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Power of Images and Racism

Julius Caesar was the man who made himself the king of the Roman Republic (not the empire). Having no son, he considered Octavian as his natural successor. Octavian, becoming the Emperor Augustus of the Roman Empire, started something 'genius'; he discovered the power of images.


He knew that he could not be physically everywhere in the empire and enter into every household of his subjects, the Roman citizens.

But he had to be everywhere and be in every household. He had to be seen...

He wanted to be a divine figure and enter the subconscious of his citizens to create the imperial hegemony and eliminate all questions about his rightful and divine place as the emperor.

That's how he would convince his soldiers to die for him and his citizens to pay their taxes.

So what did he discover?

He discovered propaganda and the association of images (physical or mental images) with a fake and manufactured reality.

Thus, he is the man who introduced putting his face as a divine figure on one side, and the figures of god Mars and goddess Venus on the other side of coins.

He was not able to travel to each and every corner of his empire but the coins, with his image on them, could. Trade travelled to every corner of the Roman land, as well to land of his enemies and his allies.

He was not able to shake hands with each and every citizen but the coins were in the palms of everyone. Everyone that mattered.

Not all citizens could read and write but an image could tell a thousand lies and myths.

He was the man of imagery and symbolism for propaganda. Hitler and Mussolini's propaganda machines were influenced by the powerful Augustusinian use of images. And they used it very widely.

The great Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, in his brilliant play, a political criticism of Stalinism, “Did Ivan Ivanovic Exist or Not?”, examined the horrors of the Stalin era and his influence over the people through imagery.

In the play, on each and every office wall hangs the portrait of the main character Ivan Ivanovic, looking down on his people, as the great leader who had eyes everywhere.

Modern media, states, businesses and organizations, all use imagery to spread their message.

At this point, please do not read beyond the following list of words and let's do a quick experiment first. Close your eyes and think. What is the image that comes to your mind with each of these words?

Criminal, Terrorist, Asylum seeker or Refugee, Gypsy, Immigrant

I bet the following people were not the first images that came to your mind.

Criminal: (as far as the state law is concerned): Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, ,
James Connolly, The Bin Tax Protesters in Ireland...

Terrorist: Nelson Mandela (I bet no one though of him)...

Asylum seekers and Refugee: Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux tribal chief Sitting Bull fled for asylum in Canada after a U.S.-led raid on the Indian camp on the Little Big Horn River in 1876), Julian Assange, Karl Marx, Trotsky, Marlene Dietrich...

Gypsy: Charles Chaplin, Michael Caine...

Immigrant: Memet Uluda─č :-), Australian PM, Sigmund Freud, Pablo Nerua,  almost the entire population of the United States of America...

Our virtual memories in action...

We are bombarded with images and whether we pay any attention to them or not, images are a very significant part of any propaganda machine and they can become part of our virtual memory.

We had a week of debates, reports and opinions about Roma people in Ireland. We had two incidents where the looks of two children were the reason that the Irish state used to remove them from their families.

The racist ideas are put into the minds of people via images and subtexts attached to these (at least that is one of the means). This is, how we are expected to have a conviction of 'what we believe must be the truth'. For example, the Roma people cannot have blue eyes and blond hair – because our mental image says so – therefore any child with such features must be a non-Roma child; and therefore, because we also saw images of Roma people as thieves (mostly in movies), this child must be stolen.

Now, bring in the Gardai, the HSE, the courts, the media and the racist commentary, all acting out a well choreographed role; and you have a crime scenes of prejudice and mental images... This organized prejudice is part of what we call institutionalised racism...  The images are fake but the politics that uses these images is real, so real that it can hurt a small child.

Let's not write about it anymore, since a lot of good stuff is already written. But let's get back to manufactured and false reality; and the racial profiling through images. In other words, the look of a person and the features of a race, and how these were used in case of racism against Irish people.

A reminder from the past. Don't think that these are produced by a few mad men or women. These were the output of mainstream media and state propaganda. And these give us some idea of the current economic-social system we live in


This one is titled “The Workingman’s Burden” and depicts “a gleeful Irish peasant carrying his Famine relief money while riding on the back of an exhausted English laborer.” It might make a good comparison to how welfare recipients are viewed in the U.S.

This cartoon, titled “Two Forces,” shows a figure representing Britain protecting a weeping, frightened woman, representing Ireland, from a rampaging Irishman; notice his hat says “anarchy.”

This image, found at the University College Cork website, depicts Daniel O’Connell, a leader of the Irish land reform movement, as an “ogre.” He is ladling poor Irish peasants out of a pot labeled “agitation soup,” and, presumably, cheating them out of money in the guise of helping them.

Here we see the Irish depicted as a Frankensteinian monster in a cartoon that ran in Punch in 1882 (image found at the website for a course at the University of St. Andrews)

Here an ape-like Irish man, again drunk, sits on a powder keg, presumably threatening the entire country

Published in 1882 (and found at the Michigan State University Museum website), is called “Uncle Sam’s Lodging House” and shows an Irish immigrant causing a commotion while other immigrants (notice the beds are labeled Russian, German, Negro, etc.) try to sleep. The smaller caption under the title says, “Look here, you, everybody else is quiet and peaceable, and you’re all the time a-kicking up a row!”

This illustration ran in Harper’s Weekly magazine. Notice how the Irish are depicted as more similar to “Negros” than to “Anglo Teutonic” individuals, and both the Irish and Africans are caricatured as ape-like. It could also be useful for a discussion of scientific racism.

An 1850s cartoon showing a "poor house" of immigrants from Ireland.

This cartoon printed in 1889, stereotypes the Irish as unmixable in America's melting pot.

Cartoons for magazines such as Harper's Weekly featured cartoons by Thomas Nast and depicted Irish immigrants as ape-like barbarians prone to lawlessness, laziness and drunkenness. "St. Patrick's Day, 1867...Rum, Blood, The Day We Celebrate" shows a riot with policemen and ape-like Irishmen.

A cartoon from the 1850s by the "Know-Nothings" accusing the Irish and German immigrants of negatively affecting an election.

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