The Octopus Now Enfolds Me/ I Know You Too Well*

|

The NRA's already having a pretty bad week, so how about everyone pile on and accuse it of anti-Semitism?

After Diane Cardwell of The Times wrote about a National Rifle Association magazine's broadside aimed at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his gun proposals, a reader raised an issue about the image on the cover (at right), showing the Jewish mayor as an octopus. According to the sites, the image has been used in anti-Semitic propaganda, from the Nazis to the modern Arab world.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has an overview of anti-Jewish motifs and symbols, including a 2002 cartoon from Russia that "shows a Star of David with America throwing coins on it. The star then mutates into an octopus with rockets and planes in its tentacles."

Ben Smith gets into the ring with the obviously-befuddled NRA spokeswoman.

"Any use of it as any sort of anti-Semitic symbol is inadvertent and unintentional." She can't literally mean that any use of it as anti-Semitic was unintentional (the history is pretty intentional); and she probably didn't mean to concede that the NRA's use of it was anti-Semitic. But the quote seems to do both.

And according to one source she has cancer and is quitting the NRA. Kidding!

This is all deeply stupid. The Jew/Israel-as-octopus image is used to smear the chosen people as the forces behind a huge conspiracy. Bloomberg isn't being conspiratorial—he's openly building a coalition of city mayors to tighten their gun laws. It's perfectly normal (and subtly hentai) to think "tentacles!" as a way to portray that on a magazine cover.

*I almost hope that no one gets this reference.

NEXT: Who Gets a Seat at the Table? (and Other Mixed Metaphors)

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. *I almost hope that no one gets this reference.

    Count me amongst the clueless.

  2. Call of Cthulhu?

  3. Count me amongst the clueless.

    Some straight lines are best left untouched.

  4. legend of the overfiend?

  5. The Aresol Gray Machine?

  6. Wait, so portraying Bloomberg as an octopus is somehow antisemitic because the octopus motif has been used by anti-semites in the past?

    Is that what the criticism is?

  7. Is it really that hard to believe that a political article or image in America is more influenced by one of the most famous political novels in American history than by some five year old Russian cartoon?

  8. Wait, so you’re telling me HP Lovecraft was anti-Semitic? Next thing you’ll be telling me that the cat’s name in The Rats in the Walls was intended as a racist slur.

  9. Note to Jews (and others): if you don’t want to be drawn as an octopus, don’t act like one!

  10. deeply stupid Aye.

    I had no idea Bloomberg was Jewish so the Octo-Jew slur was completely wasted on me.

    Afterall, there are a lot of —-bergs that aren’t Jewish, including Icebergs.

  11. Im not sure if octupus is kosher or not

  12. I’ve also got to say that the Wonkette mis characterization of the attendees of the NRA Convention is woefully bigoted.

  13. tell the truth, sage; you didn’t know that, you just googled it (like i did).

    artist: van der graaf generator
    album: the aerosol grey machine, 1969
    song: octopus

    -cab

  14. barneca, of course. Who needs to know anything when you’ve got google?

  15. Van Der Graaf Generator?

    Way cool. How is it I never heard of em? More importantly, how is it Weigle has? At least he has the decency to be embarrassed.

  16. Does no one see the beauty in this? Is this how good we have it in America that we have to go looking around with a magnifying glass to find things to be upset about/offended by? Not even a magnifying glass, we have to now use interpretation of imagery to find something.

    Next, someone will decide that they see anti-feminism in Jackson Pollack paintings.

  17. I’m a Detroit Red Wings fan, so I immediately thought Bloomberg was in the race for the Stanley Cup. Go figure.

  18. Todd, I simply take it as the left once again grasping at any straw they can in order to irrationally lash out at the NRA and all the millions of members who didn’t murder anyone this week.

  19. amazon.com actually has this album, but it will cost you $23 to find out what the song sounds like; amazon doesn’t have samples for this album. if the music is anything like the lyrics, that’s probably just as well…

    -cab

  20. The dead things will choke just like they did last year, and the year before that and the year before that.

  21. amazon.com actually has this album, but it will cost you $23 to find out what the song sounds like; amazon doesn’t have samples for this album. if the music is anything like the lyrics, that’s probably just as well…

    Here’s a review.

  22. I hate to admit this, but I do get the hentai reference.

    (And no, I don’t have a hard drive full of hentai on my computer…)

  23. “Any use of it as any sort of anti-Semitic symbol is inadvertent and unintentional.”

    In other words, “Geeze, we didn’t mean it that way – if it’s been used an anti-semitic image, we didn’t mean to reference that!” to anyone but a hostile pedant.

    It’s a rather different thing from editorial cartoons that recreate Nazi posters with unsettling closeness.

  24. I get it, but one of my best friends is a sinister tentacle monster.

  25. mediageek,
    I assume you mean the Wonkette commenters, eh? I agree that so far, not a single one of them has posted a damn thing intelligent on the subject.

  26. Well, I _DO_ have a HD full of hentai, and I am also a member of the NRA! I am incredibly offended by this heartless portrayal of an overfiend as a heartless gun grabber!

  27. Octopus isn’t kosher. If it comes from the sea, it better have scales and fins.

    – Josh

  28. So I looked up “hentai” on Wikipedia. Sounds pretty tame. I mean, it’s no bukkake.*

    *New word of the day

  29. Van der Graaf FTW!

  30. Call of Cthulhu?

    Damnit…to slow.

  31. Kwix-

    Yeah.

  32. Well, I _DO_ have a HD full of hentai, and I am also a member of the NRA! I am incredibly offended by this heartless portrayal of an overfiend as a heartless gun grabber!

    WTF?!?

    I don’t know about heartless but I have as yet seen a tentical rape porn in which some guy does not pull out a gun and get it taken away by a tentacled menace. Hell even the ones set in feudal japan guys are pulling out guns!!! Its like WTH its feudal japan they didn’t have guns?? oh…tentacle rape porn…ok that makes sense now.

  33. (And no, I don’t have a hard drive full of hentai on my computer…)

    You keep it on a DVD-R, then?

  34. I prefer Van der Waals to Van der Graaf

  35. Capt. Nemo better apologize for his anti-semitisim immediatly.

  36. The Anti-Defamation League doesn’t even mention this incident on its Web site (http://www.adl.org/). Either they haven’t caught up to it yet, or they’ve examined it and found it to be a non-starter. And if the ADL, which sees anti-Jewish bigots under every bed, can’t get riled up over the Octopus, why should anyone else?

  37. In *hentai,* the octopus isn’t a Jewish symbol, because the tentacles are clearly meant to represent gentiles.

  38. If it comes from the sea, it better have scales and fins.

    and it cannot be a bottom dweller nor a carnivore.

    jeez, you’d think my people would be too busy with their world domination to have time to worry about nra magazine covers.

  39. In the EU, the NRA would be in jail…

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/119778.html#comments

    CB

  40. The thing is the NRA does see Bloomberg’s moves as conspiratorial because they believe each small gun move is a chess move towards the complete elimination of gun ownership. I worked as a consultant on an NRA project and saw this kind of thinking very much.

    The people who work on things like the magazine are mostly typical ad agency/publishing types not anyone trying to send nazi messages.
    And one of the things they wanted was a way to block a couple of cranks who were IMing their online radio show with nonstop “crazy jews-taking-over-the-world theories”. No sign they saw them as allies.

  41. Off topic, but after looking up hentai I find it completely understandable why Japan has such a low birthrate. I wouldn’t have sex with men who think about cephalopod porn either.

  42. Much as I love a good bash-of-the-NRA, this could only have been dreamed up by someone who has way too much time on his hands and is abolutely clewless about American literature.

  43. Some enterprising reporter should get a comment from these guys.

    Kevin

  44. Bloomberg is Jewish?

    No, really, I had no idea.

    So was Frank Norris an anti-semite, too?

  45. So if out of 100 things the octopus has portrayed in political cartoons, one is Jewish, the octopus in cartoons is anti-Semitic?

    Three quick finds:
    Christmas as an octopus http://editorialcartoonists.com/cartoon/display.cfm/26511/
    Russia as an octopus http://www.bigredhair.com/boilerplate/soldier/bp.asia.html
    Standard Oil as an octopus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_history_of_the_United_States (Scroll about halfway down.)

    In this case? You have Mayor Bloomberg sending private investigators into other states, conducting unauthorized sting operations that jeopardize ongoing Federal investigations, and suing gun shops to force them to accept oversight by a Chicago “Special Master,” to such an extent that Virginia is now passing a law to prohibit such incursions.

    Sounds like an octopus to me.

    And, by the way, several mayors have already withdrawn from the coalition after finding out it’s simply another anti-gun front.

  46. ???????????????

  47. Dave,

    You can explain how the use of a symbol that a lot of people recognize as anti-semitic was done ignorantly, without anti-semitic intent. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

    But it certainly doesn’t speak well of the NRA that they fell into this ditch. A more wordly organization wouldn’t have made such a mistake.

    The NRA made a major strategic error when they chose to sign on as a member in good standing of the right-wing culture war in the 1990s, instead of working to position themselves as above partisan concerns and working to straddle the red-blue divide. If they were a different sort of organization, they would have had a different sort of staff, and someone in the office would have noticed that portraying Mayor Bloomberg as a octopus carried certain undesired connotations.

  48. joe, as a jew of long standing (and sometimes bowing), i’m having a hard time working up a sense of outrage here. if i were in that staff room, it wouldn’t have occurred to me.

    thanks for looking out for us, though! when our plans for world domination are complete, you’ll be a shabbos goy of highest honors and we might even leave your wee-wee alone.

  49. You can explain how the use of a symbol that a lot of people recognize as anti-Semitic was done ignorantly, without anti-Semitic intent.

    “A lot of people?” Who? The octopus has been used in all kinds of cartoons depicting a wide variety of organizations and individuals virtually since both octopi and cartoons have existed. The vast majority had nothing to do with Jews or any other Semites. I found three with hardly any effort. (In fact I found a fourth, but the URL was several lines long.)

    But it certainly doesn’t speak well of the NRA that they fell into this ditch. A more worldly organization wouldn’t have made such a mistake.

    Now tell me that, had the Brady gun control organization penned a cartoon showing the NRA sticking tentacles everywhere, they would have been charged with anti-Semitism.

  50. A Disney propaganda cartoon from WWII showed Germany and Japan as two octopi with their tentacles encircling the globe.

  51. Joe says: You can explain how the use of a symbol that a lot of people recognize as anti-semitic was done ignorantly, without anti-semitic intent. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

    Well, that’s one way to frame it. The problem is that if you frame it that way it gets hard to come up with a way of saying something clearly true about Bloomberg (that he is, in fact, running things in NYC) without looking like you subscribe to the paranoid fantasy that the Jews run everything.

    I don’t want Bloomberg to be the target of criticism that stems from the fact that he is Jewish, but I also don’t want him to be immune to criticisms that a, say, Anglo, mayor would be subjected to.

    In the end this goes to intent and… I have no way of knowing what the artist or the NRA was thinking but this seems pretty weak tea to me.

    It should also be noted that Bloomberg is not a 20 year old basketball player- he is a billionaire, and mayor of what is arguably the most significant city in the world. That’s a profile to which a few slings and arrows are bound to attach.

  52. Holly Maddux,

    No outrage here. Just a sense of “duh!”

    Larry A,

    You didn’t get it. Other people did. So?

    “Now tell me that, had the Brady gun control organization penned a cartoon showing the NRA sticking tentacles everywhere, they would have been charged with anti-Semitism.”

    “The NRA?” Almost certainly not. A prominent Jewish gun rights activist? Maybe. Like I said, the NRA’s strategy of positioning itself, and its issue, as part of the anti-liberal side in the Culture Wars makes certain associations come to mind more easily. A better analogy might have been if the Brady Center had depicted the head of a firearms corporation as a plutocrat in a high silk tophat. I doubt Reason Magazine would have missed the chance to liken such a picture to communist propaganda.

    Tagore Smith,

    “The problem is that if you frame it that way it gets hard to come up with a way of saying something clearly true about Bloomberg (that he is, in fact, running things in NYC) without looking like you subscribe to the paranoid fantasy that the Jews run everything.”

    Exactly – if you are going to accuse the Jewish mayor of New York of being involved in a conspiratorial brand of politics, you’re walking through a mine field. You need to navigate it carefully.

  53. “You can explain how the use of a symbol that a lot of people recognize as anti-semitic was done ignorantly, without anti-semitic intent. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But it certainly doesn’t speak well of the NRA that they fell into this ditch. A more wordly organization wouldn’t have made such a mistake.” – joe

    So if it clearly wasn’t intended as such and isn’t a common reference – as other people have pointed out on this thread – you think speech can still be classified as racist? The claims that this cartoon is anti-Semitic are clearly bunk of the highest order.

    Geez, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes comparing an over-reaching, power-mad mayor as an octopus is just a comparison of the mayor to an octopus.

    This is ironic coming from you joe, since you’re a guy who proclaims his innocence when comments he has made are considered to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or misogynistic by other commenters and you clearly seem to think you’re right in THAT subject.

    Haven’t checked yet, since I’ve been VERY far away from internet connections lately, but I’m sure you had some real pearls of wisdom to spread around on the Imus controversy.

  54. joe sez: A more wordly organization wouldn’t have made such a mistake.

    Sly, joe, very sly; pitching yourself as a PC-consultant to the corporate world. Sadly you will probably have a very profitable practice.

  55. rob,

    “can be classified as racist” is a pretty broad statement.

    I think my earlier comment is perfectly clear: they fell into a ditch. I seriously doubt there was any racist intent, and probably not even any subconscious association between an octopus and hoary old anti-semitic ideas.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes black people do eat fried chicken. Still, not the best imagery to lead off with. Even if your intentions and message are perfectly innocent, people can get the wrong idea.

  56. The NRA is the corporate world, j.i.?

    Funny, I keep being told that they’re the grassroots.

  57. sorry, joe, i forgot to change my name back after a snarky comment in the “earth day” thread. that was me, not holly.

  58. No problem, edna.

    Have a good one.

  59. It does rather amuse me to see Bloomberg portrayed as Cthulhu. Its anti-semitic, its anti-Cthulhu.

  60. In his stone house in M’nh’tten,
    Dead Mike Bloomberg lay dreaming…

  61. “The NRA?” Almost certainly not. A prominent Jewish gun rights activist? Maybe. Like I said, the NRA’s strategy of positioning itself, and its issue, as part of the anti-liberal side in the Culture Wars makes certain associations come to mind more easily.

    So the NRA gets nailed but the Brady folks don’t, because liberals don’t nail liberals. That was my point.

    For example, when the Brady Center was campaigning for legislation against “Saturday Night Specials,” a term that directly refers to “N***rtown Saturday Night” and the cheap handguns supposedly used there, the liberal media didn’t call them racist.

    PS. The NRA, and the Second Amendment it supports, are actually far more liberal in the classic meaning of the word than present-day anti-gun “liberals.”

  62. A Disney propaganda cartoon from WWII showed Germany and Japan as two octopi with their tentacles encircling the globe.

    Of course. That anti-Semite Disney was just trying to claim that the Jooooz were so powerful that they even controlled the Axis.

  63. “So the NRA gets nailed but the Brady folks don’t…”

    The NRA gets nailed for transgressions that fit people’s perceptions of the right, while the Brady Center is subject to transgressions that fit people’s perceptions of the left. My point, exactly.

    “For example, when the Brady Center was campaigning for legislation against “Saturday Night Specials,” a term that directly refers to “N***rtown Saturday Night” and the cheap handguns supposedly used there, the liberal media didn’t call them racist.”

    No, but the libertarian media do. “Racist gun control” is a very popular argument here on Reason. Not so much with the NRA, though. They seem to enjoy leaving that argument laying on the table, even though there are numerous episodes of deliberately racist gun control, such as during Reconstruction. Of course, the voters the NRA is working to reach aren’t likely to find that particular argument compelling.

    Yet another example of the NRA acting more like a right-wing, partisan organization than the issue-advocacy organization it used to be.

    PS – the meaning of words change over time. I hope you’re having a gay old time.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.