The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935.

Author:Cohen, Florette
Position:Book review

The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935. By Matthew Baigell. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2017. 240 pp.

Matthew Baigell's The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935 presents a compelling examination of derogatory caricatures of immigrants and minorities, particularly Jews, following the Civil War area through World War II. While it is a well-known fact that this period in American history was rife with anti-immigration policy and legislation, few realize the extent to which anti-Semitism permeated American culture (particularly the media) during this period.

Baigell's depiction of bone-chilling, hair-raising anti-Semitic cartoons, followed by both positive and negative photographic and artistic images of Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side, draws speculations as to the root of anti-Semitism. Reasons presented include Jewish otherness, the need to belong, morality, immoral greed, religious beliefs and political affiliations. Social scientists, myself included, tend to agree with Baigell's assessment that many of the stereotypes relating to anti-Semitism are mutually contradictory and shift radically from era to era and from location to location. Jews have been condemned for being seditious Communists and for being avaricious capitalists. Globally, fascists in Nazi Germany and in 1980s Argentina accused their nations' Jews of having hidden loyalties to socialist regimes, while the Soviet Union regularly persecuted its Jews for harboring secret sympathies for the West. Jews have been castigated as being corruptly cosmopolitan and as being narrow-minded traditionalists; as being heretical free-thinkers and as being mystical obscurantists; as being weak, ineffectual, and effete and as stealthily advancing toward worldwide domination. Sentiments in the U.S. did not differ greatly.

Psychological theories presented by Baigell to account for the anti-Semitism portrayed in negative stereotypical cartoons include the scapegoat theory of prejudice, suggesting that anti-Semitism is a projection of one's own problems on a vulnerable group; objectification theory, in which the object of scorn is negatively generalized; and self-hatred among Jews themselves. Ultimately Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, was also used to cast doubt on Jewish loyalty and justify anti-Semitism, as it would seem...

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