The Hideous Hermaphroditic Character

“A blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” 

A relative on my mother’s side said this about another relation on my father’s side. Thomas Jefferson said this speaking about John Adams in the presidential campaign in 1800. During the election cycle of 2015–16, we’ve seen and heard things we never believed a presidential candidate would say. But, are any as shrewd as the toothless hermaphrodite quote?

As for scathing and blunt political statements, one only need turn to fact: magazine. During 1962, Herb Lubalin and Ralph Ginzburg collaborated on Eros magazine. It was groundbreaking design but lasted only four issues. In 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy indicted Ginzburg under federal obscenity laws.

In 1964, they collaborated again on fact:. This time, Ginzburg moved away from sex and focused on biting commentary about culture and politics. To retaliate against Kennedy, the cover of Issue Four is a simple typographic message, “Bobby Kennedy is the most evil _ _ _ _ in American politics today,”

I’ve long admired Lubalin’s use of Times Roman and Tom Carnase’s logo. Recently, I actually read an issue rather than simply examining the tight kerning and beautiful “f”. The September-October 1964 issue is a remarkable hate-fest about 1964 Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. This isn’t a thoughtful examination of Goldwater’s policies or proposals. This is closer to the “toothless hermaphrodite” variety of language.

The cover is, like most of the fact: covers, to the point and unapologetic. The issue has one article, “Goldwater: The Man and the Menace,” and a section dedicated to “What Psychiatrists Say About Goldwater.” The tenor of the article is aggressive and acrimonious with sentences such as, “Those psychoanalysts who find a connection between sadism and an anal character will not be surprised that young Goldwater was fascinated by bathrooms.” 

The design of the magazine relentlessly hammers Ginzburg’s text with plain and unadorned columns of text. The black and white color palette on uncoated stock, using Times Roman, is an undeniable reference to newspaper design. The communication goal is clear: this information is a fact and true.

The fascinating point here is the vast amount of acerbic text and imagery contained in only sixty-four pages. It is unremitting. Even the back cover is filled with derogatory quotes from psychiatrists.

Like Eros, this did not end well for Ginzburg or Goldwater. Goldwater lost the election (in one of the largest landslides in US history). He sued Ginzburg and won. Ginzburg didn’t help his case when he stated he intended to continue the same conduct in the future. He had undertaken a similar poll of psychiatrists with respect to President Johnson, in preparation for the 1968 campaign. He had reason to also doubt Mr. Johnson's sanity.