Who is to Blame? Analyzing Points of View in Gas Price Editorial Cartoons from the 1970s and 2000s

Lesson Plan

By Rob Fetters, Mount Vernon High School

American History Content Statements

4. Historians analyze cause, effect, sequence, and correlation in historical events, including multiple causation and long- and short-term causal relations

13. An improved standard of living for many, combined with technological innovations in communication, transportation and industry, resulted in social and cultural changes and tensions.

26. Political debates focused on the extent of the role of government in the economy, environmental protection, social welfare and national security.

28. The United States faced new political, national security and economic challenges in the post-Cold War world and following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Estimate duration of lesson:

One class period

Learning objectives:

Students will be able to analyze and compare points of view regarding who or what editorial cartoonists are blaming (or not blaming) for gas prices.

Summary of the lesson:

Is the artist of a gas price cartoon providing the reader a direction of blame or is it undirected? If there is a direction of blame, what does the artist convey is involved in determining gas prices? Students will analyze editorial cartoons in mixed ability groups, and for each editorial cartoon discuss 1) if there is a direction of blame for gas prices and 2) if there is a direction of blame, what does the artist believe contributes to gas prices. Students then take turns reporting their group’s thoughts on each cartoon to the whole class.


If desired, this could be done by having students establish the direction of blame, if any, for all snake related or Uncle Sam related cartoons. Scoring could be based upon student written explanations of directionality of blame by the artist.

Instructional steps:

The teacher leads a discussion with students about the influences on gas prices, including supply and demand. Using a gas price line graph (see Energy Information Administration at www.eia.gov), discuss major events which have preceded changes in gas prices, including the OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s, the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, September 11th, oil spills, hurricanes hitting oil refineries, global economic contraction/recession, and any other times of oil supply uncertainty you choose to include.

Next show Matt Davies 2011 “Energy Habits” cartoon and have students silently write down their own interpretation of this cartoon. Discuss with students how editorial cartoonists have their own point of view or bias. Editorial cartoonists also want to sell their cartoons, and this can influence how they choose to reveal or hide their point of view. In creating cartoons about gas prices, they may choose to blame someone or something for gas prices, or they may choose to avoid directing blame, perhaps trying to find humor in a gas price increase or express people’s anger or frustration about it. Does the Davies cartoon “Energy Habits” have direction of blame? Is the finger pointing at the consumer because the gas nozzle is pointing at the consumer? If the cartoon is not blaming the consumer, is there any specific direction of blame? Discuss with students how editorial cartoons are often open to interpretation, and that it is okay to disagree about their meaning as long as we use examples to support why we think something and respect other people’s right to have a different interpretation then our own. Use OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum’s Editorial Cartoon Analysis Worksheet if you have not taught with editorial cartoons before.

Divide the class into pre-determined mixed ability groups of four. Each group of four will discuss each cartoon, and establish if their group thinks there is a direction of blame or not, and who or what the artist is blaming if there is a direction of blame. Students should agree who will share their group’s ideas with the class for each cartoon. In a group of 4 students, each student would present on 6 cartoons if all 25 cartoons are to be analyzed. Encourage them to write something down to help them remember. Students will probably need around one minute of discussion per cartoon. If you choose to use all cartoons, then 15 to 20 minutes total is probably all they will need to analyze the 25 cartoons, as they will hopefully get better and faster at analyzing with experience and practice. After all groups are finished or the time allotted has passed, start with the first group and go around the room having the presenter for each group of that cartoon state whether or not their group believed the artist was attributing blame or not, if so, to whom or what, and why their group thought that, using evidence from the cartoon itself and prior knowledge. On the next cartoon, start with the second group and go round the room, and so on, so that no group always has to present first. At the end, discuss whether more cartoons were blaming something for gas prices, or if more cartoon artists were not directing blame anything in particular to explain higher gas prices. What were the most frequent targets blamed? (American Consumers? American Government Policy? Oil Companies? OPEC? etc.) Why do students think that is the case? (My ideas of artists directing blame are included, so do not photocopy that part for students).


This could be accomplished by having students establish the direction of blame, if any, for all snake related or Uncle Sam related cartoons, whichever was not used in the pre-assessment. Scoring based upon student verbal or written explanations of directionality of blame by the artist.

Materials needed by teachers:

Photocopy enough sets of cartoons for every group to have one. If available, use SmartBoard or computer projector to show each cartoon being discussed during presentations.

Materials needed by students:

paper and writing utensil

Extension activities:

Possibly challenge students to find a different gas price editorial cartoon, or even to create their own.