Tuesday, February 24, 2015


A lot of what this blog is about has to do with analyzing Shaw as an object of culture. In other words, I try to take a look at GBS (the persona behind the man) so as to gain a better understanding of what has granted him such enduring popularity. In this sense, it is always interesting to look at the reception Shaw had in his lifetime, and the image he projected. 

Don't be afraid. What's coming is not a lengthy, cumbersome essay on how scholars, critics, and the like viewed Shaw. Instead, I've chosen to show here a short clip (just 10 seconds long. You surely can spare that, can't you?). It belongs to a 1933 Warner Brothers cartoon entitled "I've Got to Sing a Torch Song." As you may know, that was also the title of a popular song at the time, featured in the film of the same year "Gold Diggers of 1933." Let me begin by embedding the video with the music. 

Bernard Shaw is among the many celebrities that are portrayed in the film - more or less overtly. For example, there's a guy singing in the tub who has a sign that reads "Cros Bingsby" on his door. 

This is the Shaw part- judge for yourselves!

Given that this is a satirical portrayal of Shaw, there are a few things that are worth commenting on. All these aspects are proof of the image that the general public had of him. 

To begin with, it seems quite clear that Shaw's interest in boxing was widely known. It suffices to turn over a few pages of Jay Tunney's The Prizefighter and the Playwright to find out more about that. Therefore, it is not surprising that he should be depicted as a thin pugilist punching a globe. 

In addition, the idea that Shaw is punching a globe is, of course, a representation of his attempts at "world-betterment," of his revolutionary, shocking ideas, and of the general opposition he met along the way. Shaw always had an axe to grind, and always found someone to wield it against. 

Then, again, the globe bounces back at him and knocks him out. The metaphor leaves little room for interpretation. This is especially meaningful in light of the events that unfolded during the thirties, because it was then that Shaw had a rude awakening from his dreams of utopia - especially after the deeds perpetrated by the strong rulers of Europe he admired (Mussolini's cartoon alter-ego appears right before Shaw in the movie).

Finally, all the pictures of himself on the wall suggest an aura of conceit and self-awareness that was not very far from the truth, at least in what respects to his playwrighting persona. However, Bernard Shaw was a very friendly and humane person, as his neighbors and acquaintances recall. Many visitors would not even recognize him when they walked past him along the roads of Ayot St Lawrence. Such was his naturalness.  

To wrap things up, it would be nice to connect this cartoon to many other caricatures and satiric drawings in which Shaw has been depicted. Many of those can be accessed online on the digital image repositories of universities and other institutions. In my personal opinion, the collections of the British Cartoon Archive are especially interesting. 

George Bernard Shaw by Edmund S. Valtman ppmsc.07950

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