Octopus as Chimera

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Icon Feb 14, 2010

Just a few rough ideas based on hybridity in political cartoons of octopus and other in order to develop a nomenclature for the different types of “octopuses” that appear in political cartoons. With the exception of the human/octopus combination, hybridity only makes up a small proportion of monstrous octopuses in political cartoons.

  1. To dehumanise (i.e. “Yellow Peril”, politicians): human/octopus hybrid is common
  2. To make monstrous (i.e. corporations, governments, imperialism): stranger hybrids occur: skulltopuses, cyborgs and vampires.

I would argue that these are two distinct purposes, although they might overlap. Mostly this is due to who, or what, is represented. With “who” typically dehumanised, and “what” made monstrous. I’m still working this out so any ideas, or arguments to the contrary welcome.

A (rough) Typology of Hybrids

  • Human/Octopus Hybrid (Anthropus?):
    • Octopus head replaced by human head. Nearly always a specific individual (Example: Putin, CP Hunting, Hitler), although may represent a group (Example: Chinese immigrants in “The Mongolian Octopus“);
    • Limbs replaced by tentacles. Example: “What Shall We Do With Our Boys?“
    • Tentacles terminate in hands (or feet) on their tips. Example: John Bull/Imperialism
    • Human body, octopus head. Example: “The Forty T…..“
  • Skulltopus: Skull instead of a head. I would argue this differs from human/octopus hybrid due to the symbolism inherent in a skull (compared to a living head), and is more closely related to vampiric and monstrous octopuses. Examples: SOAW octopus, “Drug Habits” (Winsor McCay)
  • Vampiric Octopus: Blood sucking octopuses. Example: Landlordism postcard
  • Cyborg: Part machine or infrastructure, for example having bombs on the end of tentacles, or an oil tank for a head. Example: Standard Oil
  • Animal/Octopus hybrid: Reptilian example: “The Devil Fish of Californian Politics“
  • Geographical/Octopus Hybrid: “There he is! Get Him” (Kal 2007) cartoon which depicts a geographical/octopus hybrid – the map/land grows tentacles, and the Time’s Scientology cover depicting a volcano with tentacles.

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