King Pearhead

La Caricature 5La Caricature was a satirical journal in nineteenth-century France. Set up by the artist Charles Philipon, it provided biting comments on the worlds of arts and politics. First and foremost among its victims was King Louis Philippe, invariably portrayed with a ludicrous pear-shaped head. In fact, attacks on the monarch became so vicious that Philipon was jailed and his journal forced to cease publication after just five years, although it would later rise from the ashes. When it came to fighting for the “right to insult”, La Caricature was at the forefront.


• James Cuno, Charles Philipon and La Maison Aubert: The Business, Politics and Public of Caricature, 1820-40 (Dissertation; Harvard University 1985)
• Robert Justin Goldstein, Censorship of Political Caricature in Nineteenth-Century France (Kent, OH 1989)
• David Kerr, Caricature and French Political Culture 1830-1848: Charles Philipon and the Illustrated Press (Oxford 2000)

Walk of Shame

DSK Walk of shame

Modern law states that any accused is innocent until his guilt has been proven. However, that does not prevent some of the more sensationalist mass media to engage in the public shaming of high profile suspects. A prime example is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the IMF, who was arrested in May 2011 after a hotel maid had accused him of sexual assault. The New York tabloid Daily News wasted no time in deriding the French official for his alleged crime, printing the slur “LE PERV” in big capitals on its front page. Another issue of the same magazine displayed a prominent picture of DSK being escorted from a police station, with the headline triumphantly calling attention to his “WALK OF SHAME”.


• John Solomon, DSK: The Scandal That Brought Down Dominique Strauss-Kahn (New York 2012)

The Cartoons That Set the World on Fire

Muhammad is the bomb

When a person grows into the symbol of a greater cause, attacks against his or her character can discredit the cause that he or she represents. In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad, sparking riots in Muslim countries across the globe and even leading to the burning of the Danish embassy in Syria. Although the anger of the protesters was undoubtedly genuine, some of the riots appear to have been orchestrated by Islamic extremists in pursuit of their own agendas.


• S. Brent Plate, Blasphemy: Art That Offends (London 2006)
• Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons That Shook The World (New Haven, CT 2009)

From the Life of King Gorilla

The Dutch King William III (r. 1849-1890) was not the most subtle of personalities. In 1887, not long before the monarch’s seventieth birthday, he was targeted in the pamphlet From the Life of King Gorilla, which scourned his violence, his alcoholism, his visits to brothels and his generally rude, boorish behaviour. Although the pamphlet was published anonymously, its author was later revealed to be the socialist Sicco Roorda van Eysinga, who advocated the abolition of the monarchy.

The libel did well, selling tens of thousands of copies within weeks, but also ignited an “Orange fury” by staunch monarchists. A few years later, after William’s death, another critic published a design for a statue in honour of King Gorilla, depicting him as a crowned ape with a struggling woman in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other.


• Dennis Bos, Willem III, Koning Gorilla (Soesterberg 2002)

“Is This the Face of a Prime Minister?”

Character attacks can backfire, damaging the attacker instead of the intended victim. During the 1993 Canadian federal election campaign, the Tories launched an attack against Liberal leader Jean Chrétien. In their ad, they showed images of Chrétien’s facial deformity, while the voice-over asked: “Is this the face of a prime minister?” Due to the public outrage that ensued – apparently orchestrated by the Liberal party itself! – the ad had to be pulled off the air within 24 hours. Moreover, Chrétien seized the opportunity to play the victim card and gave a moving speech about the burden of living with a physical defect.

Hitler’s Long Shadow

In many countries, the stereotype of Germans as Nazis has never vanished completely. The current eurozone crisis has sparked new life into this image, especially in financially troubled countries like Greece and Italy. Many people resent Germany’s insistence on severe reforms in their countries, seeing it as an unwarranted intrusion on their national sovereignty. Some even perceive the European Union as the “Fourth Reich”, insisting that the Germans have finally achieved their old Nazi dream of continental domination. On this poster, the Italian Partito Comunista exploits these sentiments by portraying German Chancellor Angela Merkel in military uniform, wearing a euro sign instead of a swastika on her arm.


• Manfred Koch-Hillebrecht, Die Deutschen sind schrecklich: Geschichte eines europäischen Feindbildes (Berlin 2008)
• Elisabeth Demleitner, Gentlemen und Nazis? Nationale Stereotype in deutschen und britischen Printmedien (2009)

Further Reading Cont: Modern

The following is a list of academic studies dealing with character assassination. More readings will be posted, so be sure to check often.

Readings involving character assassination in the modern period:

  • Bargh, J. A. (1997). The automaticity of everyday life. In R. S. Wyer Jr. (Ed.), The automaticity of everyday life: Advances in Social Cognition, vol. 10 (pp. 1-61). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Davis, Jerome (1950)  Character Assassination . New York: Philosophical Library,1950
  • Davis, Michael L., and Michael Ferrantino (1996). Towards a positive theory of political rhetoric:
  • Why do politicians lie? Public Choice 88: 1-13.
  • DeFrank, Thomas (2007). Write it when I am gone. Putnam Adult
  • Dolan, Kathleen and Holbrook, Thomas M.  (2001). Knowing versus Caring: The Role of Affect and Cognition in Political Perceptions Kathleen Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 27-44
  • Bloch, S., Reddaway, P. (1977) Psychiatric Terror: How Soviet Psychiatry Is Used to Suppress Dissent. New York, Basic Books, 1977.
  • Davidson J.R, Connor K.M., Swartz M. (2006). Mental Illness in U.S. Presidents between 1776 and 1974: a review of biographical sources. The Journal of nervous and mental disease. January, 1941: 47-51.
  • Doron, Gideon, and Uri On (1983). A rational choice model of campaign strategy. In Asher
  • Arian, ed., The Elections in Israel, 1981. Tel Aviv: Ramot Publishing.
  • Frank, Justin (2007). Bush on the Couch Rev Ed: Inside the Mind of the President. NY: Harper
  • Fraser, Steven (1993). Labor Will Rule: Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Kinder, D. R. (1986). Presidential character revisited. In R. R. Lau & D. O. Sears (Eds.), Political Cognition (pp. 233-255). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • LeDoux, J. E. (2000). Emotion circuits in the brain. In Annual Reviews Neuroscience (Vol. 23, pp. 155–184). Palo Alto: Annual Reviews
  • Levy, Paul (2006). The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis. Authorhouse.
  • Lodge, M., and Steenbergen, M. (1995). The responsive voter: Campaign information and the dynamics of candidate evaluation. American Political Science Review, 89, 309-326.
  • Marcus, George E.; Sullivan, John L.; Theiss-Morse, Elizabeth; Stevens, Daniel. (2005). The Emotional Foundation of Political Cognition: The Impact of Extrinsic Anxiety on the Formation of Political Tolerance Judgments. By: Political Psychology,  Vol. 26 Issue 6, p949-963,
  • Mathews, Nieves (1996).  Francis Bacon: The History of a Character Assassination. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
  • McGraw, Kathleen M., Edward Hasecke, Kimberly Conger (2003).  Ambivalence, Uncertainty, and Processes of Candidate Evaluation Author(s): Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 421-448
  • Morris, James P., Nancy K. Squires, Charles S. Taber, Milton Lodge (2003). Activation of Political Attitudes: A Psychophysiological Examination of the Hot Cognition Hypothesis Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 4, Special Issue: Neuroscientific Contributions to Political Psychology, Vol 24., Dec., pp. 727-745
  • Munro Robin. (2000). Judicial psychiatry in China and its political abuses. Columbia Journal of Asian Law 14:1-125
  • Pierce, Patrick A. (1993) Political Sophistication and the Use of Candidate Traits in Candidate Evaluation. Political Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 1, (Mar., 1993), pp. 21-35
  • Pancer, S. Mark, Steven D. Brown, Cathy Widdis Barr (1999). Forming Impressions of Political Leaders: A Cross-National Comparison. Political Psychology, Vol. 20, No. 2, (Jun., 1999), pp. 345-368
  • Riker, William H. (1996). The Strategy of Rhetoric: Campaigning for the American Constitution.
  • New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Shlapentokh, Vladimir.  (1986).  Soviet Public Opinion and Ideology. New York: Praeger.
  • Schultz, Cindy and Pancer, S. Mark (1997) Character Attacks and Their Effects on Perceptions of Male and Female Political Candidates Author(s): Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1, (Mar., 1997), pp. 93-102
  • Sigelman, Lee and Mark Kugler Source. Why Is Research on the Effects of Negative Campaigning so Inconclusive? Understanding Citizens’ Perceptions of Negativity (2003). The Journal of Politics, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 142-160
  • Simonton, Dean (2006). Presidential IQ openness, Intellectual Brilliance, and Leadership: Estimates and Correlations for 42 U.S. Chief Executives. Political Psychology. 27, 4, 511-526.
  • Skaperdas, Stergios, and Bernard Grofman (1995). Modeling negative campaigning. American Political Science Review 89: 49-61.
  • Soviet Archives at Info-Russ  collected by Vladimir Bukovsky, prepared for electronic publishing by Julia Zaks and Leonid Chernikhov
  • Zaller, J. R., & Feldman, S. (1992). A simple theory of the survey response: Answering questions versus revealing preferences. American Journal of Political Science, 36, 579-616.
  • Psychiatric archive:

Further Reading: Modern

The following is a list of academic studies dealing with character assassination. More readings will be posted, so be sure to check often.

Readings involving character assassination in the modern period:

  • Benz, Wolfgang, Feindbild und Vorurteil (München 1996)
  • Fiebig-von Hase, Ragnhild & Ursula Lehmkuhl (eds.), Enemy Images in American History (Providence – Oxford 1997)
  • Frei, Daniel, Feindbilder und Abrüstung. Die gegenseitige Einschätzung der UdSSR und der USA (Munich 1985)
  • Goldstein, Robert Justin, Censorship of Political Caricature in Nineteenth-Century France (Kent, Ohio 1989)
  • Hahn, Hans Henning (ed.), Historische Stereotypenforschung. Methodische Überlegungen und empirische Befunde (Oldenburg 1995)
  • Hahn, Hans Henning (ed.), Nationale Wahrnehmungen und ihre Stereotypisierung (Frankfurt am Main 2007)
  • Halfin, Yigal, Intimate Enemies: Demonizing the Bolshevik Opposition, 1918-1928 (Pittsburgh 2007)
  • Hannover, Heinrich, Politische Diffamierung der Opposition im freiheitlich-demokratischen Rechtsstaat (Dortmund 1962)
  • Neu, Jerome, Sticks and Stones: The Philosophy of Insults (Oxford – New York 2008)
  • Jeismann, Michael, Das Vaterland der Feinde. Studien zum nationalen Feindbegriff und Selbstverständnis in Deutschland und Frankreich 1792 – 1918 (Stuttgart 1992)
  • Keen, Sam, Faces of the Enemy (1986)
  • Plum, Angelika, Die Karikatur im Spannungsfeld von Kunstgeschichte und Politikwissenschaft. Eine ikonologische Untersuchung zu Feindbildern in Karikaturen (Aachen 1998)
  • Reichardt, Sven, ‘Feindbild und Fremdheit – Bemerkungen zu ihrer Wirkung, Bedeutung und Handlungsmacht’, in: Benjamin Ziemann (ed.), Perspektiven der Historischen Friedensforschung (Essen 2002) 250-271
  • Satjukow, Silke & Rainer Gries (eds.), Unsere Feinde. Konstruktionen des Anderen im Sozialismus (Leipzig 2004)
  • Schultz, Cindy & S. Mark Pancer, ‘Character attacks and their effects on perceptions of male and female political candidates’, Political Psychology 18-1 (1997) 93-102
  • Walton, Douglas, Media Argumentation: Dialectic, Persuasion, and Rhetoric (Cambridge 2007)