Smells like ugly stereotypes?
September 20, 2016 9:53 AM   Subscribe

The other posters in this series of educational posters from WWII have a visual tie in to the identifying smell of chemical agents. I assume -- unfortunately -- that this was supposed to be the case with this figure as well? And if so, then I don't get it.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the image with my modern eyes but I can't look at the set and think this guy is supposed to be inherently garlicky and his appearance is supposed to be a dog whistle (#americainthe40s). I'm missing the significance of the character's get-up: is his referencing a particular character or should his overall appearance be a clue? Is he just some dude and I have expectations bias? Please hope.
posted by Ogre Lawless to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This is a super interesting question.

I don't have a lot to add but was hoping you (or other answerers) could identify the attributes which might indicate "garlickyness" (am I using this correctly as a dog whistle for Italian)? The beard growth? the earring? The shape of his head?

I would note that only one of the other posters has a figure of a human and it appears to be a caricature of a german soldier, not directly tied to the smell of the gas it is "advertising."
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:00 AM on September 20, 2016

Response by poster: The figure in that one is the fly. I guess I'd kind of read that as German too: he's an orderly carrying off a body which might be the other tie-in. Fly-in. I dunno.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2016

I wonder if there was a popular brand of garlic with that guy in the logo?
posted by I-baLL at 10:08 AM on September 20, 2016

Best answer: I think he's a Mussolini caricature - see for example here (note: super racist), with most of the same elements: balding, huge chin, stubble, band-aid. I'm not sure about the earring.
posted by theodolite at 10:11 AM on September 20, 2016 [17 favorites]

All of the posters have an image of the person smelling the chemical in them (sometimes using the synecdoche of a gas mask). In this poster, I can't tell whether the image of the person is another person smelling the chemical or whether your instincts are right and the person is the reference to the smell. All the other posters have a picture of what the smell is except this one, which would support your theory.

However, in the 1940s, Anglo-Americans connected garlicky food with all kinds of immigrant groups. I have an old Western European travel guidebook from the post-war era which warns about garlic in cuisine for almost every country in the book. I also don't think the illustration of the bald man with the earring corresponds to any particular group, unless it's meant to be a stereotype of a "swarthy" "ethnic"? It seems like it would have been easier to just illustrate a picture of a head of garlic.

The only aspect of the picture that makes me think "stereotype" is the earring.

On preview, I guess it could be a caricature of Mussolini? That seems like kind of a stretch for what the poster is trying to portray, though.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

First thing I thought of was a Mussolini caricature as well, and "garlic" is part and parcel w/ Italian food. Here's another one actually of Mussolini himself that looks almost identical inc. the bandage.
posted by griphus at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Whoops linked to the same image as theodolite.
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on September 20, 2016

Yup, that's Mussolini. "Garlic-eater" was an epithet used against Italians, Greeks, and other Meidterranean immigrant groups.
posted by briank at 10:21 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Presumably the piratical earring was added to specify that this is a Mussolini molto italiano who eats lots of garlic, rather than a generic Fascist Thug Mussolini.
posted by theodolite at 10:21 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was wondering about the earring; does anybody know anything about the bandage in both of the (apparent) Mussolini images?
posted by kimota at 10:27 AM on September 20, 2016

Not 100% sure of this but here was a failed assassination attempt which resulted with him having to wear a bandage on his nose, in public for at least a little while.
posted by griphus at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2016

couple more photos; it was a pretty big bandage which isn't really visible in the link above.
posted by griphus at 10:34 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a good question what these were trying to say, but part of this is that as communicative posters, these are plain bad. How many grunts know what "vesicant" means? What is just the word "quiet" for the flypaper one supposed to tell you? What's the flypaper guy got in his hands? The wet hay one: "oh, I can make the gas mask hose look like an elephant's trunk", yeah, but doesn't that clutter the information? I wouldn't put it above the illustrator that he tried to make Mussolini look like a garlic clove, but couldn't do it without it not looking like Mussolini anymore, and ended up with a clumsy compromise.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

probably obvious, but the sticking plaster is likely just implying clumsy shaver (shaved head). seems like no-one cuts themselves shaving these days...
posted by andrewcooke at 11:35 AM on September 20, 2016

The more I look at these, the more I'm prepared to appreciate them in all their inscrutable glory. Contemplate the footprints in the flypaper one: Could they be... simply a pure, opaque enigma? I find myself hoping there's no explanation for them. And I think we've established that the garlic man is Mussolini, but what's the... ray? emanating from, or to, his right eye? I suppose it probably means the gas goes to your eyes, but... with these posters I don't think it's out of the question that it's just a gratuitous ray coming from his right eye! And why is there a toaster in the geranium one? Ok, there's not a toaster in the geranium one but there may as well be, for all the hamhanded messaging in these posters.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

That's definitely a WWII caricature of Mussolini in the fourth poster, and a generic caricature of a German soldier in the third.

Mussolini was Italian, Italian food stereotypically used a lot of garlic, so Mussolini ties in well with garlic.
posted by easily confused at 2:44 PM on September 20, 2016

Flypaper one, if you didn't register this, is someone carrying the foot end of a stretcher (you see the handles, and the footprints are the boots of the unlucky soul on the stretcher)
posted by caution live frogs at 2:54 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow Caution, could you see that right away? It seems obvious now, but I sure couldn't see it at first. Makes me wonder if one of the colors is missing.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 3:44 PM on September 20, 2016

That's what I saw, and it seemed obvious that it's not a German caricature but an American medic (see the blue uniform and red cross arm band?).

However, just because the garlic poster is the only poster that is a caricature of the enemy doesn't mean that we're wrong about the Mussolini/Italian/Garlic connection.
posted by Sara C. at 3:53 PM on September 20, 2016

"How many grunts know what "vesicant" means?"
Well, it crops up in later post-WWI UK & AU army training manuals, and IIRC the term is used unexplained in one of Sapper's Bulldog Drummond books or something of a similar ilk. That implies it was familiar to the average reader of such things, so it wouldn't be at all surprising that the average "grunt", who maybe served in WWI, or grew up on "Boy's Own Gentleman Adventurer" books, knew exactly what it meant.
posted by Pinback at 4:27 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! I think the Mussolini connection is solid: I googled for Mussolini caricatures and could see the similarity. I in fact came back around to the Wiki Commons content searching for "mussolini caricature mustard gas" and discovered -- to my chagrin -- the category Caricatures of Mussolini attached!
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:47 PM on September 21, 2016

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