When Politics Was Art

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The original Monocle was an American satirical magazine, published from the late 1950s (as stapled pamphlet and assorted newsletters) through the mid-1960s (as a perfect bound magazine) edited by Victor Navasky, editor emeritus of The Nation. This Monocle, headquartered at 80 Fifth Avenue in New York, had the distinction of predating many of the sixties most important alternative publishing institutions, like the “new left” monthlies. Monocle seeded much of the alternative press and mainstream publishing industry, and many are still active today.

As a student at Yale during the tail end of the McCarthy period, Navasky started Monocle, a companion of sorts to The Realist, a journal of free thought, criticism and satire that Paul Krassner published out of New York. Navasky said, “We could challenge the pieties of the day through satire, which didn’t really exist in print in a serious way at that point.”

Careers were made and styles launched at Monocle. The list of contributing satiric illustrators is a who’s-who of political acerbity and editorial acuity: Robert Grossman created the first African-American superhero, “Captain Melanin,” and “Roger Ruthless of the C.I.A.,” while Ed Sorel, David Levine, Paul Davis, Randy Enos, R.O. Blechman, Bob Gill, Milton Glaser, James McMullan, Tomi Ungerer, Lou Myers, Seymour Chwast, Marshall Arisman and John Alcorn contributed covers, cartoons and illustrations that poked gaping holes in the body politic and its sanctimonious leaders on both sides of the aisles, elected and otherwise.

This special presidential campaign issue threw a blanket over both parties and their respective follies.

A pox on both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Nixon’s houses. Its sobering that fifty years later, the art of Monocle’s satire is the meat of satiric fake news. But the reality is that Monocle had its finger on the pulse of things to come.


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →