Middle and high school students often make decisions of a social or political nature influenced by what they see, hear and read in the media. For this reason, it is important for them to understand the techniques used to convey political messages and attitudes.
In my previous column (Edition 9/23/2016) the topic focused on teaching students how to become media literate using the debates. Two more debates are in the offing, one on Sunday at Washington University in St. Louis. The other is scheduled for October 19 at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas . For those educators who read this newspaper electronically, Frank W. Baker has simplified the media literacy lesson for you with an exceptional handout that will make your job teaching media literacy painless while strengthening your students’ analytical skills. Just click on the hyperlink.
Additionally, political cartoons attempt to influence our view of politics and issues. Political cartoons are sketches that make a point of a political issue or event. Political cartoons can be humorous, particularly if you understand the message being conveyed to the reader. However, the primary purpose of a political cartoon is not to humor you, but to persuade you. A good political cartoon addresses current events, but it also attempts to sway your opinion to that of the cartoonist’s point of view. The best political cartoonists can change your opinion on issues without you even realizing it.
Some of the techniques political cartoonists use are symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, analogy, and irony. Once you and your students can pick out these techniques you will view the cartoonist’s point of view more clearly and become more aware of any political bias of the cartoonist. When you can view the cartoon from the point of view of the artist you can better make up your own mind.
Middle and high school students can analyze different persuasive techniques that political cartoonists use. Symbolism is one technique that is often used in political cartoons. Simple objects or symbols are used to represent larger concepts or ideas. Once students have identified symbols, they should analyze the cartoonist’s intent for each symbol. Why did the cartoonist use that particular symbol rather than another? Would another symbol have been more effective?
Sometimes exaggeration of physical features of people or things is used to make a point. Have facial expressions or other parts of the sketch been overblown? What point was the cartoonist trying to make through these exaggerations?
Labeling is another technique frequently seen in political cartoons. Words (labels) are used to make the point of the person or object in the cartoon more clear to the reader. Why did the cartoonist decide to label that particular person or object? Does the labeling clarify the point of the cartoon?
A favorite persuasive technique found in many political cartoons is analogy. It is a comparison of two unlike things that share characteristics. By comparing a complex issue or situation with a more familiar one, readers are able to see it in a different light. What is the chief analogy? What two issues or situations does the cartoon compare? Does this comparison make the point more clear?
Finally, there is the technique of irony. Irony shows the difference between the way things are and the way things should be or are expected to be. Many cartoonists use irony to express their opinion on an issue or situation. If you do find irony in a political cartoon, have students question the point the cartoonist was attempting to emphasize. Does irony help the cartoonist express the opinion or issue more effectively?
Once students are aware of persuasive techniques used by cartoonists, pose some general questions regarding the cartoon. What is the political issue? What is the cartoonist’s opinion on this issue? What are other opinions on this issue? Was this political cartoon persuasive? Why or why not? What other techniques could the cartoonist have used?
Keep an eye open for persuasive techniques used in other media, such as political ads on TV and news programs. We’re constantly bombarded by all forms of media interested in changing our minds. It’s always a good idea to know how it’s done. The results are a more informed citizenry who become better informed consumers.
Wanda Dengel, long time local and Columbus inner-city schools teacher, can be reached at