Friday, February 23, 2007

National Personifications

Last week - sorry it's taken me so long - I created a lesson for my argument students about visual rhetoric (something I like to do when they are turning in an assignment as a fun interlude). Although I have several visual rhetoric activities already, I wanted something new, so I made a brief PowerPoint about Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty, to discuss images of national personification. I showed variations through time and some of the takeoffs on Uncle Sam, as well as the historical sources of the image and pose.

Surprisingly (or maybe not) students had not really thought about how they wished to be represented to the rest of the world. Most agreed that Uncle Sam seems angry and bossy, and while they didn't think that was a nice image, they could see that to the rest of the world, this image might seem very accurate about America. Most preferred the welcoming gentleness of Lady Liberty, although they realized the conflict of the fact that we are now saying the opposite of Emma Lazarus's sonnet "The New Colossus" with its famous line "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
—Emma Lazarus, 1883

Ironically, although that poem is now posted on the Statue of Liberty, in fact now many Americans want to close borders.

Suggestions for alternatives to both Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty included Colonel Sanders (he looks jolly and provides food) and Hugh Hefner/Playboy Bunny, because of America's focus of selfsatisfaction and sex. For some reason, Uncle Sanders wants to be at the top of the page.

Colonel Sanders
Lady Liberty
Statue of Liberty. Photo. Wikipedia. 15 Feb 2007.


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