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Learning Resources

Snapshot History of the Political Cartoon
In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin used pen names, such as Silence Dogood, to write essays to poke fun at the elite class and to express his opinions on a wide range of topics. His insatiable curiosity also led to a new understanding of lightning as electricity after Franklin conducted his famous experiment with kites. But did you know he was also the first political cartoonist? In 1754, his “Join or Die” cartoon was published to convince the British colonies to unite against the French and the Natives, according to the Library of Congress. Twenty years later, Franklin would join the colonists to declare independence from England as a new sovereign nation – the United States of America.

The above cartoon by Benjamin Franklin was published on May 9, 1754 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It depicts a snake divided into 8 segments representing most of the British colonies – S.C. (South Carolina); N.C. (North Carolina); V (Vermont); M (Massachusetts); R (Rhode Island); N.J. (New Jersey); N.Y. (New York); and N.E. (New England for four colonies).


Summary: I Approve This Message - Decoding Political Ads

Since 1952, political ads have aired on television during presidential elections. Seismic changes have occurred in the nation since that time but the power and punch of political ads remain the same. Political ads stir one or more of the following four emotions: hope, pride, anger, and fear. I Approve This Message: Decoding Political Ads is an exhibition open at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) in Toledo, Ohio through Election Day (Nov. 8, 2016). At the exhibition, people can experience those emotions by watching about 50 original ads that aired during presidential campaigns from 1952-2012. Designed to be loud and engaging, the exhibition is organized in four theaters, corresponding to the four emotions, where the original ads are shown in loops. Visitors are invited to write on numerous chalkboards located throughout the exhibition to express their thoughts and opinions on campaigns and ads. Around the perimeter, political ads are explained within a historical context of new technology, laws, and other advances in society from 1920 on. The exhibition was co-curated by Adam Levine, TMA assistant director, and Harriett Levin Balkind, founder of HonestAds, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in New York City, dedicated to influencing the development of honest ads and motivating people to vote.

Adam Levine, left, and Harriett Levin Balkind, co-curators, discuss I Approve This Message: Decoding Political Ads at the Toledo Museum of Art. (Photo: TMA)



Visitors have numerous opportunities to write their thoughts on chalkboards throughout the exhibit. On Sept. 22, 2016, this chalkboard expressed a visitor's message through art and concise text. (Photo: Student News Net)

1. Search for and watch the 1964 "Daisy Girl" ad. Discuss its historical and political context from 1964. Why do you think President Johnson created such an ad? Who was his opponent in the election? Why did the ad air only once? Discuss.

2. Search for and watch the 1984 Ronald Reagan ad called “It's Morning in America.” Which of the four emotions discussed in the story does this ad evoke? Why?

3. Find political adds that evoke the other two emotions not covered in #1 and #2 above.

4. Study the chalkboard art as shown in the photo above. What do you think this visitor is saying? In other words, what is his/her message? Discuss.

5. Watch current political ads on television until you see 6 different ads. Describe each one in terms of emotions evoked. For each ad, why do you think the ad was created? Is the ad truthful? Were you able to find one ad for each of the four emotions?

Primary Source References

1. Student News Net story (Political ads evoke powerful emotions)

2. Monmouth University poll (Sept. 28, 2016) about the 2016 presidential campaign

3. HonestAds

4. Toledo Museum of Art

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