Sunday, August 12, 2012

Giving a Nudge to Vargas and his Nose-Art

Cute Young Man approached my desk rather gingerly because he knew he shouldn’t be up.
First, since it was our “silence is golden” time – that time I allotted on the plan book during the week for students to read aloud anything they wanted to from my classroom library, so he shouldn’t have been out of his seat since I had already given everyone a chance to choose their reading material, and we had already rotated through the restrooms.     

Secondly, since I read something during this time as well……I really didn’t like being interrupted.

Cute Young Man whispered, “Elementaryhistoryteacher, I need to ask you something.”

Hmmm….that was obvious since he was standing beside me during “silence is golden” time, but I decided not to mention that and said, “What do you need, Cute Young Man?”

He had a book in his hand….not one of mine, but it didn’t matter.   Students could bring items from home to read.   The important thing was that my students  were reading, and they were silent.

The book appeared to be an older edition of something dealing with World War II.  Cute Young Boy put the book up on my desk and said, “Look at this…..”

I quickly scanned both pages containing all sorts of images, and then I zeroed in on what he wanted me to see.  

There were several pin-up pictures on the page.   Thankfully, the women were all dressed but there were several of this type:

And there were a few planes with the same type of artwork on the nose area like this:

I explained to Cute Young Man best as I could what he was looking at with the most PG explanation I could find.     More than likely at his age he had already seen an issue of Playboy or Penthouse……..but I certainly wasn’t going there at all. 

Many bombers and fighter planes with the United States Army Air Force were painted with ‘nose art” or mascots during World War II.   It was unofficially permitted since many of the drawings depicted women who were barely clothed or entirely naked.   The "brass" pretended to look the other way in most cases.

Many of the drawings were done by crew members themselves or copied from men’s magazines.  Actresses, girl friends, etc. were used for models.

Calling these women depicted on the planes as mascots may seem a little demeaning today…..feminist groups during the Gulf War had such drawings banned….., but during World War II, the drawings were considered lucky charms, and as the war wore on many crews had little rituals and procedures they went through during each mission to ensure they made it back to base safely.  They considered the ‘nose art’ on their plane to be part of their “luck”.

The drawings in the two pictures I’ve provided above are both by Alberto Vargas.    During the war he was already known as a successful magazine and poster artist.   As far back as the 1930s he had made a name for himself creating pastel portraits of many famous Hollywood stars.

Vargas eventually signed a contract with Esquire magazine where he produced a monthly pinup in 1940, however, his contract with the magazine required he drop the final “s” on his name, so his artwork can be found under the name Varga, too.     During the course of the war through 1945 Vargas produced a pinup each month.  The artwork ended up in the hands of millions of servicemen who received the magazine for free.

The Vargas pinups are very distinctive.  The models do wear clothing, but the girls are very erotic, and are always featured on a white background.      The eroticism made Vargas’ work and Esquire magazine hit the top of the censorship list later in the war.

Many servicemen wrote Vargas asking him to produce ‘nose art’ for their planes.   He rarely turned the men down.

Today, the The Spencer Museum of Art houses almost the entire body of graphic art produced by Vargas for Esquire.

You can find more images of ‘nose art’ and how these images are trying to be saved here at  Save the Girls, however…..and I should not have to say this, but I will…..I would not share these images or Vargas’ artwork with my young students.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

13 Olympic Controversies through the Years

When you begin to look into the number of Olympic controversies it’s a little surprising how many exist considering the purpose of the Olympic Games happens to be  goodwill, peace and reconciliation.

One of the most recent controversies caught my eye a few days ago….a controversy involving one of the most tragic events that have ever occurred during the Olympics…..the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes during the  Munich Games in 1972.  

Since that time the families of the slain athletes have tried in vain to get the International Olympic Committee to recognize the athletes who were killed during the opening ceremonies.
This year….the London Games……were no different.   This article from Sports Illustrated gives a little background and discusses the fight the families continue to lay at the feet of the International Olympic Committee.

Since the Sydney Games in 2000, Israel has organized a commemorative event , but the families think the International Olympic Committee should organize the event.

I see their point.  

One of the wives is quoted as saying, “They were killed on Olympic soil and the appropriate place to recognize them would be the Opening Ceremony.”

A ceremony held by the current International Olympic Committee was authorized by IOC President Count Jacues Rogge in the athlete’s village on the Monday before the opening ceremony…but the event was too low key and did not satisfy the families.

It would seem the Israeli controversy will continue until the families are satisfied.

I can’t say that I blame them.

Here are some other controversies through the years…..

2.  In 1908 the issue for the Olympics involved a flag flap.   The Grand Duchy of Finland had become independent from the Russian Empire, but was not allowed to fly the Finnish flag.  Also, Ireland participated in the games in the areas of field hockey and polo, but was not allowed to fly their own flag. 

3. American athlete Jim Thorpe was at the center of one of the controversies during the 1912 Olympics.    Once it was learned he had played professional minor league baseball he was stripped of his gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon.   As a show of solidarity the silver medalist in the decathlon, Hugo Wieslander, refused his medals when they were offered to him.   Thorpe’s medals were finally restored to his children in 1983.

4. The controversy in 1920 involved the place selected to hold the games.   Budapest had initially been chosen but due to the fact the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been a German ally in World War I, the International Olympic Committee transferred the games to Antwerp.   I wonder if the fact the IOC that year was heavily dominated by the French had anything to do with it.   Hmmm….

5. Making clicking noises to a horse was one of the controversies de jour in 1932.   Swedish equestrian Bertil Sandstrom won the silver in equestrian dressage, but was demoted because he had “clicked” encouragement to his horse.     Sandstrom argued unsuccessfully that his saddle made the noises.

6. The entire 1936 games held in Berlin could be deemed controversial since they were held in Berlin and are considered “Hitler’s Games”, however, one of the highlights included the French and Canadian Olympians and their salute during the opening ceremony.   It appeared to some they were giving the Nazi salute, but in actuality they were performing the Olympic salute, which is similar.  Both salutes are based on the Roman salute.

7. The 1948 Summer Olympics following World War II provided a little punishment for Germany and Japan as both countries were suspended from the Olympics.   The suspension would last until 1956.

8. Boycotts were the order of the day for the 1956 Summer Olympics.   A total of seven countries boycotted the games all for different reasons.   The Suez Crisis kept Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon out of the games, and France and the United Kingdom were upset after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal.   The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland boycotted in protest of the Soviet Union because they had invaded Hungary, and the People’s Republic of China was upset that the Republic of China/Formosa was even allowed to compete.

9.. Apartheid kept South Africa from the games during the 1964 Summer Olympics.   The IOC would not lift the suspension until 1992.

10. The “Power to the People” Olympics better known as the 1968 Summer Games became controversial when Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed their “Power to the People” salute………..a raised fist…….during the United States anthem.   Both Smith and Carlos had won medals in the 200 meter race.

11. The 1976 Summer Olympic controversy involved the fencing portion of the pentathlon competition.   Soviet Boris Onischenko used an épée which had a pushbutton on the pommel.  When the button was activated it would cause the electronic scoring system to register a hit…..sometimes incorrectly.  The entire Soviet pentathlon team was disqualified.

12. The French version of “the finger” was at the heart of a controversy during the 1980 Summer Olympics.   Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz, a Polish pole vaulter, used the bras d'honneur gesture when he became upset with Soviet officials who he felt was cheating.   The officials were  opening the stadium doors during his attempts to allow a disturbing flow of wind.    The gesture he made created a huge scandal and he almost lost his medal.

13.  During the 2000 Summer Olympics a Chinese gymnast by the name of Dong Fangxiao had his bronze medal taken away in 2010.   It was discovered that at the time she competed she was only 14 years old…..the rules call for participants to be at least 16.  The US women’s team for 2000 moved up into third place and received bronze medals…..ten years later.

Now if you noticed at some point my list begins to just be about the Summer Olympics.    This doesn’t mean there only controversies during the hot summer.   


There were controversies in the Winter Olympics, too…..

Stay tuned…..I’ll try to get to those before the closing ceremonies for the London Olympics.