We Have Ways of Mak­ing You Laugh: 120 Fun­ny Swasti­ka Cartoons

S. Gross
  • Review
By – January 27, 2012

Sam Gross — a car­toon­ist best known for his pan­els deal­ing with pre­co­cious ani­mals in The New York­er—has ven­tured onto treach­er­ous ground in this collection.

The sub­ti­tle, jack­et copy, and a brief after­word take pains to point out that these draw­ings, all of which involve the swasti­ka, are meant to be fun­ny, in an attempt to take the sting out of that pow­er­ful sym­bol of evil.

But the most suc­cess­ful of the car­toons here are not so much fun­ny as they are wry. The best of the bunch show ordi­nary peo­ple accept­ing the swasti­ka as an inte­gral part of their world’s decor, qui­et­ly sat­is­fied at the fetishis­tic sense of belong­ing it con­fers while stu­pid­ly unaware of any dark­er con­no­ta­tions it may car­ry. Sev­er­al pan­els make an explic­it link between the swasti­ka and var­i­ous pests — usu­al­ly insect — nice­ly sug­gest­ing the insid­i­ous nature of evil as it infests an oth­er­wise hum­drum world and comes to be accept­ed as a minor nui­sance at best.

Gross’ work here does not rise to the lev­el of such mas­ter­ful pre­de­ces­sors as Chap­lin, Lubitsch, Brooks, and Spiegel­man, whose suc­cess at sat­i­riz­ing Nazism was lim­it­ed at best, but it does raise impor­tant ques­tions about the lim­its of satire and the pow­er of sym­bols. This is a vol­ume worth own­ing, if only for the thoughts it will provoke.

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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