Symbolic Idiocy

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Hitler killed millions and enslaved many more. For all their political missteps and deceits, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush should not be equated with Hitler. For opponents to smear a Hitler mustache on any of them trivializes the valid criticism and satire that each deserves. Currently, owing to the heated health care debates, President Obama has also been tarred with this despicable Nazi brand.

To show the utter stupidity of this kind of visual commentary, I offer various iterations, yet this is only a small sampling of what’s out there. Most are anonymous, but the first “known” Hitler image was in a 1968 issue of The East Village Other (below) of LBJ as Der Führer. A few years later, Ralph Steadman comically portrayed Richard Nixon in a characteristically Hitlerian pose (below, second). Nixon’s chiefs of staff–Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman–were often made out to be Nazi henchmen by cartoonists. George Bush was the president most commonly affixed with the Hitler mustache, but even almost-president Hillary Clinton has had her share. And now President Obama is the object of this ignorant symbolic opportunism. Watch Congressman Barney Frank’s brilliant response here.

Hitler remains one of the world’s top villains. To reduce his infamous visage to a ludicrous scold is injustice to all. Remember. Symbols are powerful things: don’t waste them or wear them out.

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 →

Posted inPrint Design Articles