of the Self (or Ego) vs. the Other are not only conveyed in and between
cultures through verbal discourse but also through pictures. Such cultural
constructions are often established and consolidated by storytelling, where,
briefly put, events or situations are temporally ordered. Pictures and visual
artworks may be powerful narrative resources for establishing and consolidating
cultural stances and framing actions. In this paper, I shall focus upon
demarcation efforts of Jews as the Other from the Middle Ages onwards, in the
Third Reich’s iconography, and in modern, radicalized forms of anti-Semitic
picturing in Arab media. Within overarching master stories staging a
pseudo-historical struggle between various protagonists and Jewish antagonists,
considerable efforts have been made to produce pictorial narratives or gists in
order to demarcate the Ego from the Other. A number of concrete pictorial
examples will be presented from a narratological and cultural semiotic
anti-Semitism, Arab world, caricatures, cultural semiotics, Islam, master stories,
Middle Ages, National Socialism, pictorial narrativity, stereotypes
1. Introduction: on (pictorial) narrativity and
In the humanities,
narratology has become an established research area during the last few
decades, notably among scholars concerned with literature, film, and semiotics.
Furthermore, in cognitive science, narrative-like structures in mental
representations have also come to play a significant role. As cognitive
psychologists such as Jerome Bruner and Roger Schank have argued, narratives
are crucial and fundamental cognitive instruments or tools. Moreover, narrative
is undoubtedly a cross-cultural phenomenon, while also occurring basically
across all individuals within cultures. From the point of view of content,
moreover, many successful stories seem to be concerned with more or less
universal human preoccupations, such as sex, danger, life and death, deception,
violence, power, wealth, and so on. Many
stories, in various kinds of semiotic modalities, whether oral, written, or
pictorial, appear to touch upon existential concerns, fears, and hopes, and
thereby contribute to giving structure to the fragility and vulnerability of
human existence. They tell us something about the world or some of its aspects,
and about possible or recommended ways of interaction with or manipulation of
the world. Thus storytelling is an important means of creating ontological,
existential, or social orders, and it reminds us of existent ones of which we
may not always be consciously aware, thereby playing a part in their
Schank suggests, the identity of a culture is largely based upon shared low-
and high-level narrative structures, varying in degrees of abstraction. Such
culturally shared stories, or stories in general, occur frequently in highly
abbreviated form as skeleton stories, proverbs, or as gists. As I hope to show
here, pictorial material often functions in a similar way. Pictures may have a
quite explicit or full-fledged narrative appearance, but sometimes even highly
condensed or indeterminate pictures may trigger the emergence of more
full-fledged narrative interpretations.
But what exactly is a
story? As a point of departure, we might propose that a minimal condition for
something being a narrative ought to be “the representation of at least two
real or fictive events or situations in a time sequence, neither of which presupposes
or entails the other.”
According to this suggestion, no requirements on the expression side of such
representations occur, thus permitting the possibility of narrative being
enacted in media other than language, and even in such media that do not permit
any clear temporal division, such as static pictorial representations. On the
content side, however, narratives have frequently been delineated from
non-narrative texts, for example, arguments, explanations, or chronicles, by
defining criteria, such as temporal sequence, emplotment, eventfulness, causality
or causal agency, and particularity rather than generality. Bruner has also
stressed the inherent sequentiality of narratives: “[A] narrative is composed
of a unique sequence of events, mental states, happenings involving human
beings as characters or actors. These are its constituents…. Their meaning is
given by their place in the overall configuration of the sequence as a whole –
its plot or fabula.” Moreover, as the
narratologist Tzvetan Todorov pointed out, narratives prototypically follow a
scheme of an initial equilibrium through a phase of disturbance to an endpoint which
restores the equilibrium.
Historically, the privileged medium
for transmitting narratives appears to be linguistic, sequential structures
such as oral storytelling or literature that, until recently, most
narratologists have focused upon. However, it seems unquestionable that
numerous, and more or less clear-cut examples of pictorial storytelling can be
found throughout history, for example, in ancient Egypt, Greece, the
Renaissance, India, and China. Thus we might distinguish between at least three
types of pictorial storytelling:
pictures where multiple static, distinct pictures, each of them conveying a
single scene, are linked in a narrative series that has a fixed reading order,
frequently horizontal or vertical.
pictures showing different events and persons in the same pictorial space, sometimes called continuous
narratives, cases of simultaneous succession, or polyphase pictures.
pictures in which an entire story is compressed into or implied by a single
scene, sometimes called monophase pictures.
The last case, of
course, gives rise to the question of to what extent pictorial narrating, especially
in single pictures, presupposes the beholder's previous acquaintance with
verbally communicated stories or further media-external contexts. In media
involving static images, many works seem, indeed, parasitic on language-based
stories, where only a beholder acquainted with the relevant background knowledge
might see this pictorial representation, as, for example, a significant or
crucial moment within a narrative sequence implicitly stretching backwards in
time and also forward into the future. Monophase pictures may have a more or
less illustrative function, being sometimes supplemented by external or
internal textual descriptions, comments, and other paratextual elements. In
other cases, a verbal title prompts viewers to situate the static images in a
Yet pictorial stimuli frequently are also narratively quite indeterminate or
polysemic, permitting multiple interpretative paths. For example, different
temporal orders or causal relations among the agents may be imposed upon and be
compatible with the content of pictures when the pictures in question, strictly
speaking, do not exclusively express any of those orders or relations, either
formally or semantically. But still, this doesn’t mean that anything goes. In
many cases there are certainly conventionalized limits to the range of
justifiable or possible interpretations.
Furthermore, it seems reasonable to
differentiate among three levels of pictorial narrativity: representations of
(i) single events, understood as the transition from one state of affairs to
another, usually involving (groups of) agents; (ii) stories, that is,
particular sequences of related events that are situated in the past, and retold,
for example, for ideological purposes and involving disruptive turns in the
narrated happenings; and (iii) by implication, master narratives, being deeply embedded in a culture, that provide
cosmological explanations and patterns for cultural life and social or moral structure.
In the following, I
shall focus mainly on the last kind of implied pictorial narrativity as a means
of establishing collective identities and demarcations, particularly as
revealed in anti-Semitic iconography. Frequently, the term ‘master narrative’
is used as referring to socio-cultural forms of interpretation strategies
employed by individual subjects and collective institutions, manifested as
myths, legends, religious tales, historical accounts, overarching scientific
theories, and so on. The philosopher Jean-François Lyotard brought this term
into prominence when criticizing modernity’s “grand narratives” (grand récits), that is, large-scale
theories stemming from the Enlightenment, as manifested in the universalizing
pretensions of science and beliefs in the progress of history. Leaving
Lyotard’s scepticism towards modernity and relativist inclinations aside, the
concept of master narrative might nevertheless be useful in order to describe
more all-embracing forms of story-telling as providing historical, existential,
or ontological explanations, often also attempting to preserve or to challenge
the status quo of existing power relations. Hence, master narratives are rather
principal stories, trying to provide basic or underlying interconnections
between various events, the succession and gradual development of social
conditions and systems, and so on, in making sense of history and human
2. Constructing (collective) otherness
Stories and master
stories are, so it seems, efficient means of establishing and consolidating
socio-cultural identities, and of segregating groups from one another. These
identification and demarcation processes may be analyzed further from a
cultural semiotic point of view. As first proposed by the Tartu school of
semiotics, it might be argued that all societies make models of their own
culture, conceived in opposition to other cultures. In
these models, the home culture is basically opposed to nature or non-culture
and seen as contrasting order to disorder, civilisation to barbarism, and so
on. This conception might be regarded as a canonical model, defined from the
point of view of the home culture itself, implicitly placing the Ego inside it
looking out over non-culture. There are at least
two kinds of criteria for making such a division between culture (Ego) and
non-culture (Alius): something could be part of non-culture because it is less
valued, i.e. a normative stance, or because it is too difficult or even
impossible to understand, i.e. a cognitive stance. According to this model, an Alius-culture,
from the Ego perspective, is characterized by the absence of dialogue and
basically by an unwillingness to be understood. (See Figure 1.) Non-texts
belonging to the Alius-culture are non-informative and lack any value; they are
not regarded as having the potential of participating in a dialogical
communicative act. The
relationship between Ego- and Alius-cultures is asymmetrical and dominated by
the Ego, which decides
which position to take versus the counterpart. Non-texts from the Alius-culture
may be observed but are not allowed to enter the Ego-culture sphere, being
unwanted and/or perceived as unintelligible.
Figure 1. Canonical model of cultural semiotics
Apart from a cultural
semiotic approach, related lines of thought can also be discerned within social
psychology. Among social behaviors, prejudice towards
people or groups of people is certainly a common and widespread phenomenon. Generally
speaking, prejudice may be defined as an attitude, consisting of three
- an affective or emotional component, involving pro- or con-emotions;
- a cognitive component, involving beliefs and thought; and
- a behavioral component, resulting in certain dispositions or actions.
Prejudice may be
positive or negative, although the term is commonly used to refer to negative
or hostile attitudes to others. Moreover, such
biases also involve stereotyping, which goes beyond simple categorization. The external world
consists of an incredible number of entities that may differ in innumerable
ways, hence the ability to generalize or to find regularities in objects and
events appears to be one of the most consequential cognitive activities. The
formation of categories enables us to apply previous experiences to new ones,
to make inferences, and to make predictions about the future, and they provide
efficiency in communication, just to mention a few examples.
are the result of categorization processes that, in social contexts, may be
described as “generalization[s] about a group of people in which identical
characteristics are assigned to virtually all members of the group, regardless
of actual variation among the members. Once formed, stereotypes are resistant
to change on the basis of new information.”
Moreover, stereotyping may also include exaggerated and fabricated, and
derogatory or idealizing features attributed to certain people, thus surpassing
simple value-neutral and empirically more well-founded forms of classification.
Such stereotyping is also crucial in establishing what is called by social
psychology in-groups vs. out-groups. Simply
put, an in-group is a social group to which one psychologically identifies as
being a member, to which one has a sympathetic attitude, and whose members are
regarded as deserving a special, favorable treatment. By contrast, an out-group
is a social group with which an individual does not identify, and where not
only an equivalent favoritism compared to the in-group is absent but whose
members also may be regarded as threatening or in derogatory terms. Indeed, it is far from uncommon to even dehumanize
out-groups, whose members may be viewed as rather mechanistic objects without typical
human characteristics, such as warmth, curiosity, and depth. Another form of
dehumanization occurs when out-groups are treated as animals, lacking culture,
morality, higher cognition, and refinement.
Further, members of an out-group tend to a higher extent to be perceived as
more similar to each other, as all alike, or homogeneous, while in-group
members are experienced as more diverse.
As I shall argue in
the following section, the formation of collective identities as described here
may, to a considerable extent and even crucially, be the result of widespread,
socio-cultural forms of storytelling, not least through implication by
3. Master narratives and anti-Semitism
In their work Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism
(2011), Jeffry Halverson, H. L. Goodall, and Steven Corman suggest that we might
plausibly define a master narrative as follows:
[A] master narrative is a
transhistorical narrative that is deeply embedded in a particular culture.
By “transhistorical” we do not mean that master narratives are “born” as such.
In fact, they “grow up” to attain that stature over time through repetition and
reverence within a particular culture. In addition, by “culture” we are
referring to an interrelated set of shared characteristics or qualities claimed
by an ethnic, social, or religious group to which human beings collectively
For our present
purposes, this suggestion can aptly be used as a sufficient working-definition.
In this section, I shall consider three historical strands of anti-Semitic
master stories, namely those circulating during medieval Europe and afterwards,
Germany’s Third Reich, and in (parts of) the Muslim world.
3.1. Medieval Europe
Christian-dominated Middle Ages in Europe, policies of systematically outlawing
Jews from society were widely promoted and applied. However, this general view
should also be somewhat modified. There is evidence concerning the relationship between
Jews and Christians that suggests that Jews were sometimes more assimilated
into Christian society than was commonly thought. Jews worked in Christian
villages and towns, at times experienced economic security, prosperity, even
certain privileges, and marriages between Jews and Christians occurred.
However, the fact seems undeniable that Jews, particularly from the Crusades
onwards, were demonized and accused of various forms of atrocities and moral
deterioration, resulting in their suppression and persecution, including
physical violence and mass executions. There were in particular the following
beliefs and master stories flourishing during this period, which contributed to
the general hostility towards Jews:
(i) Deicide. A
long-standing and basic pseudo-historic belief among Christians that the Jewish
people as a whole were fundamentally responsible for the death of Jesus.
(ii) The blood
libel, ritual murder, and cannibalism. The belief that Jews kidnapped and
murdered children of Christians in order to use their blood as part of their
religious rituals and as means of re-enacting the crucifixion. One famous
‘historic’ example was the case of the two-year-old Christian boy Simon, who,
in 1475, was found murdered in the city of Trent, Italy. The leaders of the
Jewish community were arrested, confessed under torture, and some of them were
subsequently executed. Numerous pictures, as frescoes, woodcuts, or etchings, rendering
Simon and his ‘martyrdom’ were produced until the end of the fifteenth century,
reaching all classes of society. (See figure 2.)
Various similar case
stories circulated during the Middle Ages throughout Europe, leading to an
over-arching master story according to which Jews were indulging their
blood-lust by committing ritual and child murders of this kind.
Figure 2. The Murder of Simon of Trent (woodcut,
of Hosts. This form of sacrilege in Christianity involved the mistreatment
or malicious use of a consecrated host. From the twelfth century onwards,
rumors were widespread that Jews stole, burned, or otherwise mistreated the
Host in order to symbolically re-enact the killing of Jesus; this accusation
was thus related to that of deicide. In many
cases, such accusations led to penalties, such as torture and execution. Also,
pictorial renderings of such acts of sacrilege were produced during the Middle
Ages and the Renaissance.
During the Middle Ages, Europe was severely struck by several waves of the
Black Death, one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. As no
knowledge of viruses or bacteria was available at that time, other explanations
were searched for. Prominent among those were accusations according to which
Jews had poisoned wells with potable water. Also, after the decline of the
plague in Europe, similar myths about disease-spreading Jews were still
widespread for centuries to follow, as late as in the Soviet Union during the
1950s or in the Arab world in the 1980s and 1980s.
(v) Money, greed,
and usury. During the Middle Ages, when the Church prohibited Christians from
lending money with interest but Jews were legally permitted to do so, many Jews
went into money-lending occupations. A widespread myth was the assumption that
Jews had entered these professions out of greed and that their way of life
basically was parasitic on other people’s hard work.
stereotypes of Jewish practices, as outlined here, were manifested and
reproduced by orally transmitted myths, in Church sermons, and in written form.
Famous examples include the Canterbury
Tales from the fourteenth century or Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In the latter, for example, the Jewish
moneylender Shylock is portrayed as an unscrupulous and greedy person, perhaps
interpretable as a general metaphor for the Jewish Otherness, the “Jewish
religious, social, and economic distinctiveness.”
representations of Jews engaged in morally despicable behavior were produced,
we should also note that explicit anti-Semitic iconography does not seem to
have emerged before nineteenth-century France. Until then, Jews were generally depicted
as normal humans, without any physical distortions or deviations,
distinguishable from others only by name inscriptions or attributes such as a
pointed hat or a yellow patch on their clothing. The
famous Dreyfus affair in France at the end of the nineteenth century, however,
gave rise to an abundance of anti-Semitic cartoons and illustrations published
in right-wing newspapers, where more consistent, derogatory iconic codes of
Jewishness emerged. (See figure 3.) From then
on, the visual otherness of Jews became more clearly outlined, and also spread
to other parts of Europe, such as Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia. Iconic
representations of Jews were rendered with caricature-like characteristics, that
is, a selection of distinguishing and typifying attributes that, despite or
even because of the omission of details, facilitate recognizability,
memorability, and schematization. (See also section 4.)
Figure 3. Dreyfus washed by another Jew (caption: “Only blood can clean
a stain like this”), La Libre Parole,
Frequently, then, Jews
were depicted with distinctive physiognomic features, such as swarthy complexions
with curly black hair, large hook-noses, thick lips, beady-eyes, large feet,
crooked postures, and so on. All in all, one might argue that their outer
appearance was rendered as an antithesis to Western classical ideals of human
beauty. Furthermore, these characteristics were also supposed to indicate inner
psychological and moral deficiencies. Anti-Semitic pictures, moreover, are not usually
intended as depictions of certain individuals but rather of types and as visual
synecdoches of the Jewish people, and Jewishness, as a whole. From then on, a
distinctive anti-Semitic iconography of otherness became increasingly
established, not the least flourishing and used for propagandistic purposes in
3.2 The Third Reich
may, according to a number of scholars, be described as a radicalized version
of fascism or, as termed by Roger Griffin, as a form of “palingenetic populist
term “palingenesis” stems, etymologically, from the Greek terms ‘palin’ (again,
anew) and ‘genesis’ (creation, birth), and is used by Griffin as referring to a
core myth in fascist thinking. The idea of renewal, rebirth, or regeneration is,
of course, by no means peculiar to fascism but also essential in Christianity,
most notably with the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself, the Renaissance
view on the West’s cultural history, and
Marxist thinking, just to mention a few examples. And, as an archetypal narrative,
it is certainly not restricted to the Western world. As Griffin claims, the
idea of and striving for a new birth occurring after a period of perceived
decadence lies at the heart of fascism. The term ‘populist ultra-nationalism’ is
referred to as a very specific sub-category of nationalism. Fascist movements
depend, even if they are led by small elites, in practice or in principle on
the support of the public or larger groups of people, and they endorse a
concept of the nation as a higher racial, historical, spiritual, or organic
reality that includes all the members of an assumed ethnical community.
Fascism’s and National Socialism’s mobilizing vision is that of the national
community rising phoenix-like after a period of decadence that all but
destroyed it. This general narrative of crisis would also include
the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action
against the group’s enemies, internal and external.
In National Socialist
art, the Aryan past is frequently rendered as an idyllic, pre-industrial way of
life, functioning as a timeless source of inspiration for the future; racially
perfect men and women, often with classical features, are depicted. Imperfect
aspects of this idealized world, such as “inferior” races, are largely omitted.
In other media, such as journals, posters, and school books, however, Bolshevik
or Jewish stereotypes of the Others are explicitly shown in propagandistic
images in order to reinforce anxieties about contemporary developments in
political and economic life. The typical outward features of those reveal, for
example, their allegedly Middle Eastern and Asiatic, and also morally
derogatory, characteristics. Sinti or Roma (Gypsies) and especially Jews had a
special status as anti-types, as belonging to an Alius-culture, deprived of any
option of assimilation, with which no dialogue whatsoever could be possible.
illustrating and participating in the overall narrative of the Nazi regime, as
outlined in the previous section, this antithetic distinction between the Ego
and the Alius can be found in the picture book for children, Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem
Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust A Fox
in A Green Meadow or the Oath of A Jew), from 1936. (See figure 4.)
Figure 4. (German) Ego vs. (Jewish) Alius
The German is here
depicted as a tall, blond, slender, and sturdy Aryan archetype, with regular
features and a high forehead. His shovel indicates that he is engaged in
physical, that is, genuine, work. In contrast to the Aryan ideal, the Jew is
shown as short, crooked, dark-haired, misshapen, bulky, with a sloping forehead
and a bent nose, embodying the Jewish racial characteristics set forth by the
Nazis. At the same time, this image conveys the stereotype of the money-hungry
Jew, well-dressed and carrying an attaché case in his hand and
a financial newspaper in his pocket. The Aryan, with his proud posture, looks
fiercely down upon the former, who seems to give him a sneaky glance. These
illustrations are then accompanied by short texts in verse form intended to
enhance this dichotomization of these figures. For the one on the right, the
accompanying text reads as follows:
“This is the Jew, as all can see,
The biggest villain in the whole Reich!
He thinks himself the greatest Beau
Yet is the ugliest around!”
Frequently in art as
in other pictorial media, Aryans are depicted with blonde hair, blue eyes, long
head, a smooth straight nose, and presumably a tall and muscular stature, the
stereotyped physical appearance of the Nordic race. (See figures 5 a/b.)
Figure 5 a. Poster, “Hitler Builds Up – Help Out
- Buy German Goods” (1924)
Figure 5 b. Poster, “The Reichs Sports Day of
the Association of German Girls” (1934)
Jews, on the other
hand, are frequently rendered with caricature-like features, which had appeared
in anti-Semitic cartoons since the Dreyfus affair. Moreover, outright dehumanizing pictures
depicted Jews as satanic creatures with horns, cloven hoofs and tails, or as
snakes, rats, vermin, and so on. (Figures 6a and b). Basically, they were verbally and visually
rendered as an alien race parasitic on the host nation, poisoning its culture,
seizing its economy, enslaving its hard-working inhabitants, and conspiring to attain
economic world dominance. This general view, although neither new nor unique to
the Nazi Party but already widely shared during the Middle Ages, now became a
state-supported stereotype. National Socialist
iconography, as outlined here, was, among others things, intended to render and
reveal an eternal conflict between an Aryan homeworld against a Jewish alien world.
Some of the pictures produced had undoubtedly an explicit narrative appearance, and were directly experienced as
such, for example, illustrations used in children’s
books or journal articles, where the textual accompaniments steered the reader to more fixed
Figure 6 a. Poster, “Down with Enslavement! –
Vote National Socialist!” (1924)
Figure 6 b. Poster for the film “The eternal
Jew” (Der ewige Jude, 1940)
Still pictures in
propagandistic posters, rendering Ego and Alius personifications with their
alleged physical and implied racial, political, and moral characteristics were
certainly understood as abbreviations of a larger narrative structure. This
master story, which permeated the Third Reich in most media and institutions, speeches,
public spectacles, exhibitions and, not least, cinema, basically consisted of
the historical struggle between the Aryan protagonists and heroes and the Jew
antagonists and villains, between good and evil, and a promise of a utopian
within this overarching story, National Socialist images functioned as
narrative gists and cognitive tools, as instruments for generating and
enhancing collective identities as envisaged by National Socialism.
3.3. The Arab-Muslim
world, past and present
an outspoken and radicalized anti-Semitism in the Arab and Muslim world is of
relatively recent origin. Along with other religious communities, including
Christian, so-called dhimmi-citizens, that is, protected persons in Islamic
states, lived under certain restrictions. They had to pay special additional
taxes, and they did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims.
However, in many other respects, they had equal rights under the laws of
property, contract, and obligation. The
Koran expresses a wide range of attitudes and recommended actions towards Jews,
stretching from tolerance and even friendliness to blunt hostility, where it is
stated that jihad (the holy war)
against Jews, and also non-believers in
general, is the duty of every Muslim believer. Still,
despite occurring incidents of oppression and ethnic cleansing, it appears that
Jews by and large fared better in Arab regions than in Europe during the Middle
Ages and afterwards. Traditional Christian accusations of striving for Jewish
world domination, well-poisoning, ritual murders, and especially deicide, as
Jesus was considered to be a prophet, not the son of God, were largely absent.
dramatically, however, during the nineteenth century, where accusations of
ritual murder committed by Jews spread in the Arab world. One incident especially
generated considerable attention, namely the so-called Damascus affair. In
1840, a Capuchin monk in Damascus suddenly disappeared, and other monks,
supported by the French Consul, accused the Jewish community of ritual murder.
Jewish leaders were subsequently arrested and confessed under torture, leading to
some of them being executed. During the following decades, similar incidents
and accusations followed in the Ottoman Empire, mostly in regions with
Christian communities. In the
twentieth century, also due to the impact of Nazi propaganda, anti-Semitic
tendencies successively spread from Europe.
Anti-Zionist and outspoken anti-Semitic physical attacks and even massacres
occurred during the 1930s and 1940s. The Jewish colonization of Palestine
during the 1880s had gained little attention outside of the region. But after the creation of the State of Israel
in 1948 and a general resentment over Jewish nationalism and Zionism, and also
violent conflicts such as the 1948 and 1967 Arab–Israeli wars, where Israel’s
victories were experienced as traumatic humiliations, conditions for Jews in
the Arab world worsened considerably.
explanatory account of the rise of anti-Semitism in Arab regions would go beyond
the scope of this paper.
However, as Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein claims, “a deeply
ingrained and institutionalized anti-Semitism” has nowadays become a dominant
factor in Arab nations.” However,
rather than upholding stereotypes of Jews as parasites as in Nazi Germany, they
are now regarded as aggressors and warmongers. The Jew has been “turned into a
superhuman, demonic, almost omnipotent figure – a danger to the whole world.”
Furthermore, because of an increased Islamization, propagandistic use has been
made of “selective anti-Jewish quotations from the Koran, the fact that Jews
were perfidious, selfish, avaricious, obstinate, fraudulent, domineering, and
stereotypes are not the least reflected in pictorial renderings, especially in
the abundant production of cartoons published in Arab newspapers and journals.
Although, at first glance, numerous ones target Israel and its politicians,
their anti-Semitic ingredients seem undeniable “in portraying the Jews as
blood-drinkers and Sharon (a former Prime Minister of Israel) as a predator
(vampire, shark, snake, etc.) by sketching Israelis in uniforms adorned with
the Swastika, by wheeling out the crucifixion of Jesus and the medieval accusation
of the blood libel.…” One can
perhaps discern the following, partly overlapping themes in Arab caricature:
(i) The blood
libel: the Jew as vampire and child-murderer. Although the blood libel does
not have any roots in Islam, as in Christianity, it has become a recurrent
theme in anti-Semitic propaganda in the Arab world, where Jews are being
accused of blood thirst, of requiring fresh blood, not least that of
Palestinian children. As the
Middle East scholar Rivka Yadlin notes, “[t]here is no doubt that the frequent
repetition of ideas and slogans has a cumulative effect. They become a common
idiom, almost a maxim, defeating any fresh considerations or reassessment…Only
this can explain how a twentieth-century society can accept and continue to
propagate such preposterous fictions as the blood libel – the belief that Jews
kidnap gentile children, slaughter them and mix their blood with unleavened
Passover bread. It is not only the simple and ignorant who hold such beliefs. A
number of recent books continue to accuse Jews of ritual murder….” Visual representations of blood-thirsty Jews,
a central theme in Arab cartoons, certainly contribute to consolidating such
stereotypes. (See figures 7 a/b.)
Figure 7 a. Mrs. Shamir: “Why are you throwing
out the girl’s blood before you use it to make matzoth?” (1990, Bahrain)
Figure 7 b. “Here’s to peace!” (2001, Egypt)
(ii) The Jew as
enemy of humanity and as demonic creature. As Hassan Soueïlem, an Egyptian
general, wrote in a newspaper (2000), “[h]istorians, professors of social
studies and sociologists are all agreed in maintaining that in its long history
the human race has never known a race with so many vile and despicable
characteristics as the Jewish race…. There is no difference…between yesterday’s
Jew and the Jew of today, or between Jewish identity and Israeli identity.” This
quotation may be regarded as symptomatic of a general view, according to which
Jews and Israel are considered to be criminal and treacherous, with evil
purposes and a threat to world peace. Also, visualizations of this theme have been abundantly published. (See figures
a. “The end” (1992; Dubai)
Figure 8 b. Untitled (1992; Egypt)
(iii) The Jew as
animal (zoomorphism). Attempts to dehumanize Jews, to regard them as
insects, vermin, snakes, dogs or other inferior animals, as already in the
Third Reich, do also figure as prominent themes in Arab caricature. (See figures
Figure 9 a. “The snake” (1990; Jordan)
Figure 9 b. “Palestine house” (date unknown; Saudi Arabia)
(iv) Jews as Nazis. Paradoxically,
despite the atrocities committed against Jews in the Third Reich, Israel is
frequently viewed as a Judeo-Nazi entity. In fundamentalist circles, it has
been commonplace to regard these atrocities as exaggerated, as manipulative
lies to whitewash the wrongdoings of Israel, and Jews, in general, which are
Actually, the “crimes” of the Jewish state are described and visualized as
flagrantly fascist or national socialist in their core. (See figures 10 a/b)
Figure 10 a. Untitled
[caricature of Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel] (2002; Saudi Arabia)
Figure 10 b. “When I’ve finished with him, I’ll
take care of you!” (2001; Egypt)
4. Concluding remarks: why stereotypes and caricatures stick
it seems doubtful whether pictures, in themselves, are necessary or sufficient
to form, alter, or consolidate people’s attitudes or behavior, although there
might be context-specific exceptions. In this respect, Plato’s and subsequent scholars’
general worries about possible negative influences that morally inferior art or
mimetic representations may exert on recipients appear to have been quite
exaggerated. But when there is an abundant and continuous production of
pictorial stereotypes, in combination with an extensive discourse within a
society and also within legislative measures, things might very well be
different. In such contexts, it might not be unreasonable to suspect that schematic
images may cumulatively contribute to the establishment of stereotypical
beliefs concerning, for example, the nature and character of other cultures and
ethnic-religious communities, thus consolidating their status as the Other.
We may also point to
a phenomenon sometimes called “the picture superiority effect.” Numerous
experiments have been carried out that indicate that visual information is
processed and stored in a different way from verbal information. Allan Paivio's
influential dual-code theory distinguishes between separate mental representations
for verbal and visual information. An initial aim of his research was to
explain the fact that memory for pictorial stimulus material, or pictured
concepts, is often superior to verbal material or verbalized concepts. As his
studies indicate, concepts that are more concrete and easier to imagine visually
are usually better remembered than abstract ones. These findings are accounted
for by suggesting that cognitive processes involve two parallel memory systems,
a linguistic and a pictorial system respectively. Pictures are more
likely than words to be encoded in both verbal and image representations,
thereby enhancing the probability of later retrieval.
Furthermore, a number of studies in consumer research seem to confirm that
visual information used in advertising, for example, indeed facilitates memory recognition
tasks, especially in delayed recall tasks.
This could also apply to depictions of Jews. Consequently, then, frequently recurring
encounters with pictorial stereotypifications of Jews might very well have had
a considerable impact on the emergence of corresponding mental stereotypes
among large groups of beholders involving negative connotations.
As to visually
rendered stereotypes, there are a number of experimental and, at first glance,
paradoxical findings according to which caricatures, despite being simplified
and often exaggerated distortions of faces and people, often are more easily
recognizable and memorable than undistorted or photographic images. A number of
explanatory hypotheses have been put forward in cognitive psychology, a
detailed discussion of which would exceed the scope of this paper.
However, it has been suggested that “caricatures are extraordinarily
recognizable portraits, more recognizable than the faces on which they are
based…. For this to occur, the distinctive features of the encoded
representation of the face must be exaggerated.”
While individualized portraits or photographs depict individuals at specific
moments in time having transitory features, caricatures emphasize constant and
distinctive ones. As such, they seem closer to schematic memory representations
than photographs. Generally speaking, our ability to recognize anything seems
to presuppose something like a mental representation with which sensory stimuli
can be compared. We obviously need some kind of typifying, schematic
information stored in long-term memory that, when matched with external
objects, leads to their recognition and categorization. And repeated encounters
with these objects lead, of course, to the replication and stabilization of
such mental schemas.
Visualized stereotypes of groups or group members may play a significant role for
the reproduction of social, ethnic, and ethical categorizations.
It should be pointed
out that stereotypification does not necessarily explicitly point to or involve
derogatory characteristics. Numerous pictures throughout history depict idealized types of men and women, actions,
warriors, landscapes, and so on. In what way, first, have male and female
bodies been idealized? Well, idealized presentations of the human body may
very well be thought of as corresponding to ideals having an evolutionary
basis, that is, concerning reproduction or choice of possible sexual partners,
strength, power, and protection. Thus, women may be rendered with
"ideal" attributes such as youth, health, pronounced buttocks, hips,
and breasts, while "ideal" men are characterized by health, broad
shoulders and strong, muscular bodies. While some goal-related ideals
manifested in pictorial representations concern phylogenetic adaptations
characteristic for humans as a species, others are, of course, dependent on
culture-specific circumstances. For example, humans rendered as persons
practicing a profession or certain activities, which may be typical or
well-known within a certain cultural context, may be idealized in that they are
given attributes, such as tools, clothes, gestures, and facial expressions, considered
to be suitable, or indicating suitability, for task-related goals.
stereotypifications of humans as Others, as belonging to an alien world, give
them a more homogeneous appearance, as more replaceable and less
free-standing individuals, thereby to some extent objectifying them and at
least implicitly diminishing their humanness, seen from an Ego-perspective, although
there may be differences in degree, of course.
During the Middle
Ages, pictorial means for establishing the Jewish stereotype might only have
had a partial impact, as consistent stylistic ways of rendering or implying its
negative characteristics were largely absent, and the general public had only
limited access to pictures. Still, verbal discourse and social restrictions
were, of course, sufficiently efficient for giving Jews an inferior status. An
increasing consolidation of pictorial stereotypes of Jewishness followed in the
nineteenth century, spreading all over Europe, reaching its climax in the Third
Reich, and now flourishing in the Arab-Muslim world.
As already noted,
stereotypes have a tendency to stick, resisting change and falsification.
Disconfirming evidence concerning the characteristics of certain groups may
easily be rejected and interpreted as dishonest efforts by the group members in
question to conceal their “true nature,” as in Nazi Germany, where the
mimicry-like behavior of Jews was frequently stressed. Rather than preceding
them, stereotypical beliefs may also be the result of prejudicial and
discriminatory actions of a dominant group towards the suppressed one, that is,
reproduction of stereotypes by various semiotic and behavioral means may also
lead to assumptions that there might at least be a kernel of truth in them.
Perhaps not all members in a group
are supposed to have certain characteristics, but maybe many or most of them have. After all, there is no smoke without
fire. Propagandistic strategies on these lines, sometimes called the Big Lie,
were already pointed out by Adolf Hitler, in Mein Kampf, who accused Jews of having employed them:
the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad
masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of
their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the
primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big
lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little
matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods…. For the
grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been
In concluding this
paper, then, I would argue that the continuous stereotyping of Jews, not least
as caricaturized visualizations that explicitly or implicitly point to their
negative moral or behavioral character traits, had a considerable impact on
dominant groups’ attitudes and behavior, whether in the Middle Ages, Nazi
Germany, or in the contemporary Arab world. Furthermore, they also imply and
reproduce palingenetic master narratives concerning the “Jewish problem,” basically telling an overarching story about
a pseudo-historic idyllic past (a state of equilibrium), a past/present filled with
obstacles and threats posed by Jews (the disruption), past/present attempts to
repair that disturbance, and the dream and promise of a new, future state of
equilibrium, that is, a Jew- and trouble-free Christian, Aryan, or Muslim world.
Michael Ranta holds a
Ph.D. in the History of Art from Stockholm University, Sweden, and is currently
a research fellow at the Division of Cognitive Semiotics at Lund
University. His principal research
includes cognitive psychology, art history, and aesthetics, and he has written
on semiotic, aesthetic, narratological, and art historical issues.
Published on January 1, 2017.
This paper is part of the research project, “The
Making of Them and Us (MaTUs) - Cultural Encounters Conveyed through Pictorial
Narrative,” funded by The Marcus and
Amalia Wallenberg Foundation. Earlier versions have been presented at the
conference “Mind-Media-Narrative” (Warsaw, Poland – June 2016) and the XXIth
International Congress of Aesthetics, " Aesthetics and Mass Culture”
(Seoul, South Korea, July 2016).
I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for
valuable comments on a preliminary version of this article.
Jerome Bruner, Acts of Meaning
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1990); Roger C. Schank, Tell Me a Story - Narrative and Intelligence (Evanston, Ill.:
Northwestern UP, 1995).
 Roger C. Schank, “Interestingness: Controlling
Inferences,” Artificial Intelligence,
12 (1979), 273–297.
 Cf. Michael Ranta, “(Re-)Creating Order: Narrativity
and Implied World Views in Pictures,” Storyworlds:
A Journal of Narrative Studies, 5 (2013), 1-30.
 Gerald Prince, Narratology:
The Form and Functioning of Narrative (Berlin: Mouton 1982), p 4.
 Tzvetan Todorov, Grammaire
du Décaméron (The Hague: Mouton, 1969), pp. 9-10.
 Cf. Michael Ranta, “Stories in Pictures (and Non-Pictorial
Objects) – A Narratological and Cognitive Psychological Approach,” Contemporary Aesthetics, 9 (2011); 2013.
 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Manchester:
Manchester UP, 1986).
 J. M. Lotman et al., Thesis on the Semiotic Study of Culture (Lisse: The Peter de Ridder
 As suggested by Göran Sonesson, “Ego meets Alter. The
Meaning of Otherness in Cultural Semiotics,” in J. Bernard (ed.), Special Issue
in Honour of Vilmos Voigt, Semiotica, 128, 3 (2000), 537-559); “The
Globalisation of Ego and Alter. An Essay in Cultural Semiotics.” Semiotica,
148, 1 (2004). 153-173).
 “Text” should here be understood in a wide semiotic
sense, that is, as every meaning-bearing artefact produced within a particular
 Modified adaptation from Sonesson (2000), p. 539.
 Cf. Elliot Aronson, Timothy D. Wilson, & Robin M.
Akert, Social Psychology (New York:
Pearson, 2010), pp. 210-214, p. 422.
 For more detailed overviews, cf. ibid., pp. 428-432;
Susan T. Fiske & Taylor, Shelley E. Taylor, Social Cognition – From Brains to Culture (London: Sage, 2013), pp.
 Cf. Nick Haslam, “Dehumanization: An Integrative
Review,” Personality and Social
Psychology Review, 10 (2006), 252-264.
 Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, (2010), pp. 430-431.
 Jeffry R. Halverson, Steven R. Corman, & H. L.
Goodall, Master Narratives of Islamist
Extremism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 13-14.
 For a detailed overview, see Jonathan Elukin, Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking
Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton UP,
 Cf. Joël Kotek, Cartoons
and Extremism – Israel and the Jews in Arab and Western Media
(Edgware/Portland: Vallentine Mitchell, 2009), pp. 1-19; Arieh Stav, Peace: The Arabian Caricature – A Study of
Anti-Semitic Imagery (Jerusalem/Hewlett, NY: Gefen Publ. House, 1999), pp.
25-33; Robert S. Wistrich (ed.): Demonizing
the Other – Antisemitism, Racism, and Xenophobia (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic,
1999), pp. 1-5.
 Illustration from Hartmann Schedel, Liber Chronicarum (Nürnberg: Anton Koberger, 1493), f 204v.
Kotek (2008), pp. 1-14; Stav (1999), pp. 25-33.
 Cf. Kotek (2008), pp. 6-9.
 Cf. Dana E. Katz, The
Jew in the Art of the Italian Renaissance (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
 Cf. Walter Laqueur, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times to the Present
Day (New York/Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), p. 62.
 Derek Jonathan Penslar, Shylock's Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2001), p. 1.
 Cf. Stav (1999), pp. 35-39.
 Kotek (2009), p. 19; Wistrich (1999), p. 9; Joel E.
Vessells, Drawing France – French Comics
and the Republic (Jackson, US: UP of Mississippi, 2010), pp 30-35. In this
image, the “traitor” Dreyfus is depicted with caricature-like, distorted
features distorted and receives ablutions of another stereotyped Jew. Retrieved
September 7, 2016: http://exhibits.library.duke.edu/exhibits/show/dreyfus/intro/item/20977
 Cf. Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge 1993); Roger Griffin &
M. Feldman, Fascism – Critical Concepts in Political Science, vol. 1 [The
Nature of Fascism] (London/New York 2004).
 Cf. Griffin (1993); R. O. Paxton, “The Five Stages of
Fascism,” Journal of Modern History, 70 (1998), 1 – 23.
 Illustration from Elvira
Bauer, Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid
 Bauer (1936), p. 5; my translation.
 See also Jeffrey Herf, “The ‘Jewish War’: Goebbels
and the Antisemitic Campaigns of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry,” Holocaust and
Genocide Studies 19, 1 (2005), 51-80.
 For a more detailed account of creating Otherness in
the Third Reich, see Michael Ranta, “The (Pictorial) Construction of Collective
Identities in the Third Reich,” Language
and Semiotic Studies, 2, 3 (2016), 106-123.
Stav (1999), pp. 80-83; Kotek (2009), pp. 23-24, Laqueur (2006), p. 193.
Laqueur (2006), pp. 191- 194; Halverson et al. (2011), pp. 2-9.
Laqueur (2006), pp. 192-193; Kotek (2009), p. 23.
Laqueur (2006), pp. 194-195; Kotek (2009), p. 24.
 Jeffrey Herf, Nazi
Propaganda for the Arab World (New Haven/London: Yale UP, 2009); Israel
Gershoni, (ed.), Arab Responses to
Fascism and Nazism: Attraction and Repulsion (Austin: Unive