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Masculinity and the sexual politics of self and other in Soviet political cartoons, 1945-1955 Fraser, Erica Lee

Abstract

This study examines masculine imagery in the foreign affairs cartoons in Krokodil, a Soviet satirical magazine, from 1945 to 1955. Both the Soviet Union's leaders and its people faced two major issues in this time period: rebuilding the country after the devastation of the Second World War, and descending into the Cold War battle of ideology with the West. Enemy countries in the cartoons are almost always portrayed as male figures, and the cartoons manipulate the masculine images to denote power relationships between countries, and also between men. As in many countries that fought in the war, the Soviet Union prioritized rebuilding the family in postwar society. The catastrophic loss of life, particularly among the male population, made this task more difficult in the Soviet Union. The state therefore employed a variety of tactics to promote the family, and to ensure that men assumed their proper positions as husbands and fathers. Using Krokodil's cartoons to promote masculine identity among Soviet men - and demeaning it among enemy men - was one such method. The major argument of the paper is that the cartoons featuring enemy countries commented not only on those enemies, but on the domestic situation in the Soviet Union as well. Borrowing and building on the language of postcolonial theory, this paper argues that the Soviet Union defined itself against the characteristics it assigned to the enemy. The dichotomy of self and other in the cartoons extends past that of the Soviet Union and its national enemies, to the Soviet man and enemies to his masculinity. By portraying the country's enemies in various homoerotic situations in the cartoons, the Soviet Union sought to delegitimize the potency of the enemy, while also signaling to the Soviet population that the unmasculine behavior associated with the enemy in the cartoons would not be tolerated in the Soviet Union. Drawing on a wide range of literature, including studies of humor and satire, art and visual iconography, gender, masculinity, and queer theory, this paper uses the medium of political cartoons to link issues of sexuality with postwar reconstruction and Cold War animosity in the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1955.

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