If different societies encode their communication according to their socio-historical context, it makes sense to postulate that satire resides in the no-man's-land that sprawls between what an individual claims to be and the reality revealed by his actions. Thus, satirical caricature, as graphic and scenic art, results in the indictment of collective or individual vices through irony, sarcasm and farce. This study examines the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the "disaster" brought about by the defeat of Spain and the loss of its colonial empire, through the lens of the caricatures published by three satirical magazines—Don Quijote (Madrid), La Campana de Gracia (Barcelona) y El Hijo de El Ahuizote (Mexico)—between January and December, 1898. These magazines provide a many-splendored set of facets depicting a scathing and hard-hitting campaign supporting the war and the demonization, management, and suppression of the other through the use of symbols. While in the peninsular press Spain is represented as a raging bull, a lion, or a virgin maiden, Cuba as an empty container or a black and ignorant peasant and the United States as imperialist pigs and a treacherous thieves, the Mexican magazine views the Spanish as the usurpers, pirates and traitors, the United States as liberator, and the annexed populations as respectable and noble societies to be freed from the Spanish colonial yoke.
Whether motivated by internal ideological confrontations or in opposition to external threats, the use of graphic representation as a political weapon considerably enriches the meaning of symbols. Satirical caricature represents a categorical instrument for the definition of national identity. The creation and dissemination of unified stereotypes—images assumed to be identical for all recipients—generates the development of a powerful national imaginary, both abstract and highly accessible to the reader, fomenting the manufacture of "public opinion". It is precisely here where its great semiotic power lies, because caricature achieves its maximum expression when it veers toward the symbolic rather than the discursive, delivering its content in an abstract and unlimited fashion, and spreading its effects through time and all the different socio-cultural contexts it may find along the way.