reaction to Hoganson: Option 5

The United States is no stranger to the use of wartime propaganda. Images of political events and leaders along with catchy slogans have always been an important driving force behind the shaping of public opinion and thought in times of turmoil. This clever use of media and how it shaped the American public’s thought before and during the Spanish-American war was highlighted in the second chapter of Kristin L. Hoganson’s book, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars.

In the chapter “Cuba and the Restoration of American Chivalry,” Hoganson argues that the American public perceived the Cuban struggle through a chivalrous lens. In a time where the American man was giving into the temptations of the city and the American woman was speaking up, the Cuban revolutionaries were seen as “heroes and heroines of a chivalric drama.” [1] The standards of chivalry in the United States were declining and Cuba could now act as a damsel in distress just waiting to be rescued by the strong United States.  Along with the whole country acting as a damsel in distress, the woman of Cuba itself were being depicted as in need of rescue. Horror stories of Spanish atrocities against the Cuban women only added to the cause.

A picture titled “The Cuban Melodrama” portrays this sentiment perfectly. In the picture, the strong United States calms and saves the virginal Cuba from the evil villainous Spain. This picture appeared on the cover of Puck, a humor magazine. The picture clearly shows both Cuba as a whole and the Cuban woman as damsels and the great United States as the hero. Jingoes, intense supporters of the war, used imagery such as this to push their own agendas. While many people thought that the United States should only offer moral and material support, jingoes pressed for the United States’ intervention in the struggle between Cuba and Spain. [2]

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By using the image as the cover of a magazine, this propaganda spread throughout the United States rapidly. Anyone who picked up the magazine would immediately recognize the issue being depicted and would more than likely internalize what they were seeing. By spreading this through a funny and somewhat silly medium, a serious idea or topic could be seen by many in a seemingly lighthearted way. An image like “A Cuban Melodrama” could quickly shape the way someone thought about the topic being depicted. The immense spread of this form of media meant that this picture could reach many and therefore influence many.

Another reason that many Americans wanted to intervene in the Cuban civil war was because they saw Spain as incompetent and harsh. Also found in a cover of Puck, a picture titled “She is Getting Too Feeble to Hold Them” depicts the Queen regent of Spain as an aging and tired woman trying to hold onto her unruly children, Cuba and the Philippines. Hoganson mentions this picture in her book and argued that along with the clear anti-Spain message, an anti-feminization message could be seen too. The king of Spain was too young to rule when he came into power during this time so his mother was acting as the queen of Spain. This puts some blame on this female figure for not treating her colonies well. Hoganson wrote, “Those who felt threatened by American women’s encroachments into electoral politics turned to the Spanish occupation of Cuba to show the dangers of feminization. If Spain seemed duplicitous, it was because she was feminine…” [3] Along with arguing in favor of U.S. intervention, the propaganda imagery during this time served many other purposes. Through use of powerful media, jingoes and Cuban sympathizers were able to create a strong case for US intervention in the Cuban-Spanish struggle.

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[1] Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998),  51.

[2] Ibid, 43.

[3] Ibid, 53.

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4 thoughts on “Reaction to Hoganson: Option 5

  1. There are so many unfortunate factors that we can pull out of this piece of propaganda. What I find the most aweful is obviously, like you stated Vicki, the racist and anti-female elements. I wonder how this painting would have been constructed had there been a king of Spain at the time. I wonder too how the lash back at this piece of propaganda would have been increased had there been a male leader of Spain being criticized. I hate too that her fact almost has a gorilla like characteristic to it. I wonder if we dug deeper into the art aspect of this painting what thatkind of symbolism would have to offer to our arguments here.

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  2. After reading your post it is easy to tell that you hold a negative view of these pictures as propaganda pieces because of how harsh they are in their nature. Obviously I agree that they are merely depictions for propaganda purposes and not accurate in any way, but I kind of understand why they did this. The war was not very popular to start, so depictions like these would have been important to gain public support for the conflict, and have an almost uniting sentiment within the nation. If images like these were used to bring people together and think the same way, wouldn’t that kind of be important for a nation? I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but after reading the post I tried to look at the images from a different point of view where they weren’t overly exaggerated and offensive.

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    • Kevin,
      Thank you for bringing a differing viewpoint! I understand where you’re coming from and agree only slightly. I agree that the use of propaganda is often one of the only or best ways to gain support for a cause, whether good or bad. Sure this war was unpopular, but I don’t think that is reason enough to spread this kind of propaganda. Rallying together with the symbol of Uncle Sam or Rosie the Riveter seem like the pieces of propaganda I would deem as acceptable during times of war. Making caricatures about another race isn’t really acceptable to me, even in times of war. I would equate propaganda like this with that of, say, anti-Japanese propaganda in WWII. This propaganda united people and drummed up support for the cause (and Japanese Internment camps), but looking back at it now it’s horrible. And I absolutely respect where you’re coming from and understand that you weren’t saying this was right or that you thought it was the right thing to do, but this is just how I felt about the other side of the argument you presented. Thanks again!

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