Damsels in Distress

The damsel in distress trope has appeared in mainstream media for as long as I can personally remember. Researching images that depict this trope shows that it has been prominent for much longer than that. The three images I chose to analyze come from a propaganda poster, a comic book cover, and a cartoon show I watched as a child. Each image encapsulates the damsel in distress trope in a variety of ways.

The first image (featured image) is a poster which depicts a scene in which the title reads “Destroy This Mad Brute; Enlist.” The main subject in the scene is a large ape-like creature, which seems to have walked out of the water in the background. The soil of the ground reads, “America.” The creature wears a look of rage, with teeth bared, eyes wide, and a bit of saliva dripping from his mouth. He also wears a hat with the word “Militarism” written across it. In one hand, he carries a bloodied club with text on it, seemingly spelling out “Kultur.” In the other hand, the ape carries a woman who seems to be faint. The woman is white, with long blonde hair and is wearing a dress that has come undone to reveal her breasts.

For this example, the trope is a woman in distress and the trope represents the fall of America due to military attacks from other countries. I understand this image to be a propaganda poster encouraging Americans to join the military in the efforts to defend and protect the nation. The first clue that led me to this conclusion was the title of the poster, persuading viewers to “ENLIST.” Furthermore, the large ape creature’s menacing appearance makes viewers feel uneasy and as though a threat is approaching. Because the ape wears a hat reading “MILITARISM,” I think that the ape is a depiction of other countries’ threat to the American people due to their aggressive military tactics. Also, because the ape seems to have come from a distance onto American soil (portrayed by the “AMERICA” written in the soil at his feet), it is clear that the creature is approaching American citizens menacingly. My interpretation certainly depends how the image was presented as far as the medium, colors, and time of publishing. The way that the poster is drawn and printed gives it a slightly gritty appearance and the colors used are subdued and gloomy. The poster was likely published at a time when America was a slightly smaller power and at more risk of collapsing due to a war. But in this current time, America’s own militarism makes this poster ironic. My personal cultural background and political views lead me to this particular understanding. The image was created by Harry R. Hopps in 1917 and appeared in military propaganda. It touches on cultural and political references that must be known to the viewer to understand its full meaning. General knowledge about world wars and history must be known to understand what the purpose of the poster is.


The second image is a comic book cover, which depicts a scene in which a woman is tied to a chair. The woman is white, with blonde hair, dressed in a blouse and skirt. She wears a look of panic, with eyes wide and sweat dripping from her forehead. She has a gag over her mouth and is tied around her mid section and her ankles. She appears to be in a sort of office, with a window behind her and a desk beside her. Atop the desk sits a burning candle attached to wiring which leads the eye down to the explosives on the floor beside the desk. Beside the candle, there seems to be a clock, possibly counting down. The background of the image shows a man, dressed in a coat and hat, smoking a cigarette. He appears to be calm and collected.

For this example, the trope is a woman in distress and the trope represents the life endangerment that a woman can experience when a man is not near to save her. I understand this image to be a depiction of a crime scene in need of solving by a male detective. The woman in the scene is alone in the room and appears panicked and unable to get herself out of the situation. The image of the detective in the background speaks to the intelligence and calm nature of the likely main character and the woman’s savior. The way that the scene is drawn in bright and sickly colors gives it an eerie feeling. The comic was likely published in the early 1900s so it is likely that my interpretation depends on this information. The cultural norms represented women as delicate and less intelligent than they are. Because of this, the scene seems even more dire.



The third image is a still from the cartoon, Scooby Doo, depicting a scene in which a woman is tied to a wooden pole. The woman is white, with red hair, and is dressed fashionably. She wears a purple dress, pink tights, and purple heels. Her accessories include a headband matching her dress and a green ascot around her neck. She is tied around the shoulder and mid section, and it is implied by the pose that her hands are also tied behind her back. She sits upon the ground with a look of distaste. She appears to be in a sort of cave, potentially under ground. Beside her is the show’s namesake, Scooby Doo. He is a large dog who appears to have just run into the room suddenly. He has a look of joy on his face and appears carefree. Behind the dog is a crate with a sign atop it, reading “Dog Food.” Inside the crate there appears to be another dog, looking upon the scene casually.

For this example, the trope is a woman tied to a pole and the trope represents the potential harm and kidnapping that a woman can experience when a man is not near to save her. I understand this image to be a scene representing the woman, Daphne’s, distress and potential harm in lieu of a savior. I was led to this conclusion by the scene’s setting. It seems to be a hidden underground area where Daphne is being held captive. She seems to have been alone until Scooby suddenly ran into the room – indicated by his pose. Because she was alone in this setting and tied up, it is implied that someone was holding her captive until they came back to do her harm. It seems that Scooby Doo is the first to find her and likely unintentionally, implied by the expression that he wears. The way that the scene is drawn with dark colors speaks to the danger of the setting. The image does not induce strong emotional reactions for me. Instead it simply appears funny, likely because it is a children’s show and the ridiculous idea of a cartoon dog being the savior of a woman is evident. However, it could be seen as insulting for the same reasons.