Friday, January 31, 2014

Jolly Surprising

I recently found an illustrated children's book from the 1940s called Jolly Families, by the 'Zoo Man' of the BBC. As I flicked through the pages, it all looked very 'jolly' indeed:





But then I reached a page that prompted a sharp intake of breath:


It was a potent reminder of how values have changed.

Who was the person behind these blantantly racist images?

Ironically, they were created by a man who was a prominent anti-fascist; a Jew whose work had been banned by the Nazis. In the 1930s, Walter Trier emigrated to Britain and during the War, helped to produce anti-Nazi proganda material. He later emigrated to Canada, where some of his work is now exhibited in the Art Gallery of Ontario.

It seems odd that a man who was illustrating anti-Nazi posters was also working on this book, creating images that would now be regarded as offensive as the Third Reich posters featuring big-nosed Jews. But life is full of contradictions, isn't it.

Here is a more appealing example of Trier's work:


Donna said...

Oh. Um. Well, I was quite interested at first, as I review children's picture books, and I hadn't heard of this illustrator. On second thought, maybe I won't. On second thought, maybe I will. It might be interesting to have a look at casual racism in children's picture books. It's odd and terribly disappointing that Trier was himself a victim of persecution and yet could not see through his own hypocrisy. How far do we allow the 'of his time' argument?

Steerforth said...

I don't know Donna. I'm wary of applying modern values to different times, but it's not as if every old book is a catalogue of bigotry.

However, I suppose quite a few are. I'm reading Trollope's Palliser novels at the moment, which I'm really enjoying, but the unpleasant portrayals of Jewish people really grate.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I suppose the fact that we find these images disturbing is proof that the human race is evolving, albeit slowly. Some of this stuff makes me cringe, but every country is guilty. Even in Canada when I was growing up, there was a line of dolls for little girls wearing Indian (i.e., First Nations) costumes. Some were cute, but they certainly weren't authentic or any indication of what the beliefs of the people in question were.

Steerforth said...

Carol - You won't be surprised to learn that this book also features 'Red Indians'.

Grey Area said...

We had a very similar book in the studio for many years, beautifully illustrated - it was called 'Animals in the zoo' - and each page was a caged family - lions, monkeys etc - last page was 'A Negro family with Mamie and their little Pikininy' in a cheerful room setting, behind bars - we were aghast when we found it, eventually someone did the decent thing and destroyed it. I am glad we've moved on - but sadly in Hastings is still very easy to buy Golliwogs, and you often see them in older people's windows as they try very hard to hold onto the past, insisting that they are not racist.

Tim Footman said...

Donna, you should be interested because Trier also illustrated Erich Kästner's Emil and the Detectives.

Debra said...

Well... I suppose I am going to be the only person here to comment how much... the comments make me cringe, not the picture book.
You may be interested to learn that in 2001 I attended the first international congress against the death penalty in Strasbourg, in the hemicycle of a European Union building which I can no longer correctly identify... no, wait, the parliament. It was an historic moment. While there, I met a black American activist with whom I talked for maybe fifteen minutes before realizing that due to.. HIS ??? prejudices, his assumptions about who i was, there was no dialogue possible between us. He had already stuck a bar code on me, and couldn't see beyond it.
We have become very slick, and very cynical underneath the veneer of all of our.. POSITIVE values, and our self righteous belief in how much we have evolved. And we spend too much time pointing fingers from my perspective. Tss, tss. This means that WHEN (and not if...) the next violent upheaval arrives in our civilization, we will whimper and turn our tails like the little Snow Whites and Prince Charmings that we would like to believe we are (but somehow, deep down, we can't manage to convince ourselves that we are as..pure ? as we would like to imagine.).
This very modern tendancy often turns my stomach, as it is the product of constant propaganda to tell us what we need to believe in order to be politically correct civilized Westerners, all over the planet.
The pressure to believe in our very reductionist and short sighted values has never been more intense. And, as could be predicted, it is creating a tide of reaction. (In me, but not just...)
Not for one minute do I believe that the human race is evolving towards pie in the sky paradise, with brotherly love our creed. And when I also think that the scientists in my industrial, futurist city are hard at work producing microchips to implant in our brains in order to... "control" our aggressive impulses, for the benefit of humanity, well, all those good intentions make me cringe, if not worse.
Here is DH Lawrence, in "Fantasia of the Unconscious" "Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious", a Penguin book, in the intro, page 14 : "I do not believe in evolution, but in the strangeness and rainbow change of ever renewed creative civilizations." The book is very curious, and DH is a modern prophet, which is why so many of my contemporaries sneer at him, or are mistrustful.
I know that I will not agree with DH in all of this book. We have different ideas about lots of things. But he has the advantage of not continually alienating himself to an expert telling him what or who to believe. He wants to think for himself, and not have... the media tell him what we need to believe in order to be good... Christian people (oops, most of us are no longer up front Christians, but Christians who know nothing about our Christianity).

Travellin Penguin - Pam said...

Such a fascinating post especially knowing the author was Jewish who fought against the Nazi's. Glad the date on that is 1940 and not current times.

Steerforth said...

Richard - Behind bars takes it up to a new level of horror. I'll look out for that title.

Tim - I should have mentioned that. Really nice illustrations too.

Debra - I think there's a world of difference between an irritatingly banal 'political correctness' and a natural revulsion towards the dehumanisation of a particular group of people. Of course black people can be just as racist as any ethnic group, but I don't think that exonerates the attitudes behind illustrations like the one in this book.

Pam - I often wonder how history will judge us. I used to wonder how people could let the Holocaust happen, but what did I do when Bosnia and Rwanda descended into genocide? Nothing.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Actually, Steerforth, I'd be surprised if the book didn't refer to red Indians. Just another instance of "when we know better, we do better." Or at least I hope we do! xoxox

zmkc said...

I still have a book, given to me in 1966, called 'Flora and Fauna of Australia'. It's final chapter is titled, 'Australian Aborigines'

Debra said...

Just a few comments on how things have evolved.
I believe that the people who enjoyed those picture books of far away places, and far away people did not have access to 24h/24 "real life" images of the way things.. ARE.
So... yes, there is an element of fantasy, of fiction in those books, and there is, to my mind, perhaps a kind of naïveté that is no longer available to us.
Does that make us... better than our ancestors, imagining that WE are not dehumanizing the Indians, or the aborigines, because we know how THINGS REALLY ARE in their world ?
(By the way... do we REALLY know how things are in their world, or are we going on the idea that all the pictures that we see of their "reality" are enough for us to walk in their moccasins ?)
I noted on the ladybird book that the animals all have smiles on their faces, just like the enlarged Negro family, who, we might infer, is treated like another animal family...(think for a minute. The, uh, DOMINANT ideology asserts that we ARE animals, so that really shouldn't get anybody nettled, should it ?...)
When was the last time you saw lions with smiles on their faces ? Recently ? Not me.
But I also know that lions don't sink their teeth into anything and everything in the savanna, and they do take a break from putting the meat on the table for dinner (something we have gotten rather bad at doing, taking the breaks...).
The adults reading those ladybird books to their children, KNEW that the lions don't have smiles on their faces, why shouldn't they.. KNOW that the Negro families don't look like that either ?
And those picture books are very important, to the extent that they show children what adults... WANT TO BELIEVE , and manage to believe during the time that they are reading the story, at least.
Adults want to believe in a form of innocence in the world. They want to believe in this innocence even more than their children do, by the way. Think about it.
I believe... that this innocence is possible, but it doesn't have the same structure as the lion lying down with the lamb and NOT EATING HIM, for example.
I want a way out of Disneyland, please...

Steerforth said...

Debra - I see what you're getting at, I think. I certainly don't believe that we are better than our ancestors (or worse, either), but the picture tells an interesting story about our changing attitudes and even if we haven't improved, the paramaters that define what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour certainly have. If you see what I mean.

For some reason, racism towards the Welsh is still acceptable. I've no idea why.

Unknown said...

On the subject of parameters and evolving, I cringe when I read your remarks about Day-Centre attendees (I am one).

Then I just think..........what does he know, anyway, about this sector'

Steerforth said...

Unknown - Fair point. It was a cheap remark, based on a negative experience in the past which is too complicated to go into here. What do I know? More than you might expect. But obviously everyone has their own story to tell and day centres are a lifeline for many.

I apologise if my comment caused offence.

Debra said...

Hmmm.. you know, my mother's family were Welsh. And I have sentimental affinities with the Welsh. I manage to have two GOOD Welsh friends, one living in France, and the other a virtual ghost.
The "racism" tempest in a teapot is part of the Disneyland ideology, steerforth...
You must have figured out by now that I'm not too concerned about what is acceptable or not...

Anonymous said...

Hi Debra,why did you said he had already stuck a barcode on you, and couldn't see beyond it?I am confuse,can you tell me?