Octopus & Propaganda


Apr 6, 2003
Cephalopods are major figures in one of man's least noble popular enterprises: propaganda.

Despite their generally shy, retiring habits, octopus have long been used to connote villainy and dark intent. As such, they have also long been staples of propaganda illustrations. Their "alien" plan and features fit comfortably within the menagerie of animal images used to de-humanize a political opponent or military foe; their shyness can be made to seem seditious; and, their spoke-like arm corona fits nicely over a map or globe.

Typically, the Enemy Octopus stands in for a nation or distinct community, and not as an individual. The octopus has been cast as Nazi fascist, Jewish conspiracist and English imperialist. They've stood in for Antwerp, of all places. Stretch out the arms and they span the distance from 1904 Japan to 2003 internet, anti-Russian sentiment to anarchist website.

There's a lot out there, so let's collect it and take it apart. If any TONMO'ers find material that's offensive or in questionable taste, please don't hesitate to submit it for private comment before posting. Don't want any racist, nationalist or otherwise violent types coming to TONMO for clip-art.

From the Netherlands, here's an anti-globalization outfit's rendition of a malevolent, capitalist cephalopod:


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:x :x :x i dont know which to be madder about....the demonizing of a ceph or the anti-capitalist drivel....

i guess globalization is the imaginary boogie man for todays youth....

Peculiar, isn't it? Especially odd given that anti-globalization coalitions typically include ecologically minded-types, who ought to know better.


I recall a very common cartoon from my junior high history books, dating back to the turn of the century. A brief search hasn't turned up an example, but it represents a large corporation as an octopus (I think Standard Oil.)

It strikes me that octos are chosen, especially for business cartoons, to emphasize the "tentacletip in every pie" nature of some corporations. Especially back in the olden days corporations could be involved in numerous venues and thumb their noses at fears of conflicts of interest or monopolistic practices. Companies continue this diversity today (though presumably without the more shady facets!) Witness Sara Lee, or Phillip Morris. And while GM is still (mainly) all about cars, consider that (as best I can count) they control 7 distinct automotive brands--10, if you count Opel (foreign-sales only,) Hummer (I kinda think of them as GMC,) and Oldsmobile (effectively dead.) Plus they have substantial relationships with various other corporations, such as owning 20% of Subaru and rebadging certain Toyotas or Suzukis as Geo (and now Chevy) models.


I'm not having any luck yet in finding the Standard Oil cartoon you referred to, but I did stumble across an official publication for the company whose cover is a delightful example of subversive graphic design.

An explanation of how a stylized cephalopod, previously used to raise alarms about Standard Oil's monopolistic practices, came to appear on an offically sanctioned pamphlet can be read at the site maintained by Paul Jackson for the publisher, Roycroft Books.

Al Hayat Al-Jadida, official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, published an illustration on July 24, 2003, depiciting an American octopus dismembering Saddam Hussein; the illustration was made as a response to the deaths of Hussein's two sons in an American raid on their safehouse.
It's too gruesome an image for open airing in this forum, but can be viewed here.

WhiteKiboko said:
this my just be me with my personal biases, but i really dont see anything wrong with that.... :|


I don't find it particularly offensive, either: the American octopus is too comically grotesque to take umbrage at. But, it's probably best to not post images of bloody dismemberment directly.

Are there any Arabic-literate TONMO'ers who could translate the words written on Saddam's arms? I'd guess that they were the names Uday and Qusay.

The preponderance of anti-semitic, anti-Israeli octopus figures in some Arab political cartoons makes me wonder if the animal isn't held in especially low regard in the region. Consumption of cephs is proscribed by strict Kosher law. Are those restrictions shared in the dietary custom of Islam?


o.vulgaris said:
something that used to influence a person's criteria has now gotten mixed up with cephelopod's, weird that global matter's are invloved. :shock:


I agree, it is quite weird. The Arab political illustrations depicting an "Israeli Octopus" snatching territory paved the way for the Saddam image: applying ceph imagery to the United States draws upon that visual memory, strengthening the Arab readership's association of the United States with Israel, in a region where it is widely assumed that American and Israeli geo-political interests are tightly interlaced.

An image-maker searching for an animal to use as a stand-in for a community or polity of aggressive, expansionist repute really can't ask for more than an octopus provides. Flowing and plastic, its outlines can be stretched to envelop territories large or far-flung; the lack of a "face" makes for a blank canvas on which to project any desired visage; because octopus are shy and dexterous, they can represent any group or state that outsiders consider sneaky and conspiratorial.

I think the opaque nature of cephalopods to most people is key, here: poorly understood, they can represent any entity that defies the comprehension of those who find it threatening. Between Arab and Israeli, Communist and Capitalist, Fascist and Democrat is a fundamental chasm, a critical lack of engagement and understanding. The use of an octopus to arouse fear of "The Other" amounts to a tacit admission of moral and intellectual failure: "We don't understand you, and we don't to."


oh dear, that is very sad, how could the Arabic use a ceph for a image like that, they are trying very hard to urge the U.S. to reply with something of their own. It's very weird, ceph's interfering in Global matter's hehe.Propaganda alway's revolved around war, during vietnam and so forth they used to propanganda to make U.S. citizen's join the miltary, now they have incorporated it with a subtle animal portraying war and contreversional issues. :|
o.vulgaris said:
oh dear, that is very sad, how could the Arabic use a ceph for a image like that, they are trying very hard to urge the U.S. to reply with something of their own.


Some of my fellow Americans don't need much provoking, I'm afraid. The "smoke 'em out, get 'em running" language used by some of our elected officials to describe the methodology of anti-terrorist operations likens the opponent to animals (prairie dogs?) that must be flushed from their burrows out into the open. The urge to de-humanize is not specific to any one region or conflict, I'm afraid.

In a softer key, here are a couple of corporate cephs snatching telecommunications satellites and playing soccer.


I did not know that propaganda was involved with ceph's to this extent.
It's still strange that they are using a octopus to portray war and etc., because in very few occasion's have I seen a very confrontational octo, most of the time they are peaceful really, not like if they are looking for war and domination, since they are using the octo as propaganda for war etc. that might mean that those people really are frightened to got to war, I mean everyone know's that marine pet's only think about one thing...ESCAPING BECUASE THEY ARE SCARED TO DEATH, It's even on that movie nemo or whatever it's called.You understand what i'm trying to suggest. :smile:
Clem said:
The preponderance of anti-semitic, anti-Israeli octopus figures in some Arab political cartoons makes me wonder if the animal isn't held in especially low regard in the region. Consumption of cephs is proscribed by strict Kosher law. Are those restrictions shared in the dietary custom of Islam?

Interesting point, Clem. As far as I know, invertebrate seafood is permissible according to the Islamic laws of Halal (unlike the Jewish laws of Kashruth). I know from restaurant experiences that Indian Muslims do eat shrimp curry.

However, just because a food is not forbidden -- in either Islam or Judaism -- doesn't mean it's considered good eating. For example, my husband once asked an Orthodox Jewish friend why Kosher restaurants here didn't serve goat meat (since goats are cloven-hooved and non-porcine). His friend replied that goat meat is indeed Kosher, but "We just don't like the stuff." (That was of course an American Ashkenazic Jew, and his expressed preferences may not apply in other Jewish cultures, e.g. Middle Eastern / Sephardic.)

Therefore, perhaps certain Muslim cultures just don't like the idea of eating Cephs -- the "yecch!" factor. Anyway, unless s/he has seen HANNIBAL (or read Hodgson's classic HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND), the average non-cephalofan probably finds an Octo a lot scarier than a pig.... :smile:

Tan Ninja

The fact that squid and octopus "ink" surely doesn't do them any favors when their cleanliness is being considered. Mesonychoteuthis would surely qualify as a filthy animal: it's mantle cavity lining is black and the animal appears to defecate directly onto its own gills.

Here's an over-wrought British illustration depicting the parliamentary system as a three-headed ceph. (This drawing also demonstrates how handy cephs can be when an artist must incorporate numerous subects in a single figure: just apply different labels to all the arms.) A bit too much going on in this one, I think, and the heads bear a slightly-more-than-passing resemblance to the residents of Springfield.


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