Barry Blitt’s cover illustration for the current (October 24) New Yorker is a post-modern version of cartoons from the late 19th century that savaged the trusts and Tammany Hall.
Joseph Keppler’s illustration “The Bosses of the Senate,” for Puck magazine (January 23, 1889), which appears on the U.S. Senate’s own Web site, is a well-known example of both the spirit and style of the era:
Like Keppler, Blitt dresses his plutocrats in top hats and cutaways; unlike Keppler, he does not overtly lampoon the influence of money on politics. An October 17 New York Times article on Robert S. Halper (“He Made It on Wall St. and Used It to Help Start the Protests”) helpfully shows how even the Occupy Wall Street movement is backed by … Wall Street dollars.
More interesting still, although four of the plutocrats in Blitt’s cartoon carry signs with ethnically neutral slogans (“I’ve got mine”; “Keep things precisely as they are”; “Leave well enough alone”; “I’m good, thanks”), one of them is brandishing a sign that reads “Change shmange.”
Is there any other way to interpret that image except as targeting Jewish Wall Streeters?
Of course there’s always the defense that it’s a cartoon, it’s satirical, it’s lampooning anti-Semitism, not expressing it, etc., etc. But put aside all those post-modern meta-defenses, and submit the cartoon to a simple smell test. If Blitt had portrayed one of the bankers as a black man carrying a sign proclaiming, “I’m chill,” would the New Yorker have run it?
It’s worth remembering that Puck was animated not just by populism but by nativism. Irish and other ethnic immigrants were often singled out in both cartoons and editorials:
It’s easy to demonize plutocrats — who can really feel sorry for billionaires? But populism has often been a disguise for nativism. Yet the effort commentators (mostly unsuccessfully) put into discrediting the Tea Party as racist (or “racial” ) has now twisted itself into knots in order to deny that OWS is anti-Semitic. In other words, “conservatives” bear scrutiny; “progressives” merit excuses.