A couple of days ago we posted a Q and A with Christianna Stavroudis discussing sustainability. This week in part 2, we dive deeper into how environmentalism is portrayed in political cartoons. Her special expertise and research on that topic in Germany and the U.S. makes Christianna Stavroudis a distinguished interview partner on the issue. Read more about her takes on that in the following.
"What do you think are some of the biggest differences between political cartoons in Germany and the United States?"
German and American cartoons actually have more in common than not: they generally follow a one-panel format (that means the image is not cut up into several panels, like in a comic strip), are often featured on the opinion pages (“Meinungsseiten”), and employ similar metaphorical tools and symbols to communicate their messages. There are a few noteworthy differences, however:
1. German cartoons are less focused on the “nation” (both the physical country and the people who inhabit it) than American cartoons are. Just think of how often you see Uncle Sam in cartoons vs. the Deutscher Michel in German cartoons. In the cartoon below, the US stands as a microcosm for the world. I’ve yet to see a German-centric cartoon when it comes to the environment:
2. American cartoons exploit far more pop cultural references than German cartoons do. The caption to this cartoon below refers to a popular children’s TV science show from the 1990’s, Bill Nye: The Science Guy:
3. In my experience, German cartoons depict more individual politicians than American cartoons do. This is particularly apparent in environmental cartoons as Germany has a minister for the environment who plays a public role in the debate whereas the US secretary of energy does not make many televised appearances and is not a household name:
4. German cartoons on the environment are often tongue-in-cheek. Germany has a relatively good reputation worldwide for its environmental policy, so it can “afford” to be tongue-in-cheek about it. The environmental debate in the States is a much heated one and therefore the tone is much more serious in the cartoons.
"How, do you believe, environmental political cartoons differ from other types of political cartoons -- is there a significant difference?"
"Political cartoons that cover specific topics will often have conventions, references, metaphors and symbols that recur (e.g. sports are often referenced/visualized in election cartoons as the candidates are considered to be participating in a kind of “race”). So in this respect, environmental cartoons are just a thematic subset of political cartoons in general. The issue of the environment, however, is a perennial one, meaning that it shows up year after year. Elements of and foci in the debate will change, but the main problem of “saving our environment” remains. This makes the subset of environmental cartoons unique, as I can’t think of another issue that has had the same longevity and scale. This of course presents a challenge to cartoonists as well in terms of presenting a new take or perspective on this much-covered issue."
"What is personally one of your favorite political cartoons and why?"
"I am writing my dissertation on idioms, so I like cartoons that successfully visually embed idioms into the image. I really like how this Austrian cartoonist plays with the expression “alles nur heiße Luft”:
"What are some of the best ways that you recommend for a student to begin environmental activism at the community or aggregate level?"
Christianna Stavroudis responded:
"I think the best way to enact any kind of change is to start with very small, doable goals. Perhaps this can begin at school by putting up posters to encourage fellow students to put their plastics in recycling bins for plastics instead of throwing them into general bins (such posters would be a great showcase for cartoons, by the way!). Or, if the school doesn’t have recycling for plastics, putting pressure on the school board to place these throughout the school. If your favorite Imbiss serves everything on and in Styrofoam, you might talk to the owner about switching to paper. Good environmental practice also relies on the individual taking an audit of his/her habits and seeking to be more respectful with his/her resources every day. And it certainly never hurts to get in touch with local representatives to express to them just how important environmental issues are for you and your community. Remember: you put these guys in power!"
Thanks you, Christianna, for sharing your expertise with us and the Going Green community!
Janina Schmidt obtained her B.A. in teaching Economics and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Leuphana University Lüneburg in 2014. After earning her Master's degree (expected 09/2017), Janina intends to teach ESL as well as English for Specific Purposes with an economic focus at vocational schools. As a student assistant she currently supports the development of the U.S. Elections Project 2016.