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Saturday, February 25, 2006
Something a Little Lighter

Like most bloggers/blog readers, I enjoyed this set of covers on "Super-Dickery". To a certain extent, the humor in the "Superman is a dick" series relies on a misunderstanding of the way comics were sold in the Silver Age (1955-1970) Most of them were intended to pose a puzzle for the kid looking at the cover on the newsstand, deciding what to buy. If the puzzle was intriguing enough, it was hoped the kid would part with his money to find out why the cover scene happened.

For example in the first comic of the set, Lois Lane # 9, the puzzle is why Superman feels he has to use his super-powers to prevent Pat Boone's new song from becoming a hit. In this one, the puzzle is why is Superman so angry at Jimmy?

Most of the puzzles relied on somebody doing or saying something that seemed completely contrary to their nature. Hence they turn out to be perfect for poking fun at as the Superdickery site does quite well. Somewhat unfair? Yes, but it's all in the interest of being funny, so there's really no harm done.

However... the site has added a bit on propaganda covers with a particular focus on World War II, and there I draw the line. For example, on the opening page, he cites this cover as "stunningly offensive":

That, to me, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about World War II. For example, I think we can all agree that if the cover were to say "Stab An A-Rab!" and featured a caricature of an Arab, it would be offensive. Why the difference? Well, besides the fact that our sensibilities are quite different than they were in the 1940s, we are not at war with all Arabs or even an Arab nation. But in the 1940s we were at war with all the Japanese, and the nation of Japan. All "Japs" were our enemy (not counting, of course, the vast majority of Japanese Americans).

Second, propaganda like this served a legitimate national interest during World War II. Note that the cover is advertising War Bonds and Stamps. In addition, during an all-out war, it is useful to demonize/dehumanize your opponent. Although it seems obvious in hindsight that the US and its allies would win World War II, there was certainly no guarantee in early 1943 (when this comic came out). Emphasizing the evil/inhumanity of the enemy convinces the public to pull hard for the war effort. And of course in the case of World War II, there is little controversy over whether the enemy was in fact evil/inhuman, considering the Holocaust (which was not known widely at that time) or Lidice or the Bataan Death March (which were).

Third, most people today don't recognize that the image of the buck-toothed, bespectacled "Jap" was intended not to represent all Japanese, but a particular Japanese man, General Hideki Tojo:

Okay, so the buck teeth seem to be artistic license and the mustache is gone, but otherwise, the image seems like a straightforward caricature.
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