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Deploying Humor to Combat the Race Front: Ad Reinhardt's Races of Mankind Cartoons

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Abstract:

Scholars of the history of anthropology have long recognized the significance of The Races of Mankind (1943), a controversial anti-racist pamphlet written by anthropologists, Ruth Benedict and Gene Welfish, in reshaping racial attitudes during the Second World War. Despite efforts to halt its initial distribution in U.S.O. Clubs, this pamphlet circulated widely, with over 10 million copies sold in France, Germany, Japan, and the United States during the war and post-war periods. This paper examines how Ad Reinhardt’s cartoons, featured in the pamphlet, engaged notions of race on the terrain of humor. These images, which are rarely discussed in scholarship, complimented the text’s call for renouncing racial prejudice, but also drew criticism from individuals, like Congressman Carl Thomas Durham, who objected to Reinhardt’s depiction of Adam and Eve with navels. For these cartoons, Reinhardt employed a graphic language that he developed earlier in the pages of the New Masses magazine. Adhering to neo-plastic principles of simplification and compositional balance, the artist created cartoons that asserted global racial equality. He employed ben-day dots, cross-hatching, and solid lines to differentiate figures to make clear demarcations between biological and cultural differences. In doing so, Reinhardt’s images countered cartoons such as those produced by Milton Caniff for A Pocket Guide to China (1942), which were intended to assist American soldiers in identifying racial differences within theaters of battle.

Reinhardt’s visual puns on cartographic devices, like an image of a family dinner table that simultaneously serves as a sinusoidal projection of the earth, humorously articulated the notion of a “Brotherhood of Man” found within the text. Reinhardt’s reference to cartographic projections, which frequently appeared in the pages of Time, Fortune, and PM magazines, asked American viewers to formulate a new world picture. Many of these new cartographic projections reversed traditional figure/ground relations, giving visual priority to oceans over continents. Instead of the familiar Mercator image of the Americas as a relatively isolated land-mass, projections with an aerial perspective re-imagined oceans as unifying the world, and encouraged perceiving the United States as part of a global community, or “One World.”

The Races of Mankind cartoons were part of a much larger project of introducing the graphic language of comic art within educational materials intended to combat notions of racial superiority and to articulate a new racial order for the post-war period. I will consider how Reinhardt’s images relate to other race relations materials such as “There are No Master Races,” featured in True Comics; “Brotherhood of Man,” an animated film; “We are All Brothers,” an educational filmstrip; and children’s books such as In Henry’s Backyard.
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Name: The American Studies Association
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MLA Citation:

Kinkel, Marianne. "Deploying Humor to Combat the Race Front: Ad Reinhardt's Races of Mankind Cartoons" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186737_index.html>

APA Citation:

Kinkel, M. , 2007-10-11 "Deploying Humor to Combat the Race Front: Ad Reinhardt's Races of Mankind Cartoons" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186737_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Scholars of the history of anthropology have long recognized the significance of The Races of Mankind (1943), a controversial anti-racist pamphlet written by anthropologists, Ruth Benedict and Gene Welfish, in reshaping racial attitudes during the Second World War. Despite efforts to halt its initial distribution in U.S.O. Clubs, this pamphlet circulated widely, with over 10 million copies sold in France, Germany, Japan, and the United States during the war and post-war periods. This paper examines how Ad Reinhardt’s cartoons, featured in the pamphlet, engaged notions of race on the terrain of humor. These images, which are rarely discussed in scholarship, complimented the text’s call for renouncing racial prejudice, but also drew criticism from individuals, like Congressman Carl Thomas Durham, who objected to Reinhardt’s depiction of Adam and Eve with navels. For these cartoons, Reinhardt employed a graphic language that he developed earlier in the pages of the New Masses magazine. Adhering to neo-plastic principles of simplification and compositional balance, the artist created cartoons that asserted global racial equality. He employed ben-day dots, cross-hatching, and solid lines to differentiate figures to make clear demarcations between biological and cultural differences. In doing so, Reinhardt’s images countered cartoons such as those produced by Milton Caniff for A Pocket Guide to China (1942), which were intended to assist American soldiers in identifying racial differences within theaters of battle.

Reinhardt’s visual puns on cartographic devices, like an image of a family dinner table that simultaneously serves as a sinusoidal projection of the earth, humorously articulated the notion of a “Brotherhood of Man” found within the text. Reinhardt’s reference to cartographic projections, which frequently appeared in the pages of Time, Fortune, and PM magazines, asked American viewers to formulate a new world picture. Many of these new cartographic projections reversed traditional figure/ground relations, giving visual priority to oceans over continents. Instead of the familiar Mercator image of the Americas as a relatively isolated land-mass, projections with an aerial perspective re-imagined oceans as unifying the world, and encouraged perceiving the United States as part of a global community, or “One World.”

The Races of Mankind cartoons were part of a much larger project of introducing the graphic language of comic art within educational materials intended to combat notions of racial superiority and to articulate a new racial order for the post-war period. I will consider how Reinhardt’s images relate to other race relations materials such as “There are No Master Races,” featured in True Comics; “Brotherhood of Man,” an animated film; “We are All Brothers,” an educational filmstrip; and children’s books such as In Henry’s Backyard.

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