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One of the most iconic pictures of the 20th and 21st century is a poster “We Can Do It” created by J. Howard Miller. During the World War II, men had to leave their jobs and country to fight in Europe. While men were gone women had to take their jobs and support their families and their country’s economy. The poster was inspired by a photograph of Naomi Parker Fraley – a young woman in a pretty red and white polka dot bandana working on a factory in Alameda, California, in 1942. The poster has a woman that looks like Naomi raising her arm and showing her biceps on a bright yellow background with a phrase “We Can Do It”. This paper discusses why this image is iconic, what it signifies and what its meaning or value is for the public culture.
As Hariman and Lucaites (2007, 27-29) describe in their paper, iconic images are images that refer to something widely distributed in all media formats, and represent universal emotions and meanings, are recognizable and understood to be a representation of an important historical event. This image perfectly fits this description because “We Can Do It” is hugely known and shared around in a variety of media, it has a simple message that is understood by everyone and the movement that this image becomes one of the symbols of is widely supported and understood.
The background of the image affected its meaning and original message. As Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright (2009, 9) said in the Practices of Looking: “a single image can serve a multitude of purposes, appear in a range of settings, and mean different things to different people”. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the US government urged the military manufacturers to produce more weapons and other army products (Herold, 2018). However, the atmosphere on large factories was really tense because of the conflicts between the workers and the administration of the labour unions (Herold, 2018). Because of this, a campaign was launched to soften the conflict and raise the spirit and morale of all factory workers (Herold, 2018). In 1942 Westinghouse Electric Company decided to create a series of propaganda posters to increase the morale of all workers at the factory and to encourage them to keep their hard work (Herold, 2018). Other posters like “Together We Can Do It!” and “Keep ‘Em Firing!” were created during that time that was similar to the “We Can Do it” (Rubenstein et al. , 1998).
Only in the 1980s the poster gained huge popularity among the general public and became a symbol for the feminist movement. Nowadays the poster was remade and parodied many times. Many advertisers still use this image with some modification to promote their products. The image appeared on clothes, vending machines, mugs, refrigerator magnets, pins, and other similar merchandise and products. The image was also used by a company Clorox to advertise its household cleaners (Wade, 2007). The image also appeared in the Captain America: The First Avenger movie (Landekic and Albinson, 2011). It was also used during political campaigns featuring Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama and Julia Gillard (Herold, 2018).
There was also another issue with the poster. The person pictured on the poster was a mystery until only recent years. in the beginning, everybody was sure that the woman on the cover was Geraldine Hoff Doyle, but later after a short investigation, it became apparent that the real woman on the picture is Naomi Parker Fraley (Fox, 2018). This shows how public image and opinion can change in an instance. The meanings and background of the image get blurred out and it is important to remember to critically think and analyze the meaning behind anything.
After the poster was rediscovered it was re-appropriated to promote feminist movement. People saw the image as “embodiment of female empowerment” (Hall, 2006). The “we” part was interpreted to mean “we women” and meant to unite all women to fight for their rights and gender equality (Hall, 2006). The meaning changed drastically from 1943 to 1980. As History professor Jeremiah Axelrod pointed out in his paper that the image combined femininity with masculinity, almost macho composition and body language” (Oostdijk and Valenta, 2006). This definitely attracted the feminist movement to this image.
This image is iconic because it is widely recognizable, and was reproduced a lot of times. This image is significant because later it became a symbol of women’s power and feminism. It signifies the power of women. This image inspired them to never give up, follow their goals and dreams. It inspired the revolution for women’s rights. It changed how the West looked on women and their contribution to society. Women during the hard times of World War II showed that they can work on hard jobs and support their country while their brothers, fathers, and sons fight for their country abroad. Women needed an icon to follow and look up to.
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