The octocrat

Yesterday’s (2/8) Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, with a pun on autocrat: octocrat, itself a portmanteau of octopus and autocrat:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

To come: notes on the words involved; some facts about octopuses that make them symbolically powerful; the octopus in political cartoons; and Wayno’s title for this cartoon, “Eight Arms to Oppress You”, with its allusion to the Ring verse from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

The words. From NOAD:

noun autocrat: [a] a ruler who has absolute power. [b] someone who insists on complete obedience from others; an imperious or domineering person.

The use in #1 is certainly sense a, but with an echo of sense b as well.

From Michael Quinion’s Affixes site:

-cracy government, rule, or influence (Greek ‑kratia, power or rule)

Many terms in ‑cracy have been coined, though only a small number are at all well known; most can mean either a system of influence or rule or a society so ruled, as with democracy, rule through elected representatives; a few can also refer to the rulers as a group, as with aristocracy (Greek aristos, best), rule by members of the highest social class.

The form is active, used to create words for influential groups with characteristics in common: punditocracy, media commentators; adhocracy, a loose group of influential advisers; meritocracy, government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their educational ability.

All can have associated adjectives in -cratic (bureaucratic, meritocratic), and nouns in ‑crat for a member of the relevant class or group (aristocratautocrat). A few can also have adjectives in ‑cratical (aristocraticaldemocratical), but these are much rarer than the corresponding forms in ‑cratic.

Example: autocracy rule by one person with absolute power (Greek autos, self)

And also from NOAD:

pl. noun OctopodaZoology an order of cephalopod mollusks that comprises the octopuses. ORIGIN modern Latin (plural), from Greek oktōpousoktōpod-, from oktō ‘eight’ + pouspod- ‘foot’.

So, with the octo– of octopus + the –crat of autocrat, you get octocrat ‘octopus autocrat’.

The nature of octopuses. From Wikipedia:

The octopus (plural octopuses) is a soft-bodied, eight-limbed mollusc of the order Octopoda. Around 300 species are recognised, and the order is grouped within the class Cephalopoda with squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids. Like other cephalopods, the octopus is bilaterally symmetric with two eyes and a beak, with its mouth at the center point of the eight limbs. The soft body can rapidly alter its shape, enabling octopuses to squeeze through small gaps. They trail their eight appendages behind them as they swim. The siphon is used both for respiration and for locomotion, by expelling a jet of water. Octopuses have a complex nervous system and excellent sight, and are among the most intelligent and behaviourally diverse of all invertebrates.

… Octopuses appear in mythology as sea monsters like the Kraken of Norway and the Akkorokamui of the Ainu, and probably the Gorgon of ancient Greece

… They are eaten and considered a delicacy by humans in many parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean and the Asian seas.

… Nearly all octopuses are predatory; bottom-dwelling octopuses eat mainly crustaceans, polychaete worms, and other molluscs such as whelks and clams; open-ocean octopuses eat mainly prawns, fish and other cephalopods. Major items in the diet of the giant Pacific octopus include bivalve molluscs such as the cockle Clinocardium nuttallii, clams and scallops and crustaceans such as crabs and spider crabs

… A benthic (bottom-dwelling) octopus typically moves among the rocks and feels through the crevices. The creature may make a jet-propelled pounce on prey and pull it towards the mouth with its arms, the suckers restraining it. Small prey may be completely trapped by the webbed structure. Octopuses usually inject crustaceans like crabs with a paralysing saliva then dismember them with their beaks. Octopuses feed on shelled molluscs either by forcing the valves apart, or by drilling a hole in the shell to inject a nerve toxin. … Once the shell is penetrated, the prey dies almost instantaneously, its muscles relax, and the soft tissues are easy for the octopus to remove. Crabs may also be treated in this way; tough-shelled species are more likely to be drilled, and soft-shelled crabs are torn apart.

… Since it has numerous arms emanating from a common centre, the octopus is often used as a symbol for a powerful and manipulative organisation, company, or country.

The octopus in political cartoons. From Never Was magazine, “The Octopus in Political Cartoons” by Nick Ottens on 8/8/17:

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

… One of the first artists to imitate Rose was Japan’s Kisaburō Ohara. [A] cartoon, from the time of the Russo-Japanese War, shows Russia’s tentacles stretching into Asia. Of note is the rightmost tentacle, which touches Port Arthur: the site of Japan’s 1904 attack on the Russian Fleet.

The map was made to persuade Britain, then the world’s premier naval power, to stay out of the war.

The late nineteenth century was also the high-water mark of British imperialism. [A] 1888 cartoon, published in Punch, shows John Bull, the personification of the United Kingdom, dabbling in Egyptian waters.

“He is a curious mixture of the lion, mule and octopus,” gobbling up territories along the route to India: Gibraltar, the Cape, Malta, Cyprus and the recently inaugurated Suez Canal.

… Prussia, and later Germany, became an octopus favorite in French propaganda.

[A] cover of the revanchist French public-affairs magazine La Revanche depicts France and Russia slaying the German octopus in 1886, fifteen years after France lost Alsace and the Moselle department of Lorraine in the War of 1870. France and Russia would formalize an anti-German alliance five years later.

The article provides many many more examples, with illustrations.

Then in the American context, the robber baron Jay Gould as a grasping octopus. Backgound from my 1/14/21 posting “Jay Gould”:

Gould’s sharp business practices made him the target of the political cartoonists of the day, who churned out wicked caricatures of him.

Two octopodal examples.

First, from The Shoeleather History Project (Stories from Hartford’s Grassroots), “Jay Gould: Octopus of the Wires” from 11/9/13:

Gould robbed working people and millionaires alike. He bought his way out of the Civil War draft, issued millions of dollars in phony  railroad stock, bribed legislators, and manipulated President Grant in an attempt to corner the gold market. Worst of all, he was a notorious union buster. Gould bought a newspaper to help his image, kept plainclothes police with him at all times, and bomb-proofed his newly-purchased New York Western Union office. With good reason, he was the industrialist the public loved to hate, the “Octopus of the Wires” as described by one of his former employees.

(#2) Populist era political cartoon. Original caption: “Corporate greed octopus gobbles up freight for Great Railroad while unemployed handlers look on.” Subtext on head: “All FOR OURSELVES, NOTHING FOR THE PUBLIC” (unknown artist 6/27/1882)

Second, from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, “Anti-corporate cartoons, ca. 1900”, this cartoon, representing Standard Oil as an octopus, wrapping its tentacles around the United States Capitol, a “State House,” and the White House:

(#3) (caption:) Udo Keppler, Next! photomechanical print, September 1904 (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

“Eight Arms to Oppress You”. Wayno’s title for #1. An alarming allusion to the Ring verse from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, reproduced in artwork as #2 in my 11/22/18 posting “A fantasy exercise in cartoon understanding”. The entire verse:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

[Correction. Allusions are tricky; you have to divine the writer’s or speaker’s intentions from what they say. In this case, I divined incorrectly; see Wayno’s comment below. I don’t think I ever knew about the working title of Help!, so of course I didn’t get the intended allusion.]

2 Responses to “The octocrat”

  1. waynocartoons Says:

    Another thorough and deep analysis of a silly cartoon. Well done!

    One minor correction: The title I used in my social media postings was meant to reference “Eight Arms to Hold You,” the working title of the Beatles’ film “Help!”

    Who knows, maybe that Lord of the Rings verse was knocking around in my head somewhere as well.

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