Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Churchill: Oh, the Cigar! Oh, the Horror!

"Spot the difference: How today's airbrushing PC censors decided Churchill could do without his cigar"
MailOnline (UK) (June 15, 2010)

"The face is instantly familiar, the two-fingered salute unmistakable.

But are these actually the same photograph of Sir Winston Churchill?

In the original photograph the war leader has his cigar gripped firmly in the corner of his mouth.

But in the other image - currently greeting visitors to a London museum - his favourite smoke has been digitally extinguished.

Which is a little embarrassing for the staff at the charitable trust, because the photograph features on a giant poster hanging above the museum's main door.

So just who did pinch the great man's Havana?...

There's a short list of folks who didn't play an obvious role in re-imagining Winston Churchill. So far, though, who should be given the - credit? - isn't at all clear:

"...But intriguingly the museum, which gives all profits to charity, declined to name who put together the display and, crucially, who enlarged the image for the poster...."

You'll have to read the rest of the article to get the MailOnline's take on this weirdness.

(from MailOnline, used w/o permission)
The doctored photo is the center top one: MailOnline's copy is larger than this thumbnail.

Winston Churchill? Never Heard of Him

Actually, I have. But given the emphasis on history that's been the norm for the last couple generations, a little background may be called for.

Winston Churchill wound up being Sir Winston Churchill before he died in 1965. He was England's Prime Minister during World War II. (those who haven't heard of that, either, will find a little about it in Churchill's bio)

When he took office, there was fairly good reason to think that German forces, carrying the German Chancellor's vision of a new and improved Europe with them, would shortly cross the English Channel and start remolding Great Britain into something acceptable to the National Socialist German Workers Party.

The British weren't, for the most part, all that keen on the prospect.

One of Churchill's best-known remarks, at least when they were generally known in the English-speaking world, was "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." That doesn't sound like the most uplifting thing to hear: but for a British public who had gotten used to hearing their leaders say the sort of thing that politicians do, it must have been a refreshing change of pace.

Germany didn't succeed in turning Europe into a fit place for 'Aryans,' by the way. But that's another story.

Naughty Winston / Nice Winston

That tidied-up photo of Winston Churchill reminds me of the way 'naughty' books were Bowdlerized in Victorian times; how General Custer wasn't portrayed as an ambitious doofus a half-century ago; and how important it was to keep up with the latest politically correct terminology the last time I did time in American academia.1

Let's take a look at Nice Winston and Naughty Winston.
Naughty Winston
I suppose I should have warned you. We're not used to seeing people smoking cigars, these days.

When Churchill was Prime Minister, we didn't know as much about the effects of chronic smoking on health. Well, on most people's health Winston Churchill lived into his nineties.

That isn't a peace sign he's making, by the way. Until the sixties, that two-fingered gesture meant 'V for victory.'

About smoking and health? There's a large body of evidence that smoking isn't a good idea. There are also some debatable claims, but for the most part folks who smoke stogies regularly don't live as long as Sir Winston.
Nice Winston
Credit where credit is due: whoever altered this photo did a pretty good job of making that cigar disappear.

I don't think it's a good idea to fake pictorial records like this - but from a technical point of view, that forgery was a good job.

What's the big deal? Let's take some of hypothetical examples from American history
George Washington
George Washington: first American president, among other things. And a dude who sported long hair.

Considering how hysterical 'real Americans' were about long hair on men, back in the sixties, it's a little surprising that George W. didn't get a makeover. I suppose they had more sense than to try.
Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman, you've probably heard of: if you're an American, and have been paying attention for the last few decades. She was an abolitionist, among other things.

If you're at all familiar with American culture: consider what would happen if someone took that photo, gave her a nose job and made her look like a white woman. Make that a white man. (I can - barely- imagine someone trying to justify a stunt like that on the basis of traditional role models.)

I would be rather upset, myself. She made a contribution to American history - and that's what she looked like.

Back to Winston Churchill: the Real One

Winston Churchill and the cigar? Okay, let's say cigars aren't particularly safe to smoke. Is that a good reason for making nice-nice with a photo? Winston Churchill helped pull the United Kingdom out of World War II. And he smoked a cigar.

Deal with it.

In a way, it's nice to know that do-gooder crackpots aren't an American monopoly.

Joking aside, The Lemming thinks there's an important lesson to be learned here. As the article says:

"The altered image was spotted by museum visitor David McAdam.

"He said: 'I pointed out this crude alteration to a museum steward who said she hadn't noticed the change before, nor had anyone else pointed it out.

" 'Viewing the now disfigured image reveals just how unhinged the vociferous anti-smoking lobby has become. So much for the notion that only communist tyrants airbrushed history.'..."

Sadly, it's not just the "vociferous anti-smoking lobby" - this sort of ideological distaste for unwanted realities goes back decades, and is by now a deeply cherished tradition in American academia, at least.

Related posts:More about traditional information gatekeepers, and the tribulations they're experiencing in the Information Age:
1 Times change - but people don't. Not all that much:


Maurice Mitchell said...

The cigar is so iconic that its called a "Churchill." Despite the political implications that's a really good Photoshopping job.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Maurice Mitchell,

Thanks for the historic/cultural background. And yes: That's a really good Photoshopping job.

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