Representing Trump and Trumpism Through Caricature: A Semiotic Analysis of Selected Editorial Cartoons Published in Nasoweseeam

Representing Trump and Trumpism Through Caricature: A Semiotic Analysis of Selected Editorial Cartoons Published in Nasoweseeam

Floribert Patrick C. Endong (University of Calabar, Nigeria) and Eugenie Grace Essoh (University of Calabar, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9312-6.ch008
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This chapter focuses on the Nigerian media representations of Donald Trump's controversial policies, statements and style of government. It specifically examines Nigerian caricaturists' criticism of these aspects of American politics through a semiotic analysis of six editorial cartoons penned by Boglo G. and published in the Nigerian online magazine Nasoweseeam, from 2016 to 2018. In the light of the semiotic analysis conducted in the study, the chapter argues that Nigerian political cartoonists have continuously given a remarkable attention to U.S. politics (notably Trump's presidency), particularly exploring the angle of U.S. policies' impact on Nigeria(ns). Their cartoons have been tapping into both universal myths and local idiosyncrasies to represent the Trump administration in particular, and the American nation as a whole. Such a representation has mostly been negative. Icons, indexes and symbols have thus, most often been mobilized in their cartoons to associate Trump, Trumpism and/or America as a whole with such negativities as racism, Islamophobia, Nazism, xenophobia and authoritarianism, among others.
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Like in many other countries of the world, American politics has persistently fueled the socio-political discourse and has inspired various aspects of popular culture in Nigeria. Indeed, major political events in America notably the U.S. Presidential elections, U.S. foreign policy, U.S. military involvement in specific regions of the world and even America’s domestic policies among other things, have often had the effect of influencing socio-political discourse in Nigeria, especially when such domestic or foreign policies have serious potential to affect the lives of Nigerian nationals or immigrants in the U.S. One remembers how issues such as Obama’s elections in 2008 (as the first Black U.S. President) as well as America’s legalization of homosexuality and her resolve to make gay rights advocacy a major feature of her foreign policy in Nigeria in 2015 variously fuelled debates in almost all quarters of the Nigerian society, thereby becoming the talk of the town. Page (2017) has for instance noted how Obama’s 2008 rise to the American Presidency was greeted with widespread euphoria in Nigeria; while Adaobi (2015) lamented how America’s legalization of homosexuality inspired widespread fears and resentments of the U.S. foreign policy in Nigeria. Such fear and resentments were mainly expressed through both traditional media and social media platforms. Adaobi actually noted that:

Many Nigerians are genuinely terrified of gay marriage. And they are distraught over the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to legalize gay marriage in America. They express sadness and pity for what is supposedly God's Own Country. They predict America's inevitable decline. But the emotion most potent in their words is fear. The kind you might expect from news of an impending tsunami. (Adaobi, 2015, para 2-3)

In line with this tradition of developing a strong interest in anything American, the recent rise of trumpism in the U.S. has progressively and remarkably become a serious topic for socio-political discourse in Nigeria. Simply defined as the outrageous and controversial statements made by Donald Trump as well as the American-centric policies advocated for by the Trump administration, trumpism has since the year 2016 implicitly or tacitly inspired political and media discourse in Nigeria. Some of the popular ways in which Nigerian media houses and politicians have chosen to discuss this political current have been editorials, gossip and opinion columns and more especially political cartooning. In effect, as an instrument par excellence of political mobilization and discourse, cartooning in particular has been one of the premier ways of critiquing/criticizing Trump’s policies and representing contemporary American politics in particular and America as whole, in Nigerian newspapers.

Critiquing trumpism through cartooning has often implied or warranted the use of relevant visual and linguistic techniques as well as the necessity (for Nigerian cartoonists) to tap into local Nigerian myths (the Nigerian collective memory and popular imaginary). Such act of tapping into the Nigerian popular imaginary in particular has most often contributed in giving a Nigerian coloration to Nigerian cartoonists’ discussions and representations of America and Trump, a coloration which in turn has meant that audiences should “imperatively” or ideally consider local idiosyncrasies in their exegesis of those cartoons on trumpism. Although remarkable and popular, this original and Nigerianized way of discussing American politics has not attracted serious scholarly attention from both endogenous (Nigerian) and exogenous (non-Nigerian) critics and researchers. The bulk of studies on media coverage of trumpism or American politics has predominantly been devoted to traditional media (TV, radio, magazine and newspapers) reporting of America. Thus, there appears to be a serious need for researchers to focus on this unexplored aspect of Nigerian media coverage and representation of the policies adopted - or to be adopted - by the Trump administration. This chapter attempts to fill the apparent gap of knowledge implied above, through a semiotic analysis of selected editorial cartoons penned by Boglo G. and published in an online Nigerian magazine (Nasoweseeam) to criticize Trump’s policies or presidency.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Symbols: Type of signs different from indexes or icons. Symbols do not resemble the things for which they stand.

Sign: An object, quality or event whose presence or concurrence stands for something else. Signs have two parts: signifier and signified. They equally have physical forms, refer to something other than themselves and are used and recognized within specific communities as signs.

Satire: The skillful use of irony, exaggeration, ridicule and caricature to criticize or comment on social or political vices.

Caricature: A visual, imitation or description of a personality (most often politician) in which certain striking characteristics are too exaggerated to produce a humorous or grotesque effect.

Semiotics: The study of the social production of meaning through the use of signs and sign systems.

Anchorage: A term developed by Roland Barth to describe the function played by words in the construction of the meaning and interpretation of visual images (particularly print advertising messages and news photographs). In essence, an anchorage consists of words used to direct readers towards specific preferred reading of the image.

Relay: A term also coined by Roland Barth with respect to the function of words in print adverts and news photographs. Relays are verbal cues which re-enforce or re-iterate the message expressed by the visual components of a print advert or news photograph.

Cartoons: A single drawing or sequence of drawing showing the features of its objects in a humorous, satirical and often exaggerated way. Cartoons are often made to accompany editorials or articles in newspaper and magazines.

Visual Rhetoric: The ability to communicate using visuals or visual-assisted techniques. The concept includes the skill of visual literacy and the ability to analyze/read images for their form and meaning.

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