Political Isms: A New Wolfsonian Library Installation Opens To the Public

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

 

As Americans prepare for the inevitable barrage of political propaganda we know we can expect as we approach the November presidential election season, The Wolfsonian–FIU library has opened this afternoon a timely installation titled, The Politics of –Isms.

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This installation is part of the museum’s three month long election-themed programming, Thoughts on Democracy: Freedom to Vote 2016, in which four contemporary designers—(Mirko Ilić, Oliver Munday, Paul Sahre, and Bonnie Siegler)—have been commissioned to re-envision Norman Rockwell’s Second World War Four Freedoms posters. Their Freedom to Vote-themed posters will be on view in The Wolfsonian–FIU museum’s lobby, with large-scale reproductions at the Aventura Mall; the program will also include pop-up art installations, nighttime projections, and other events.

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The library installation examines the use (and abuse) of “isms” by politically-motivated artists and caricaturists to label and deride politicians on the left or right in the 1930s. The depression decade was a time when some Americans questioned the nation’s commitment to the economic status quo, and were confronted politically by a host of Fascist, Socialist, and Communist demagogues vying for their votes and allegiances.

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

 

Today’s post will provide a teaser of some of the materials on exhibit, but will also include other materials from The Wolfsonian–FIU library collection not represented in the installation.

 

Depression-era artists caricatured influential figures such as William Randolph Hearst, Father Charles Coughlin, and Huey Long, portraying them as extremists whose ideological commitments endangered American freedoms.

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

 

The son of a millionaire and senator from California, William R. Hearst spent much of his inheritance buying and building a media empire with “yellow journalism” newspapers that catered to the working class and German and Irish immigrants—even as they hysterically warned of the dangers of the “yellow peril” of Asian immigration.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

 

Hearst was twice elected to the House of Representatives and garnered 40 percent of the votes for the presidential nomination on one ballot at the Democratic National Convention in 1904. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hearst squandered his political and financial capital on real estate and art, was hit hard by the Great Depression, and became an ultra-conservative nationalist, critic of FDR’s New Deal, and a vitriolic anti-Communist crusader.

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

 

In 1934, Hearst visited Berlin, interviewed Adolf Hitler, and negotiated an arrangement whereby he agreed to publish columns by the Nazis without rebuttal. Progressive liberals, socialists, and communists all penned caricatures of Hearst using a visual vocabulary that questioned his professed patriotism and commitment to democracy as disingenuous and established his ties to Nazism by making it appear as though Hearst and Hitler shared the same barber and tailor!

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

Charles Edward Coughlin (1891-1979) was better known to his thirty million faithful listeners as “Father Coughlin”—the Roman Catholic priest who made weekly radio broadcasts from his National Shrine of the Little Flower church in Royal Oak, Michigan in the 1930s. While both Hearst and the “radio priest” originally supported the Democratic challenger Franklin D. Roosevelt over incumbent President Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election, both became vehement opponents of his New Deal policies. In 1934 Coughlin organized the National Union for Social Justice with a platform demanding radical monetary reforms, calling for the nationalization of major industries and railroads, and advocating on behalf of the working class. His radio broadcasts regularly excoriated banking interests using anti-Semitic rhetoric, attacked Socialism and Communism as unchristian, and even expressed support for some of the policies of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and German dictator Adolf Hitler.

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Hearst, Coughlin, and other right wing demagogues used their considerable influence in the print and radio media to attack President Roosevelt as dangerously left of center, the Democratic politician and populist crusader Huey Long challenged FDR for not going far enough. Huey Long had assumed near dictatorial power in Louisiana as that state’s governor and senator, but after campaigning for FDR in the southern states during the 1932 election, he founded a “Share the Wealth” movement as he turned his attention towards the next cycle of presidential elections.

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

 

 

While an assassin’s bullet put an early end to Huey Long’s life and presidential ambitions in 1935, Father Coughlin, Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, and Dr. Francis Townsend—an advocate of an old age pension scheme—took up Huey’s mantle and collectively campaigned against the Democratic incumbent.

 

 

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Conservatives and right wing critics recognized the power of red-baiting, and in the 1930s sought to paint President Roosevelt as a “Red Fascist” and to depict his New Deal as “creeping Socialism.”

 

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The Wolfsonian–FIU

A political flyer produced by the Republican National Committee in the lead up to the 1936 elections used a photographic illustration of a baby to imply that the Democratic president aspired to no less than dictatorship.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena Palacio Luca

 

Thankfully, such hysterical claims and hyperbolic rhetoric as was typical of the 1930s has since fallen out of favor and ceased to play a role in 21st century American presidential electioneering!

~ by "The Chief" on August 18, 2016.

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