acid bear

anonymous asked:

As someone with much more knowledge of both European caricature history and Russian culture, could you clarify one thing that's been bugging me for an eternity? Have European powers ever depicted Russia as anything other than a bear or an octopus? Is it ever a person? Not an actual historical figure but a person of its own.

they did! the bear was more popular than the octopus (which only actually occurred in–two maps, I think? maybe three.) but Russia was depicted as a person fairly often, at least at the turn of the century. unfortunately it wasn’t…super flattering. out of every person on the map, the anthropomorphic depictions of Russia were often the most um. aggressively condescending. (note: most of these are dutch or german)

here is a 1914 map of europe by k. lehmann-dumont. the Russian bear is down in the westernmost point, being punched in the snout by Germany. behind him is a enormous bestial cossack, vokda in clawed hand, swinging the scourge of revolution. his fangs are sharp but rotting out, and if you enlarge the map you can see German bees trying to loosen his teeth.  

this one is from 1915, and Russia is only huge, not a monster. it’s depicted as a simple peasant who has had his hand lopped off at the wrist by the tsar’s troubles. vodka makes another appearance. 

another from 1914, by e. zimmerman, and it’s one of my favorites. the Russian bear sprays some sort of acid repellent on the peasant, while said peasant attempts to protect himself. the bear is also holding out an empty wallet and growling “HUNGER”. the peasant is trapped between the acid from the bear and the bayonet of Germany. also everything is on fire. being in Russia in 1914 is very stressful. 

1914, by w. trier. in this one Russia is an enormous, greasy, piglike man, set to gobble up europe. the only thing stopping him is Germany’s gun in his nose and Austria-Hungary’s down his throat. 

1915, by famed Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers. Russia comes off best here, as a bearded man with a drawn saber, trapping Austria-Hungary’s head between his hand and his gigantic boot.

for the most part, Russia’s anthropomorphic depictions have a few things in common

  • sheer, intimidating size
  • a generally unkempt (if not outright filthy) appearance 
  • a look of what you’d call simplicity if you were nice, and animal stupidity if you weren’t
  • some indication of the desperation that was bringing peasants and the industrial workers closer and closer together
  • appetite

like, sure, each nation here is a caricature and each one takes a lot of national stereotypes onboard. most of these are German, after all. so France, still smarting from the Franco-Prussian war, is often shown fleeing; Serbia is drawn as the sneakiest little ratfucker imaginable, and England, harassed by Ireland, is reluctant to join the fray. but Russia, whatever its allegiance, whatever its intent or position, is always a brute. for a young nation caught between east and west, of both and neither, the seat of the third Rome–that stung. and, you know, not to assign too much human emotion to countries (that’s the mapmakers’ job), but just imagine: in less than fifty years, Russia went from being seen as a starving howling dirty peasant, to the most powerful, dangerous nation in the world. choke it down, europe.