As a professor who has taught courses about propaganda at a Top 50 liberal arts college for nearly 14 years, I engage students with the study of techniques used to dehumanize individuals and groups of people. One of these methods of dehumanization is centered on the focus on parts of the body and physical characteristics of the intended target that become caricatured in an effort to vilify or make seem foreign.
The Nazis, of course, were masters at making Jews look sadistic, evil and gluttonous (and like outsiders) with their carefully crafted cartoons and visuals. The Ku Klux Klan often used — and still uses — caricatures and drawings to make African Americans resemble animals in an effort to place significant distance between them and “Aryans” in terms of racial characteristics. In fact, there was an entire realm of junk science that ran rampant in the early 20th century that was based on the premise that non-“Aryan” peoples were largely animal-like (and therefore more prone to violence). This line of thinking helped usher in the great devastation of World War II and continued hatred across racial and ethnic lines.
Recently, Rosie O’Donnell tweeted a bizarre caricature of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders featuring an overtly orange complexion and distorted, uneven eyes with the caption “this fucking pie baking lying sack of shit.”
— ROSIE (@Rosie) December 14, 2017
This tweet wasn’t Rosie’s first foray into the world of dehumanizing behavior, of course. She also posted an orange-tinged, awkward, and deliberately unbalanced picture of Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. Of course, O’Donnell is no stranger to this type of behavior and even engaged in a bizarre bit on “The View” in which she used the painfully childish, tired and offensive “ching chong” trope to make fun of Chinese people.
In fact, O’Donnell’s sad attempt at shtick closely resembles the perverse Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny propaganda cartoon from 1944 entitled “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips.” (No, I’m not making that title up and, no, you definitely won’t find this one on Netflix.)
Granted, O’Donnell was the target of President Donald Trump’s own use of public body shaming, and while there’s absolutely no excuse for the president to engage (or have engaged) in this type of behavior, O’Donnell should understand the implications of this horrid technique. In this respect, O’Donnell labels herself a “progressive” but she acts in a way that is certainly “regressive,” bringing us back to a crueler time in our nation’s past where the sad stain of racism permeated nearly every activity and the Democratic Party-initiated Jim Crow laws feverishly worked towards separation of peoples.
As my students can tell you, propagandists often resort to name-calling and caricatures when there is little heft or rigor behind their arguments. In other words, when public discourse doesn’t seem to be going their way or when they are out of cogent and credible ideas, propagandists attack the person in place of ideas. These attacks might involve “making fun” of a person’s body size or shape, gender or distinguishing physical features.
O’Donnell, who recently offered $2 million dollars to sitting U.S. senators for their votes on the recent tax bill, has used these techniques on social media to rousing response and applause from her Twitter followers.
Rosie, of course, offers little these days in terms of intelligible thought in terms of public policy and therefore attempts to make her desires happen through the use of the social media mob and incessant encouragement of dogpiling.
While there is clearly no excuse for any presidential candidate or president to engage in any type of dehumanizing propaganda related to physical characteristics, there is nothing to envy in O’Donnell’s degeneration in popular media. Sadly, so many of Rosie’s rabid followers are clearly on board with her “satire that isn’t satire” and seem perfectly content to dehumanize Sarah Huckabee Sanders for doing her job, while simultaneously calling for gender equality and an end to judgment based on appearance. As we learned in nursery school, two wrongs don’t make a right, and the “regressiveness” of today’s “progressives” brings us much further back to the bad ‘ole days of the early 20th century more than it does any semblance of a brighter future.
Jeffrey S. Podoshen teaches Propaganda and Genocide at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.