The point of finger-pointing
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: November 3, 2016
Ironically, one of our smallest, weakest body parts — the finger — often wields the most power.
That one diminutive digit can instill fear, anxiety, surprise, guilt or joy. Fingers identify winners, fingers pull triggers and fingers place blame. If I only had a dollar for every time my father pointed a callused finger in my direction and bellowed, “You’re grounded!” I’d have enough for decent manicure.
During the current presidential campaign season, there certainly has been a lot of finger-pointing going on. But one finger has been aimed at us long before our current political candidates were in the news.
We all know the iconic image of goateed, top-hatted Uncle Sam, staring us down, sending us on the ultimate guilt trip. For more than a century, this patriotic personification of our government has been used for one specific purpose — to tell us to do something for our country.
U.S. servicemembers know Uncle Sam all too well, because his image has been bound inextricably to the draft, enlistment, patriotism and military service.
Military history geeks might be interested to know that Uncle Sam’s origins are not fully understood. The name appears in one version of the lyrics of the Revolutionary War ditty “Yankee Doodle”:
Old Uncle Sam come there to change
Some pancakes and some onions,
For ’lasses cakes, to carry home
To give his wife and young ones.
No one is quite sure if Yankee Doodle’s pancake-slinging uncle is our own patriotically bedazzled Sam. But during the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson, a meat-packer from Troy, N.Y., became forever linked with the personification. As the government-appointed meat inspector for the Northern Army, Wilson was nicknamed Uncle Sam by the troops because his barrels of inspected meat were stamped with the initials “U.S.” Despite the tenuous connection between Wilson and the iconic character, in 1961, the U.S. Congress resolved that it “salutes Uncle Sam Wilson of Troy, N.Y., as the progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam.”
Two American editorial cartoonists helped to popularize illustrations of Uncle Sam — Thomas Nast (1840-1902), with his long, lean Sam with a white top hat, blue tailcoat and red-striped pants in Harper’s Bazaar; and James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), whose most famous work was the WWI poster of finger-pointing Uncle Sam proclaiming “I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY.”
Flagg’s recruiting poster was printed more than four million times, and his famous portrayal of Uncle Sam has been used to call people to shovel coal, to enlist, to buy war bonds, to work hard, to not discuss troop movements, to become a nurse or a stenographer, to plant a victory garden, to defend American freedom and to volunteer.
This month, Uncle Sam is popping up again, online and in print, telling us that it is our civic duty to vote. Many of you stationed overseas sent in your absentee ballots weeks ago, and others are gearing up for Nov. 8.
This campaign season has been so epic, many are commemorating the event by throwing election-themed parties. Pinterest offers inspiration, from donkey and elephant Jell-O shots to election selfie props to Uncle Sam “I WANT YOU TO COME TO A PARTY!” invitations. Rachael Ray’s online magazine has a recipe for “Campaign Trail Mix” and advises party planners to use a curtain to create a voting booth around the bar, inviting guests to go in and “booze up liberally or conservatively.” At urbanblisslife.com, one can download a printable election day map for the kids to color with blue and red crayons as the results are declared.
With the extreme negativity of this presidential campaign, it’s no wonder we all want to have a little fun. But we mustn’t forget about that famous finger. Not the foam one at the football game, or the angry one flipped by the driver in the passing Prius, or the one your husband tells you to pull with a devilish grin, or the tiny one your toddler uses to explore her nostrils.
You know the one. So, let’s all heed old Uncle Sam’s advice, do our civic duty and vote on Nov. 8.
Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at: themeatandpotatoesoflife.com.