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“We must consult Brother Jonathan”*…

 

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan gets the better of John Bull

 

He was ill-mannered and ill-spoken—a boor, a braggart, a ruffian, a bigot, a hick, and a trickster. His name was Brother Jonathan.

Today he is all but forgotten—eclipsed by his upstanding uncle, Sam. But after the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan was the personification of the newly independent American people: clever, courageous, not all that sophisticated and proud of it. He was the everyman incarnate. It was the everyman who had led America to victory. And now America looked to the everyman to lead them out from the bloated shadow of Great Britain.

During the nation’s first hundred years, America tried on many characters in search of the perfect fit for its new independent status. There was the feminine Columbia, the indigenous bald eagle, the stoic Lady Liberty, and the bumbling Yankee Doodle. Out of this personification soup, only a few emerged that had some staying power.

Many of these national stereotypes were depicted in popular ballads and stage comedies before America had even achieved its independence; Yankee Doodle was among them. He was originally a British invention—a caricature of a naive, upstart American colonist who was created as a foil for John Bull: the imposing personification of England. Though he never completely faded out of existence, after the Revolutionary War Yankee Doodle was mostly assimilated into another stage character: Brother Jonathan.

Brother Jonathan was a rustic New Englander who was depicted at various times on stage as a peddler, a seaman, and a trader, but always as a sly and cunning figure. He began to show up in political cartoons in newspapers and magazines during the early part of the 19th century as new and cheaper printing methods developed. It was at this point that American cartoonists transformed Brother Jonathan from a figure of derision into one of patriotic pride…

Brash, bold, and bigoted, he made for an uneasy national mascot: “Before America Got Uncle Sam, It Had to Endure Brother Jonathan

* George Washington’s familiar reference to his secretary and aide-de-camp, Col. Jonathan Trumbull; the phrase, Brother Jonathan, later came to mean the American people, collectively (though some scholars believe that “Brother Jonathan” as an avator for America and Americans originated as a common British derisive for colonists)

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As we parse patriotism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that George Washington, acting on legislation passed by Congress three days earlier, created the first federal agency, The Department of Foreign Affairs– what we now know as The Department of State.

state source

 

“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…

 

Oskar Kokoschka – “Prometheus Triptych” (left hand panel)

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What’s the ugliest
Part of your body?
What’s the ugliest
Part of your body?
Some say your nose
Some say your toes
(I think it’s your mind)
But I think it’s YOUR MIND

Frank Zappa

… Art holds up a mirror to shifting attitudes. Initial tags of ‘ugly’ sometimes get forgotten as once-derided subjects become valued. Impressionism of the 19th century – now featured in blockbuster exhibits – was initially compared to mushy food and rotting flesh. When Henri Matisse’s works showed in the US at the Armory Show of 1913, critics lambasted his art as ‘ugly’, while art students in Chicago burned an effigy of his Blue Nude in front of the Art Institute. The same institution mounted a major retrospective of his work a century later. Jazz and rock’n’roll were once considered ‘ugly’ music, threatening to corrupt entire generations.

In the face of ‘ugly’ slurs, some artists embraced the word. The painter Paul Gauguin called ugliness ‘the touchstone of our modern art’. The poet and translator Ezra Pound encouraged a ‘cult of ugliness’. The composer Charles H H Parry praised ugliness in music, without which ‘there would not be any progress in either social or artistic things’. The critic Clement Greenberg lauded Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism as ‘not afraid to look ugly – all profoundly original art looks ugly at first’…

From Gretchen Henderson‘s essay “The history of ugliness shows that there is no such thing.”  And for artist Oskar Kokoschka’s thoughts, see “On Making Ugly Art.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”
― Marquis de Sade

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As we gaze into our mirrors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1852 that “Uncle Sam” first appeared as a cartoon figure in the New York Lantern weekly newspaper.  Thomas Nast, the famed Harpers cartoonist who created the political party mascots and Santa Claus, is widely– but incorrectly– credited with creating the Uncle Sam archetype.  While Nast certainly helped create the modern impression of the character, and popularize it, he was just 12 years old when the original cartoon appeared.  It was the creation of Frank Bellew.

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Written by LW

March 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

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