The mural (above) at the centre of the latest publicity disaster to engulf Jeremy Corbyn has been compared to the anti-Semitic depictions of Jews in Nazi propaganda. One Labour Party website has even taken readers through comparisons between the offending mural and historical examples from Der Stürmer (below), a vehemently anti-semitic and anti-communist German tabloid newpaper. However, while this interpretation of the mural, which has been denied by the artist but eagerly embraced by the public, relies almost entirely on the size of the noses of its central figures, the mural makes a far more conscious reference to the history of art that has been entirely passed over by the press, most obviously because it doesn’t fit into the reductive and sensationalist narrative that has been woven about the anti-Semitism of the mural and Corbyn’s initial support for it. Followers of ASH will know that we have no love either for Jeremy Corbyn or for the Labour Party, but the willingness with which our national press and media, as well as our parliamentary parties, have embraced the mob-rule of Twitter to pursue their political ends is something we oppose. Behind the universal accusations of anti-Semitism directed at both this mural and Corbyn there is the collusion of the British establishment in silencing – through ad hominem attacks, unfounded accusations and personal slander that is disseminated without question in the press and repeated across social media – anyone who dares question what is being questioned across the world at the moment: the cultural hegemony of world capitalism.
1. Art Criticism
Located on Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, the mural, titled Freedom for Humanity, was painted in 2012 by Los Angeles graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, who works under the name of Mear One. Described by the artist as being ‘about class and privilege’, the image makes very clear references to the murals that were such a widely used format of social realist painting in the 1930s, and which drew so strongly on the work of the Mexican artist and communist Diego Rivera. Characteristic of the Federal Art Project funded by the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, these were produced across the USA, with some of the most famous being Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (below) commissioned for the then thriving but now bankrupt city of Detroit. The language of social realism, which had its roots in late nineteenth-century realist painting, was revived in the 1930s to respond to three historical challenges: the stock market collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, which ground industry in capitalist countries to a halt and increased the possibility of working class revolution; the policies of the Popular Front announced by Joseph Stalin in 1934 that sought to promote solidarity between the Communist International and other left-wing groups in order to combat the rise of fascism (the British Labour Party, typically, refused); and the inter-war trajectory of modernism, which was widely seen as having abandoned social content for bourgeois formalism. To promote proletarian consciousness, align itself with the International and rectify the failures of modern art, social realism increasingly drew on the principles of Soviet socialist realism – also formulated in 1934 – according to which art must be proletarian, and therefore relevant to and intelligible to workers; typical, in depicting scenes recogniseable from the everyday life of people; realistic, in the representational sense, as opposed to abstract; and partisan, which is to say, supportive of the aims of the socialist state.
In this historical context, murals were pointedly directed at the working class, and often relied for their communication on the kind of caricatures and stereotypes used by the nineteenth-century political cartoons from which social realism took much of its iconography. What differentiated social realism from such cartoons, however, is that – like the art coming out of the USSR – it actively reversed the negative stereotypes that had dominated the imagery of Western imperialism: presenting the working class as heroic rather than bestial, black peoples not as primitive but struggling to liberate themselves from Western imperialism, and women not as objects of desire but as strong and valuable contributors to society; while the bourgeoisie, by contrast, were depicted as fat, old, lazy, venal, undeserving and corrupt. Industry had a large role to play in this imagery, which is why, even with its radical politics, social realist murals were tolerated and even invested in by governments worried about a socialist revolution. To this end, the nineteenth-century perception of industry as the source of working-class immiseration and wealth inequality was replaced by a celebration of factories, mines and shipyards as the means of the worker’s enrichment, and even, by communist artists, as the driving force of imminent revolution.
The Brick Lane mural sticks pretty close to this iconography, but updates it to the uniquely self-pitying and victim-identifying ethos of the early Twenty-first Century. Industry is shown purely as a pollutant of nature and humans alike, very much in line with William Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’; the cogs of that industry are not driving anything productive but depicted purely as something we’re emeshed in; black and brown peoples on whose bent backs money is being made are shown as naked, oppressed and apparently obedient slaves; the single woman in the image is identified primarily as a mother with her child, but with a photojournalist’s emphasis on her thick hair and pouting lips to eroticise her suffering; and rather than the revolutionary political masses of the 1930s, the individual rebel, fist raised in defiance, has more in common with the politically impotent figures we see protesting on streets from London and Paris to Hong Kong and Jerusalem. What hasn’t changed is the Monopoly board, which since it was invented in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression, has been used as an emblem of Western capitalism and the games international banks play with the countries and peoples of the world.
Equally familiar is the depiction of the bourgeoisie (below), in this case identified by the artist himself as Walter Rothschild sitting far left, J. D. Rockefeller second from the left, J. P. Morgan third from the left, Andrew Carnegie fifth from the left, Paul Warburg far right, plus the English occultist Aleister Crowley thrown in for good measure. Only two of these bankers were Jews: Rothschild having been instrumental in formulating the Balfour Declaration of British support for the establishment of an independent Jewish state in Palestine, and Warburg a German-born US banker and financial adviser to F. D. Roosevelt; while Crowley, in contrast, was an avowed anti-Semite. Far from representing a Jewish conspiracy, therefore, along the line of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the figures at the Monopoly board are representative of the power of Western capitalism at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. As further indication of this, in addition to the offical Monopoly player counters of the top hat, motor car and wheelbarrow – all signifiers of class difference – the artist has introduced New York’s Statue of Liberty, London’s Gherkin, and Paris’s Eiffel Tower, effectively symbolising three of the financial capitals of the contemporary world. There is no equivalent reference to Jerusalem such as the Wailing Wall or the Dome of the Rock.
Ockerman has, however, also included a pyramid. This possibly symbolises Cairo, but it is more likely to echo the large symbol in front of which the Monopoly players sit. This, to my mind, is the weakest element of the mural, since it has apparently opened the image up to the accusations of anti-Semitism. A pyramid within a circle, according to the accusers, is a reference to the Illuminati, an eighteenth-century secret society in Germany that supposedly still exists today as an equally secret society of bankers who run the world. In support of this theory, the all-seeing eye in the top of the pyramid has been interpreted as a symbol of the Freemasons, another not-so-secret society that some people trace back to the builders of Solomon’s Temple, and therefore as Jewish in its origins. Together with the descendants of the Elders of Zion – to which, unfortunately for this interpretation, there is no reference in the mural – the Masons and the Illuminati, so this conspiracy theory goes, constitute the New World Order that is referred to as ‘the enemy of humanity’ on the protester’s banner.
Now, whatever truth there is to these speculations, which belong to the same legendarium as The Da Vinci Code, such a reductive understanding of the hegemony capitalism holds over the world would find no place in the social realist murals of the 1930s, and betrays, rather, the complete inability of our own time even to understand how capitalism works its magic, let alone come up with a plan of action to oppose the hold it has over the earth’s population. In this respect, this mural poignantly represents the resignation and impotence of the Left today, its retreat from knowledge of the world into a defence of religions and the formulation of conspiracy theories, its apotheosis of victimhood to a political position, its fragmentation by identity politics into a hundred pressure groups, its blind faith in the spectacle of protest as a vehicle for social change, and its renunciation of any hope of world revolution and a future beyond capitalism.
In contrast to which, a less breathlessly Dan Brown reading of the mural might begin by pointing out the bleedin’ obvious: which is that the pyramid and its all-seeing eye within a circle also appear on the US dollar bill (above) – placed there by the Founding Fathers not as a not-so-secret emblem of their Masonic allegiances but to symbolise the divine providence they attributed to the birth of their new nation – together with the Latin motto ‘novus ordo seclorum’, which the protester’s banner roughly translates into English. Such a reading might conclude that the New World Order to which the protester’s banner refers is constituted not by a conspiracy of secret societies, Jewish or otherwise, but by the monopoly US capital exerts over the politics, sovereignty and leadership of the world’s nations.
2. Trial by Media
Enter – stage left – the Leader of the Labour Party. In October 2012, only a month after the mural had been completed, Lutfur Rahman, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets before he was removed from office in 2015 for corrupt and illegal practices and disqualified from holding electoral office for five years, announced to his constituents:
‘I have received a number of complaints that the mural has anti-Semitic images. I share these concerns. Intentional or otherwise, the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions. Where freedom of expression runs the risk of inciting racial hatred then it is right that such expression should be curtailed. I have asked my officers to do everything possible to see to it that this mural is removed.’
As the day of removal approached, Mear One posted an appeal on his Facebook page:
‘Tomorrow they want to buff my mural. Freedom of Expression. London Calling, Public art.’
In response to which Jeremy Corbyn, then plain old MP for Islington North, wrote:
‘Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller [sic] destroyed Diego Viera’s [sic] mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.’
Apart from his slightly inaccurate spellings of the names of both banker and artist, Corbyn was historically accurate in comparing the removal of the Brick Lane mural in 2012 to the removal of a Diego Rivera mural, titled Man at the Crossroads, at the Rockefeller Center in 1934. Following its denunciation by the New York World-Telegram as ‘communist propaganda’, Rockefeller wrote to Rivera asking that a portrait of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, painted to the right of the central scene, be removed. Rivera refused, and was given his marching orders with a third of the agreed payment. In place of the offending image Rockefeller commissioned a new mural from the Spanish artist Jose Maria Sert titled American Progress, which contains portraits – not of Lenin – but of Abraham Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a result of the negative publicity around this event, Rivera also lost another commission for the General Motors’ pavilion at Chicago’s Century of Progress exhibition. Like their brave forbears in the US cavalry threatened by the ‘Injuns’, the captains of US industry were drawing round the wagons.
Corbyn clearly knew about this story of capitalist hegemony and cultural censorship when he wrote his support for the Brick Lane mural. But six years later and now the Leader of the Labour Party, in which position he has recently been denounced as a Czech agent, a Russian spy, a Putin apologist, a traitor to the UK and a communist, he should have known that his post would one day be unearthed on that forum for witch-hunts, Twitter, and used to revive the accusations of anti-Semitism levelled at both him and the Labour Party for having dared to question the apartheid regime imposed by the State of Israel on the Palestinan people.
What may have surprised him, however, is that this expose came not from Fleet Street or the Tory Party but from within the ranks of his own, uniquely dis-unified and seemingly electorally suicidal party. I guess we’ll never know what tabloid journalist or ambitious junior researcher brought it to her attention, but on Friday, 23 March, Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool and Parliamentary Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, posted a screen grab of the 2012 Facebook exchange on her Twitter account and demanded an ‘explanation’ from the Labour Leader’s Office. Whereupon, displaying all the solidarity of a backbencher, the Labour Party swung ponderously into action, and released this statement by an anonymous spokesperson.
‘In 2012, Jeremy was responding to concerns about the removal of public art on the grounds of freedom of speech. However, the mural was offensive, used anti-Semitic imagery, which has no place in our society, and it is right that it was removed.’
It wasn’t long before the rest of the Labour Party joined in the playground bullying, and Berger, sensing her time in the sun had come, imperiously declared that the statement from Corbyn’s office was ‘wholly inadequate’. Strangely, while the Labour Party is only too ready too use the party whip to silence deviation from the party line in Parliament and councils alike – the latter especially when the time comes to vote on the demolition of a council estate – Twitter appears to have a higher authority; and a few hours later Corbyn himself, in a repudiation worthy of the House Un-American Activities Committee, appealed to the forgiveness of his accusers with this servile admission of culpability and regret:
‘In 2012 I made a general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. My comment referred to the destruction of the mural Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Centre. That is in no way comparable with the mural in the original post. I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic. I wholeheartedly support its removal. I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form. That is a view I’ve always held.’
How the office of what they expect to be the next Leader of the sixth largest economy in the world allowed such a statement to be issued, or what on earth they thought this would do for Corbyn’s claims to be fit to occupy that position, I can’t even begin to imagine. The press, of course, which had quickly cottoned on to what had started as a social media trolling, was delighted with yet another confirmation of the absence of Labour’s backbone and the ease with which the party is manipulated by public opinion. In the week since it broke, the story has been reported in the Times, the Sun, the Daily Mail (which in the 1930s had given its backing to Hitler), the Express, the Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Metro, the Independent, the Financial Times, City AM, the Liverpool Echo, the Manchester Evening News, the Birmingham Mail, the Herald Scotland, the South Wales Guardian, the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish Times, the Economist, the Spectator, the New Statesman, the Huffington Post, in a myriad of Jewish papers, as well as the BBC and Sky News and dozens of other media outlets and newspapers around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Haaretz, the Times of Israel and the Australian. And, of course, the accusations, denunciations, slanders, demands and calls for resignation from Conservatives, Labourites, Liberal Democrats and every political stripe of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells haven’t left the echo-chambers of Facebook or the mob-rule of Twitter.
Emboldened by this confirmation of the public’s apparently insatiable taste for the spectacle of the pillory, on Monday the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council wrote an open letter to the Labour Party in which they accused the Labour Leader of ‘siding with anti-Semites against Jews’. Not content with this public accusation of racism against the potential future leader of the UK, the letter concluded with a statement which, in its absurdity, wouldn’t look out of place in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion:
‘Rightly or wrongly, Jeremy Corbyn is now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based on obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news that is doing dreadful harm to British Jews and to the British Labour Party.’
It’s hard to imagine Margaret Thatcher, or even Tony Blair, allowing themselves to be spoken to in such a contemptuous manner. But Corbyn, cutting a more pathetic figure than even he has assumed before, released another grovelling statement of apology to the signatories of this insulting and derisory accusation. Stopping short of repudiating all criticism of the State of Israel, Corbyn – the politician who will supposedly lead us into a UK ‘for the many not the few’; our great socialist leader who has struck fear into the hearts of capitalists across the UK, Europe and the world – now publically denounced accusations of capitalists exploiting workers as nothing more than a hidden form of anti-Semitism:
‘While the forms of anti-Semitism expressed on the far Right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism in the labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as “the socialism of fools”. I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.’
It isn’t clear from this statement whether the capitalist or banker has to be Jewish for accusations of exploitation to be denounced as foolish; but either way it was too late. Through noses large and small, Jewish and gentile, Labour and Tory, the people had smelled blood. That evening, under the banner of ‘Enough is enough!’, a crowd of protesters congregated outside Parliament, on the same ground hallowed by many a Momentum rally these past two years, and in a scene worthy of Steven Spielberg’s less profound films demanded that anti-Semitism and racism be purged from the Labour Party.
3. The Revenge of History
What has been lost in this show trial by social media, of course, is that the question the removal of the Brick Lane mural raises is not about the freedom to express anti-Semitic views – which neither Corbyn nor anybody else has argued for – but the freedom to hold political views about such issues as capitalism and – although the mural makes no reference to this – the moral and legal status of the State of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian people without facing spurious, unfounded and politically transparent accusations of anti-Semitism. What makes these accusations so questionable – and their unquestioned acceptance in our national press and social media so risible – is that they rely, for their evidence, on the nasal sizes of four of the six Monopoly players, which, as part of the generalised caricaturisation of their physiognomy, have been enlargened by the artist.
Now, I must pick my way carefully here, as a prominent proboscis is nothing to thumb your nose at. However, although an enlarged, hooked or bent schnoz is a characteristic of anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews in – most famously but not exclusively – their depiction in Nazi propaganda in the 1930s, a big snout is not restricted to that signification. From the cartoons (below) of Napoleon Bonaparte by James Gillray and the Duke of Wellington by Thomas Rowlandson in the early Nineteenth Century to those of Richard Nixon by Ralph Steadman and Margaret Thatcher by Gerald Scarfe in the mid-Twentieth Century, the pointy or crooked hooter has been a signifier of aristocratic entitlement, personal ambition, moral corruption, political duplicity, capitalist greed, and a great many other flaws of character, and not only the attributed failings of a race. It is used as regularly in the depictions of Theresa May by Steve Bell as it was of Neil Kinnock by Spitting Image (below), and to my knowledge neither politican is Jewish, and neither caricaturist has – yet – been accused of anti-Semitism by the Twitterati.
Just as the very obvious fact that four of the six central figures in the mural are gentiles – and one a famous anti-Semite – has been silently passed over in the noisy interpretation of this image as an image of Jewish conspiracy, so I suppose it’s too late to point out to outraged liberals and Guardian readers that Semitic is not a racial category but a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. If our guardians of moral rectitude in the press are looking for hooked noses as a signifier of a Semitic other, they could do worse than look at the anti-terrorist poster campaign launched by the British Transport Police in November 2016 with the warning ‘See It. Say It. Sorted’ (below); except that the Semitic people being referenced in these posters, which do draw on the kind of physiognomic stereotypes used in Nazi posters, are the more easily demonised Arabs.
In any case, the depictions of the Monopoly players in the Brick Lane mural are not physiognomic stereotypes of a single or even of many races, but particular portraits of identifiable individuals; and of the four figures with enlarged noses, J. P. Morgan, who has the largest conk of all, was of Welsh lineage and a life-long member of the Episcopal Church. It’s also worth bearing in mind (by those with one to bear) that all six figures at the Monopoly table are long dead, being contemporary to the social realist idiom of the 1930s rather than portraits of the banking leaders of today – although many of their modern equivalents belong to the same families, which rather reaffirms the artist’s point about immense financial and political power being retained in the hands of a few individuals and passed down through families over generations. In other words, this is a history painting about the economic origins of the vast inequalities of the present moment. Indeed, since it was removed from the Brick Lane wall by the corrupt Lutfur Rahman, a meme made from the central part of the mural and captioned with variations on ‘All we have to do is stand up and their little game is over’ has been circulated on the internet (below).
All of which is to say, and notwithstanding the conspiracy theories and other supposedly occult symbolism in the painting, the representation of these historical individuals in the Brick Lane mural is not contingent upon their race or religion – with Rockefeller a devout Northern Baptist and the boot-nosed Carnegie a Presbyterian of Scottish ancestry – but upon their historical identity as immensely wealthy capitalists who used their financial power for political ends. The racial dimension to the image – which some versions of the meme bring out – is not between a conspiracy of Jewish bankers and the anti-Semitic gentiles that accuse them, but between the all-white capitalists and the black and brown peoples on whose backs the game of Monopoly capitalism is being played. The putative references to the Illuminati, Freemasons and a New World Order – if indeed they exist outside the fantasies of conspiracy theorists – have served only to detract from the mural’s more explicit criticisms of the very real role banks play in producing and maintaining the vast inequality of wealth distribution across the world, as much in the 1930s as today. Despite the interpretive zeal this mural has occasioned, the British public has never been known for its appreciation of or understanding of art, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by how easily it has been led to its apparently heartfelt conclusions; but the primary and overt message of the mural, which has been completely silenced by the accusations of anti-Semitism, is to point out just how little has changed over the past 80 years.
This, of course, rather than its putative anti-Semitism, is why the mural has drawn such unreserved condemnation from both the Labour and the Conservative parties, as well as the British press and media, all of whom are terrified of the threat to the status quo they seem to think Corbyn represents. In this context, which is that of the public court, Corbyn’s meek admission of culpability has demonstrated, not for the first time, just how little threat to the world order – which is anything but new – either he or his political party presents. This, remember, is the leader who, once elected to head the Government of this country, is expected to stand up to the Tory Party, the Civil Service, Fleet Street, the BBC, the City, perhaps Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, and that even more terrifying director of public opinion called Twitter. If Corbyn can’t defend his comments about a mural on Brick Lane, what hope do we have that he will defend his statements about nationalising large parts of the British economy and all the other promises he’s made, including building half a million affordable homes over a parliament, which will take rather more defending and implementing against the forces of capitalism than a painting depicting the embodiment of those forces in some long-dead bankers? Even more than showing just how subservient to global capital our great British press really is, what this incident demonstrates is just how little threat the Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else, represents to the status quo.
At Prime Minister’s Question Time last July, Theresa May, her nose stretched to almost anti-Semitic dimensions, and drawing her own caricature of what a Labour government would mean for the UK, bellowed across at Corbyn the curious promise that ‘We will never let it happen!’ Some defenders of democracy wondered whom she meant by this ‘we’; but if any of them were naïve enough not to know already, they do now. The curious case of the Brick Lane mural is just another in a long line of examples of the establishment flexing its muscle. But really, Theresa May could have saved her breath. There’s no threat from this Labour ‘opposition’. On the contrary, as this episode has reconfirmed to the interested parties, there is only cross-party collusion and the shared commitment to keep things exactly as they are.
Before Rockefeller chiselled off his mural and re-plastered the wall of the Rockefeller Center, Diego Rivera had photographs taken of his unfinished work, and having convinced the Mexican government to give him a blank wall at the Palacio de Bella Artes in Mexico City, he set about painting a new version of Man at the Crossroads. With the new title of Man, Controller of the Universe (above), the new mural differed only slightly from the Rockefeller commission, but in addition to the portrait of Lenin that had so offended his patron, it now included additional portraits of Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky (the last two of whom, of course, were born into Jewish families); as well as, on the other side of the composition and mirroring that of Lenin, a portrait of the teetotal Rockefeller drinking cocktails in a nightclub with a group of gambling women.
Perhaps, in the unlikely event he can find a London council with a little more backbone than Corbyn and which is willing to offer up a blank wall in the borough, Kalen Ockerman could recreate his Brick Lane mural just as Diego Rivera did, only this time without occult references to the Illuminati and Freemasons, for which he should substitute the real instruments of the power capitalism wields over the world, beginning with the media corporations that have used his art not only to attack Jeremy Corbyn but to dismiss any critique or opposition to capitalism as anti-Semitic. In place of the bankers that bestrode the world in the 1930s, we suggest that the Monopoly players in this new version be a more up-to-date group of billionaires: Australian-born American owner of The Sun and The Times Rupert Murdoch; British tax exile and owner of the Metro and the Daily Mail Viscount Rothermere (whose grandfather had supported the Nazis); British tax exiles and owners of the Daily Telegraph Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay; British tax exile and owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star Richard Desmond; Russian-born tax exile and owner of the Independent and the London Evening Standard Evgeny Lebedev; and Japanese businessman and owner of the Financial Times Tsuneo Kita. If he doesn’t want to leave out the Corbyn-excoriating Guardian, which has so loudly denounced his mural as anti-Semitic, Ockerman could depict them being served cocktails by Anthony Salz, the British Executive Vice Chairman of the investment bank Rothschild and one of the directors of Scott Trust Ltd that owns the Guardian media group; perhaps with David Grigson, the Chairman of Trinity Mirror plc, as a cigarette girl. However, before members of the Labour Party start sharpening their long knives, we should point out that although ten of the top twelve British daily newspapers are owned by these seven billionaires – a situation they appear to be perfectly happy with – only Richard Desmond is Jewish, and his profile is positively gentile.
Architects for Social Housing
Postscript. My reading of this mural is not based on what I might imagine to have been the artist’s intentions, about which I know nothing, but on its language and iconography. My point in doing so was to demonstrate that it is possible to produce a very different reading of the mural, and show just how contingent and selective is the one that has been universally accepted. But my article isn’t about the mural or what it ‘actually’ means. A historically materialist critique should try to understand how ideology produces meaning, rather than claiming this or that meaning to be somehow inherent to a work of art. It doesn’t matter what I personally think the mural ‘means’; in the eyes of the public it is now unquestionably anti-Semitic – so unquestionably, in fact, that anyone questioning that meaning is themselves denounced as anti-Semitic, as indeed I have been. That in itself shows just how ideologically determined this apparently obvious meaning is. What my article tries to do is follow how this meaning has been produced, by whom, and to what ends.
2nd Postscript. In response to the comment below questioning the identities of the Monopoly players, as these comparative photographs show, the caricatures are pretty spot-on (in later years Crowley lost what looks he once had; and Rothschild’s beard looks like it got out of hand in old age; but Warburg’s moustache is as bushy as it was ever likely to have got) – apart from Andrew Carnegie, who, as my inquisitor points out, has lost his white beard and hair. However, although everyone – myself included – assumed Ockerman meant the U.S. industrialist, I suspect he based his portrait on Dale Carnegie (whose photograph I’ve added on the bottom row), whose slightly concerned professorial air the artist has captured. A lecturer in salesmanship and corporate training, Dale Carnegie was the author of the best-selling business bible How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was published in 1936 during the Great Depression, went on to sell over 30 million copies, and was released in a third edition in 2011, the year before the mural was painted. He also wasn’t Jewish. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Jayne. Werner Herzog has advice on how to eat boots.
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