The Nasty Truth

Caricature of Boss Tweed by Thomas Nast

Caricature of Boss Tweed by Thomas Nast

“Your assumptions are
your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in a while
or the light won’t come in.”
Isaac Asimov

“Don’t judge a man
by his opinions,
but what his opinions
have made of him.”
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“Day by day, your choices,
your thoughts, your actions
fashion the person you become.”


Okay.  Recent events have elicited public debate on a variety of issues, and quite frankly the preaching, I mean, comments from some have been disappointing.

Now, a good healthy debate never hurt anyone.  In fact, in my home we encourage opinions and open discussion on any and all topics.  However, there is a difference between explaining your position, and shoving it down someone’s throat.  One promotes healthy discussion and inspires change, while the latter does nothing more than leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Normally, I do not like talking politics…with anyone.  Talking politics generally gets people riled-up and they begin to turn.  They turn into something ugly.  Have you noticed?  Certainly, you’ve seen some of the comments I have lately (on both sides of the issues).  And when some engage in overly opinionated talk of teams or parties or divisions and who’s better than whom or which one is right vs. who is wrong, it can escalate from warm conversation to Armageddon argument in nano-seconds.

When confrontations flare, people change and morph into caricatures of themselves.  And it’s not pretty.

Caricature is defined as the following:

  1. picture or description exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of persons or things.
  2. Any imitation or copy so distorted or inferior as to be ludicrous.

When people argue positions and politics, exaggerated defects within themselves begin to emerge.  They become mean, condescending, high-minded, holier-than-thou, and ludicrous (that’s a good word).  They become something Thomas Nast would have a hay-day with.

Thomas Nast

Thomas Nast

Political Cartoonist, Thomas Nast
Thomas Nast was the foremost political cartoonist in the mid-1800s. Nowadays, he is remembered most for his iconic images of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam, but back in the day, he was known for targeting issues with nothing more than a handy pen and penchant for caricature.

Born in 1840 Germany, he emigrated to the United States in his childhood and landed his first illustrating job for a local newspaper when he was 15 years old.  Several years later he joined the staff at Harper’s Weekly and quickly made a name for himself as The editorial cartoonist.

His drawings were brilliant! With images and symbols, drawn with exquisite detail, one editorial picture could describe the workings and emotions of an entire event.  No easy feat.  Themes usually centered on the hot topics of his day: Civil War, slavery, and government corruption.

The Power of Images
In the days before photographs, never had images been so powerful.  His renderings made News accessible to anyone – from the illiterate street sweeper on up to the President of the United States – anyone could look at Nast’s cartoons and instantly be informed of the day’s political issues.  In fact, Abraham Lincoln described Nast as “the best recruiting sergeant” for the Union Cause because his anti-slavery sketches encouraged others to join the fight for equality and freedom.

Boss Tweed's Corruption by Thomas Nast

Boss Tweed’s Corruption by Thomas Nast

Boss Tweed
By the 1870s, Nast focused his cartoons solely on politics, because this is when he led a hardcore campaign against the corrupt William Marcy “Boss” Tweed and his cronies. Boss Tweed was one unscrupulous guy with his fingers in many pies: he was head of the New York political machine, a real-estate tycoon, and had a heavy hand in the Erie Railroad, the Tenth National Bank, the New York Printing Company, as well as the Metropolitan Hotel, all the while embezzling millions of dollars from New York taxpayers.

For years, Tweed had evaded the law, but in 1877 (near the end of his life), he was finally convicted and thrown into jail. The thing that led to Tweed’s downfall?  It was a caricature. Thomas Nast’s images through the years of Tweed’s debauchery led to public outcry and the law stepping in.

Nast’s drawings were – as a rule – clever and whimsical, but the caricatures of Boss Tweed were honest and ugly, spotlighting all that was wrong with Tweed’s morals and character.

047- Thomas Nast, "A Group of Vultures Waiting for the Storm to 'Blow Over'--'Let Us Prey' " (1871) [public domain]

“A Group of Vultures Waiting for the Storm to ‘Blow Over’-‘Let Us Prey'”

For instance, the first Tweed cartoon appeared in September 1871, depicting Tweed and other corrupt officials as vultures surrounding a corpse labelled “New York”. When Tweed laid eyes on it, he bribed Nast with $500,000 and a ticket out of town and told him to never come back.

Nast refused and continued drawing, with one caricature following another, each as brutal as the last.  As long as Tweed continued his criminal behavior, Nast was going to keep drawing it.

Now, I don’t know what kind of man William Marcy Tweed was back in his pre-political days, but later he was known – and is forever remembered – as the poster child of corruption in the Post-Civil War era.  Sad, his actions led to his being reduced to nothing more than a cartoonish interpretation of himself.

Oh, the power of words and images. What kind of picture do yours paint of you?

The Nasty Truth
I guess what I’m trying to say is this:  It’s okay to debate. It’s alright to argue points, get passionate over issues, even quarrel over controversies.  Different points of view are healthy. Taking a stand for what you believe is the right thing to do.  Shoot, we all should be standing for something.  But when taking a stand means hurting or degrading, when arguments are aimed at diminishing or disdaining anyone, well, that’s when it’s important to remember Boss Tweed and his caricature.

Remember the power of words and images.  What kind of pictures do yours paint of you?

“Heroes are those who can somehow resist the power of the situation and act out of noble motives, or behave in ways that do not demean others when they easily can.”
Philip G. Zimbardo


They are starting to put ads on our blog. We do not approve these and are not getting any residuals whatsoever, so I apologize for the content. I’ll see what I can do about it.


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