The image is reproduced again below but in higher definition.
The distinctive feature of Babcock’s image is the sailor’s pose. He is in effect, riding the torpedo. The image reminds me of a rodeo rider. Figure 2, above, illustrates such a rider (Chet Johnson). The similarity of the poses are clear to see.
The poster, therefore, suggests manliness and the sense of taming something dangerous yet thrilling. I suspect that for many, Babcock’s poster suggests that the Navy is possibly even fun. I have no doubt that these aspects were intentional.
The accompanying text is interesting. It doesn’t just suggest that the reader should join the Navy, it says the Navy is “The service for fighting men.” In the second decade of the 21st Century, arguably this sounds rather vulgar and lacks subtlety. It possibly even appears insensitive to the risks and possible consequences that soldiers in general, and sailors in particular, face in times of conflict. I suspect, however, that 100 years ago, being a fighting man was considered positive. It suggested that these men were prepared to go to war rather than be a conscientious objector, for example.
These messages of manliness are repeated in an incredible form in Howard Chandler Christy’s poster of 1917 (see figure 3, below).
I am reminded of some graffiti in a Sussex University toilet; “Women who want to be equal to men lack ambition”!
Christy’s poster suggests something else, namely that a woman can influence a man’s decision. In that sense, the connotations of Christy’s poster are more subtle. Men are so ruled by their impressions of manliness that they can be encouraged to join the navy, and so risk their lives, to impress women. Maybe this is true and explains the graffiti quoted above!
The connotations of both posters are interesting in that the suggest that men are/were governed by the need to be seen to be manly. So much so, that they can be encouraged to risk their lives.
My choice of image
I wanted to find a poster that offered as complete a contrast as possible to the two posters above. Whilst searching for feminist posters I found this:
The image shows a male and a female faced with a ladder each. The female’s has two rungs, the male’s many. The first rung for the female is higher than the first two for the male. The message tells us that someone has to work harder; the image offers no other inference than it is the female who has to work harder.
The connotations are interesting. In English (and please note that Utilita Manifesta (UM) is an Italian organisation) there are many ladders to be climbed; the career ladder, the property/housing ladder and Jacob’s ladder are just three examples. The second part of the image’s text simply states, “Same Rights, Same Opportunities”. This suggests that the metaphor of the ladder is being applied to anything in which female opportunities and progress are being hindered.
My interpretation of the image is that females face two large obstacles in their attempts to achieve their goals and ambitions. The first is that to actually step onto the metaphorical ladder is harder. An obvious example would be those societies where girls struggle to get as full an education as their male peers. This fact sheet from Unesco makes depressing reading: http://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf.
The second is that once females are on the ladder, to progress further is significantly harder. Hence the fewer rungs and the large gaps between them. This lengthy report from Deloittes contains some interesting graphics from page 9 onward: http://www.lifesciadvisors.com/wp-content/uploads/Deloitte_Women-in-the-boardroom-a-global-perspective-fifth-edition_2017.pdf.
In all honesty, I am, however, a rather middle-aged, European and (by most people’s definition) middle class male. Everything I have interpreted fits my view of the world. I chose the image for that very reason! I do believe, however, that the design affords few other interpretations.
I suspect there are many areas in which the interpretation might be applied differently. The first that immediately occurs to me is gender, coupled by age and circumstances.
For example, a girl in Ethiopia may well see the ladder purely in terms of their limited access to schooling. A female rape victim in the UK, however, may well see the ladder in terms of their access to justice.
A gay man in Saudi Arabia may consider the poster ignores the challenges faced by gay men in their quest for equal rights. An unemployed former miner in the US might have voted for Trump last year because he resents his inability to find employment.
It is probably obvious that I think this poster is both inspired and inspiring. UM’s website may be accessed here: http://www.utilitamanifesta.it/. Here are two other posters from UM. Note that the male figure sports a tie in these, suggesting adulthood.
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Babcock, R. F. (1917) Join the Navy The Service for Fighting Men [Poster] At: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/join-the-navy-the-service-for-fighting-men-war-is-hell-store.html (Accessed on 26/10/17)
Figure 2. Ruther, P. (2011) Chet Johnson of Sheridan, Wyo. scores 76 points on Lipstick & Whiskey [Photograph] At: http://billingsgazette.com/uploaded-photos/chet-johnson/image_f7f8f11e-8e5d-5567-b54a-4457e055da0a.html (Accessed on 26/10/17)
Figure 3. Christy, H. C. (1917) Gee, I wish I were a Man [Lithograph] At: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/8945?locale=en (Accessed on 26/10/17)
Figure 4. Utilita Manifesta (no date) Someone has to work harder [Poster] At: https://www.designspiration.net/save/42633184412586/ (Accessed on 27/10/17)