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To see ourselves as others see us!

Cartoonists depend, to an extent, on stereotypes to enable them to get their message across easily and comprehensibly. Such necessity has led to the adoption and development of such national icons as John Bull and Uncle Sam, representing Great Britain and the USA respectively. How they are used depends, of course, on the viewpoint of the cartoonist – whether approving or disapproving of the actions of Britain or the USA. However, within Great Britain, there are other nationalities who have, perhaps, suffered at the hands of cartoonists. The harsh and unjust treatment of the Irish is well documented from Tenniel’s “Ape-men” of the 19th Century through to JAK’s famous anti-Irish cartoon which appeared in the London Evening Standard on 29 October 1982. However, perhaps for obvious reasons, the Scots have not been treated as cruelly as the Irish – their supposed parsimony, and other traits, are largely the butt of cartoonists’ jokes. How widespread and long lived this was came as a surprise to me when I was compiling my collection of cartoons from the 1920s.

The first cartoon comes from the Des Moines Register (Iowa) and was drawn in 1920 by Jay “Ding” Darling, perhaps the doyen of American political cartoonists working at that time. With missionary zeal, many Americans were moved to go overseas to preach the “benefits” of prohibition to those poor unfortunates who still drank hard liquor. While “Mrs Scotland” seems prepared to give him a hearing, the reaction of her husband and his friend behind the curtain is self-explanatory. The fact that darling seems to have been moved to draw the Scotsmen with ape-like faces, in the manner of Tenniel’s Irish ape-man, suggests how little he knew of both races. The Scotsmen are wearing the kilt and carrying bagpipes – a stereotypical image based purely on fantasy and Harry Lauder, the Legendary Laird of the Music Hall.

The next cartoon was drawn for Life, one of the most famous American magazines, and was produced in the early 1920s when home radio sets were an innovation. People spent many hours trying to find radio stations from as far away as possible – it was a national obsession, and much kudos was gained if one could report to one’s workmates having received a foreign station. The gentleman pictured is elated at having, as he thinks, picked up a signal from Scotland. We can see, but he cannot, that it is only an owl hooting in through the open window. Of course, his mistake is understandable – all Scots are believed to go around saying “Hoots, mon” all day! Having heard any Scot utter the immortal phrase, apart from parodying the stereotype!

As a native born and bred Aberdonian, I am used to comment such as that exemplified in the third cartoon. Our reputation for meanness is both universal and unjustified! Drawn by Gluyas Williams for Life magazine and appearing on 13 January 1927, the good burghers of the Granite City are shown (with obligatory kilts and some with knobbly walking sticks a la Harry Lauder) walking alongside their taxicabs. This errant behavior is explained when one reads the legend on the cabs: first quarter mile – sixpence; second quarter mile – tuppence. The Aberdonian, therefore, walks the first quarter-mile to save money! That such cartoons were produced in the USA shows the universality (and persistence) of misconception of supposed characteristics of a particular race or townsfolk. Whether based on reality or not (and, of course, it’s all untrue apart from the horror at the thought of prohibition!) people in Scotland are still victims of such stereotypes. Naturally we, the Scots, bear it with as good a grace as possible secure in the knowledge that we are, really, a nice, generous and caring people. Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense!!!