Dr Keith McLay comments on the photograph of the Prime Minister signing the Article 50 letter below a painting of Sir Robert Walpole.
Kevin Ruane, Professor of Modern History, explores Churchill’s fascination for science and its power for good or bad.
Dr Michael Goodrum, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, discusses Kellogg’s decision to pull its advertising from Breitbart and its history of decision-making based on values.
The cereal giant Kellogg’s has pulled its advertising from Breitbart, the alt-right news service that has attained recent prominence thanks to the appointment of its executive chairman, Steve Bannon, as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist.
In a statement, Kellogg’s announced that their decision was based on Breitbart not being ‘aligned with our values’. Breitbart has responded by declaring war on the company, running a series of derogatory stories and sparking a social media campaign through the hashtag #DumpKelloggs to encourage its readers to do precisely that. Kellogg’s decision fits into the broader pattern of economic warfare currently being waged by the group Stop Funding Hate, who also use social media to advance their cause. This group campaigns to get companies to pull their advertising from publications that publish stories deemed to be inflammatory.
Kellogg’s, however, has faced down right wing opposition before in a very similar situation. In 1946, Kellogg’s was the main sponsor of the Superman radio serial in the US. The serial was broadcast five times a week, and was nationally syndicated. According to contemporary Hooper ratings, it regularly attracted the highest juvenile audience of any radio show. Kellogg’s ran tie-in campaigns, and also ran adverts within the show, meaning the brand was closely aligned with the superhero.
This was seemingly just another sponsorship deal until, in 1946, the writers of the serial took a socially relevant direction. In a story known as ‘The Clan of the Fiery Cross’, Superman and his friends from the Daily Planet Lois Lane, Jimmy White, and Perry Olsen, took up the fight against a Ku Klux Klan-like organisation who sought to drive a Chinese American family out of Metropolis. Thanks to information gathered by the journalist and political activist, Stetson Kennedy, who went undercover in the newly reformed KKK, the writers of the serial had genuine information on passwords and rituals to place in their scripts. The Klan reacted furiously and, like Breitbart, declared war on Kellogg’s, urging their sympathisers to boycott Kellogg’s and staging pickets outside shops to press the issue. Kellogg’s refused to back down; Superman’s defeat of the Klan, or at least its thinly veiled allegory, rendered them ridiculous. The stream of stories issuing forth from Breitbart on the issue seems to be achieving the same function, even without Superman’s help.
On the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, Dr David Hitchcock considers his vision of a perfect society compared to US President-elect Trump’s ideal version of a Utopian society.
Dr Michael Goodrum, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, discusses the decision by the UN to name comic book heroine Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador.
Wonder Woman has been chosen by the UN as an honorary ambassador to highlight issues of female empowerment and gender-based violence. Given her history, and the fact that she is a fictional character, this seems like an odd choice.
Since Wonder Woman’s creation in 1941 by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter, over 20 different people have written her eponymous series. The overwhelming majority of these are male; only Gail Simone and Meredith Finch are credited in the list of writers. This is not to say that more women have not been present, just that their contributions have been obscured. Elizabeth Holloway Marston, William’s wife, played a role in the creation of the character that is not generally acknowledged. Joye Murchison composed many early scripts for the title while working as William Moulton Marston’s assistant and she, too, goes uncredited. She does not even have a Wikipedia entry.
The television series of the 1970s starring Lynda Carter was executive produced and produced by men; no episodes were directed by women, and women had a sole or joint writing credit on only 22 of the 59 episodes made.
Created by men, largely written by men, and mostly aimed at men, even Wonder Woman’s recent ‘coming out’ (although long hinted at) was narrated by a straight white male. This is the character the UN have chosen to be a symbol of female empowerment.
It is also odd that Wonder Woman, who frequently upholds the concept of phallocentric violence key to the superhero genre, has been chosen to highlight issues around gender-based violence. She even acts as God of War at one point (beginning in Wonder Woman #23 ), locating her firmly within patterns of conflict that seem at odds with working to reduce physical threats to women.
A number of superheroines get caught in this trap of elevating rather than questioning violence; this can partly be attributed to the spectacle of women fighting and the opportunities it offers for their sexualisation. Even as women take an active part in narratives, they are framed for the male gaze. Mike Deodato, who drew the character from 1992 to 1995, makes this abundantly clear, stating, “every time the bikini got smaller, the sales got bigger”.
Although promoted as a feminist icon throughout her history, most famously adorning the cover of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine in 1972, there are multiple strands at work in Wonder Woman’s narratives that make this definition problematic. Ms. embraced Wonder Woman’s homeland, Paradise Island, as an originary matriarchy, a feminist utopia that could be held up as an example thanks to its policies of reform and loving care rather than punishment.
Acting as an example was precisely what Marston had in mind when he co-created Wonder Woman, seeing her as a means of persuading men to submit to the ‘loving authority’ of women. Proposing the e-evaluation of ‘traditional’ feminine characteristics that instead of relegating them to a support function in the home, sought to elevate them to leadership in order to tame the interpretation of men as governed by ‘war-like’ impulses.
The early years of the comic-book are also characterized by a keen interest in bondage, a particular fascination of Marston’s, who lived in a polyamorous relationship with two women until the end of his life. Bondage and costumes have long worked towards the representation of Wonder Woman as titillation for adolescent male audiences rather than a positive force for gender equality. The frequent representations of women in bondage in those early years perpetuate gender hierarchies and the sexual objectification of women rather than mounting an assault on male privilege.
In Wonder Woman #7 (1943), Wonder Woman uses magic to look forward to the year 3000 so that she can see the first woman elected as President of the USA. After putting down a revolt by the Man Party, then revealing electoral fraud by them in their victory in the 3004 election, Wonder Woman is herself elected to the presidency. There is a very real chance that reality will outdo fiction by nearly a millennium in the American Presidential election this November. And of course many other countries around the world have had, and currently have, female leaders.
Wonder Woman is a symbol, and that should be embraced, but she remains problematic and, more importantly, fictional. And not just fictional – Wonder Woman is not even human, but a figure from Greek mythology. There are women, real women, capable of demonstrating leadership and filling this role, rather than a fictional character who can never speak for herself and, no matter how powerful in her world, suggests to women in ours that positions of female leadership are doubly beyond their reach, as only capable of being filled by fictional, non-human characters.
Michael Goodrum, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, has recently published Superheroes and American Self Image: From War to Watergate (Ashgate, 2016), and is co-editor of the forthcoming Gender and the Superhero Narrative (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).
Ahead of the US election on 8 November, Kevin Ruane, Professor of Modern History, reflects on the nuclear anxieties associated with a possible Trump presidency.
In August this year, no less than 50 Republican national security experts aired their fears should Donald Trump become President and thus gain access to the USA’s awesome arsenal of nuclear weapons. ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’, Trump repeatedly asked one senior briefer. (Independent, 9 August 2016).
The British government is also doubtless in a state of agitation and anxiety at the prospect of a Trump finger on the proverbial nuclear “button”. Then again, since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945, UK governments have routinely succumbed to nuclear nervousness around the time of US presidential elections. Trump might be more alarming than most White House hopefuls, but he is in distinguished company when it comes to arousing concern in the corridors of British power.
For much of the Cold War, the United Kingdom was a primary target for Russian (Soviet) nuclear attack if “hot war” broke out. True, there was not much to be done if the Soviets launched a surprise attack. But what of the Americans? Here we find plenty of evidence of British worries that recklessness, provocation or miscalculation by Washington could bring on a general war with Russia which would leave the UK a radioactive ruin while America possibly went unscathed.
In November 1952, for example, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was delighted by the presidential triumph of his old wartime comrade-in-arms, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. At the same time, Churchill privately confessed that ‘this makes war much more probable’.
What frightened Churchill was not Eisenhower, a sane and sensible man. Rather, it was the Republican party in general, out of office for twenty years and populated (so many in Britain believed) by anti-communist fundamentalists bent on using America’s great nuclear advantage to coerce the Soviet Union into agreeing to an international settlement on Western terms.
In the event, Eisenhower confounded British doubters and held the Republican right-wing at bay while shaping a US nuclear policy far more measured and statesmanlike than his party’s electoral rhetoric had suggested. “Ike”, though, had a dodgy heart, and that troubled the British. ‘We must hope that Gen. Eisenhower stays alive’, wrote one senior Foreign Office official at the end of 1952, otherwise his Vice-President would be in the charge of nuclear weapons. And who was that? A certain Richard M. Nixon.
UK governments have usually been more anxious about Republican than Democratic presidents in the nuclear age: aside from Eisenhower, Nixon in 1968 and Reagan in 1980 caused tremors in and beyond Whitehall. But even in these instances, wisdom and decent judgement mostly prevailed. After all, the Cold War remained just that, a cold war.
As for a President Trump, I suspect that Theresa May’s government is today experiencing the same nuclear nervousness as its predecessors, but in more acute form thanks to “the Donald” factor. In the past, incendiary nuclear rhetoric by would-be presidents has seldom crystallized into policy following victory. But what of Trump? Here the fear will be that Trump will live out or live up to his rhetoric. But with a new Cold War in the offing with Putin’s Russia (and like the old Cold War, this one has real war potentialities), now is not the time for hot-heads in the Oval Office.
Then again, we may be worrying unduly. Trump wants a ‘special relationship’ with Putin, he says. In which case, we may be able to shelve some of our nuclear worries if Trump wins on 8 November and get on instead with dealing with the consequences of his craven appeasement of Russia.
Professor Kevin Ruane, Professor of Modern History at Canterbury Christ Church University, has recently published his latest book, Churchill and the Bomb (2016), Bloomsbury.
Dr Leonie Hicks, Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities, argues for a different way to study the battle.
Dr Martin Watts, Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Kent History and Heritage at Canterbury Christ Church University, summarises the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, on the 100th anniversary.
Nothing sums up, for most people, the absolute horror of the fighting on the western front as epitomised by the tragedy that befell the British army on the 1st July 1916.
Originally conceived as a battle to break the defence and morale of the German army, the offensive became a vital source of relief from the shocking attrition that was taking place at Verdun. General Haig, commander in chief and General Rawlinson, commander of the Fourth Army that was to deliver the assault, differed in their understanding of how the objectives were to be achieved.
In simple terms this amounted to a choice of breakthrough or bite and hold, and this situation was compounded by the failure to provide sufficient artillery and the right types of shell required to ensure that the initial bombardment prepared the way from the advance of the infantry. This was not to be, and the infantry, on that fateful first morning, walked into a maelstrom of artillery, machine gun and rifle fire. No doubt that lessons were learned (eventually), but this was the day that innocence was lost.
Dr Watts spoke on the BBC Radio Kent Breakfast programme this morning exploring whether the Battle should be considered ‘foolish’, or a turning point in British military history. Listen to the interview (2hr 32mins).
Dr Sara Wolfson, School of Humanities Senior Lecturer, questions the ownership of recently discovered bounty in the Waddon Sea.
In September 1975, forty years ago this week, the Northern Irish Troubles were experienced first-hand in the heart of Kent, when an IRA gang bombed a pub in Maidstone.