Visualizing Debate: Visual Culture and American Political Discourse

AHA Session 257
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Joan Saab, University of Rochester
The Audience

Session Abstract

This session explores the conference theme “Disagreement, Debate, Discussion” through an exploration of how various forms of visual culture have both shaped and contributed to specific historical debates over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries in the United States. By emphasizing visual culture, the panelists seek to emphasize both the importance of visual culture in framing contemporary political debates and identities, as well as the ways in which historians can use such sources in their professional practice.

Victoria Grieve explores how political cartoons participated in the political and economic debates of the Great Depression years by drawing on older political associations, particularly the symbolic “big stick” used by Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century. She argues that repeated use of the symbol constructed a hostile relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and his political opponents. Blake Ball’s “Curse This Stupid War!”: Peanuts in the Vietnam War Era," explores changing attitudes towards the Vietnam War as reflected in the period's most popular daily comic strip. He argues that Snoopy and Charlie Brown came to embody Americans' serious concerns about the real world, allowing readers to consider and debate the Vietnam War through an unlikely medium. Lindsey Passenger Wieck’s “Bleach Man to the Rescue: Fighting AIDS with Comics, Posters, and Spatial Restrictions” argues that visual media were instrumental in the public debate over gay sexual practice and public space in San Francisco. A variety of sources --- the city’s brochures, posters, and ads and colloquial comic books, Bleach Man ads, and guides for hosting safe-sex parties --- reveal San Franciscans’ competing solutions for the AIDS crisis.Perin Gurel’s presentation explores the visual side of post 9/11 American Islamophobia, as reflected in memes, cartoons, and other images that circulate via social networking sites. Using qualitative data analysis as well as a qualitative inquiry into the reception, translation, and uses of these images in Turkish, Arabic, and Persian Internet sites, Gurel argues that a discourse of “Muslim rage,” overemphasized by the Western media, over-simplifies the complex responses of Muslims to Islamophobic digital media.

This panel provides important perspectives through the use of visual studies and historical methodologies, and exemplifies current trends in scholarship, including the relationship between popular culture and war, digital technologies, sexuality, and urban spaces. We represent a variety of professional institutions and career stages, and our chair, Dr. Joan Saab, will provide excellent commentary and questions for audience participation.

See more of: AHA Sessions