By September 23, 2013

This four-part series was written by Edje Jeter:

Cephalopods 1 of 4: Cuttlefish

Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids make up the class Cephalopoda (Greek: head-feet). Cephalopods appear in oceans, horror stories, nineteenth-century polemical literature, and—in their Mormon instantiations—in my next four posts. [1] I begin with the cuttlefish.

Cephalopods 2 of 4: Devil Fish and Octopuses

Last week I posted on the cuttlefish and a few weeks ago I posted on the upas tree. The upas post was prompted by a line from Edgar Folk: “[Mormonism] is the Upas tree of our civilization, the octopus of our political life.”[1] Having treated the vegetable, I now turn to the animal.

Cephalopods 3 of 4: Octopus Maps

Seeing as how it’s “Mormonism and Politics” month at JI, let’s talk about spineless carnivores with sucker-covered tentacles. One of the most common forms of octopus propaganda was a labeled octopus on a map representing an “imperial” power of some sort—a nation or company or, in the Mormon case, a church/theocracy—that controlled various geographic areas politically or economically. Michelle Farran at Vulgar Army provides several examples(see image below).

Cephalopods 4 of 4: The Nineteenth-Century Octopus

The octopus metaphor persists to the present but the cultural milieu has changed.[1] For example, last week I wrote about the image at right. My sense is that most 2013 observers would describe it as “quaint,” maybe even “cute.” A century earlier it was an “inky-black demon” with a “big black body lying flat, disgustingly spread” or “a horrible octopus” with “fiendish goggle eyes” and “treacherous succer-like tenticles reaching out.” [2] In this post I will try to account for the difference—I will summarize something of what late-nineteenth-century Europeans and Americans thought and felt about octopuses. [3] (Spoiler alert: it casts Mormonism as very bad.)


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