Thanks for making this topic. If you can put an end to all the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching concern here over @doctorow’s use of the guillotine image you’d do us all a great service. This can also be a good reference topic to avoid the derails caused when these delicate souls drop to their fainting couches.
To start, though, we need to be clear on:
the concept that he and others here are trying to represent with the image
what his and others opinion of the concept is
whether and why the icon is an effective respresentation of the concept and one’s opinion about it.
I’ll let Cory and others speak for themselves. Copying and pasting from one of the endless discussions, here’s my own summary:
Concept: image is iconic shorthand for “historically, barbaric political/ideological violence is what happens when unchecked inequality gets so extreme that poor people start dying and are otherwise subjected to unbearable misery because of actions or inactions of the ultra-wealthy.”
Opinion of Concept: for a generally pacifist liberal like myself who enjoys a peaceful lifestyle and who wants to go about his life without various mobs of People’s Heroes™ engaging in revenge killings of others, something to be avoided and warned against.
Effective Representation of concept and opinion thereof: the guillotine is a single-purpose device historically associated with the concept described above. The image is recognisable as such to most people with a passing knowledge of history. At the same time, the device is archaic, over-engineered, and cartoonish. It is darkly humorous and ridiculous to the point that it is not something any reasonable person would think that the rare reader here whose answer to question 2 would be “I want it to happen!” would choose it over other well-known methods used with political violence (e.g. firing squads, nooses, spherical anarchist bombs with fuses, helicopters)
My conclusion is that the guillotine is a strong image in all three regards.
Now, as to alternative images presented so far:
A. The Miser: conveys negative aspects of extreme inequality springing from greed (e.g. the hoarding we see going on) and the wages of sin visited on the miser himself and others (e.g. Scrooge suffers and so does Bob Crachit), but fails to convey the idea of political violence in reaction to behaviour. Also, the iconography is a bit vague and the typical caricature might be construed as anti-Semitic.
B. Violence Against Strikers: here the concept is somewhat reversed, since it is the forces of wealth reacting against the poor and miserable under conditions of inequality. It does represent a specific situation most of us would prefer to avoid, but for those who’d like it to happen the idea of the guard labour of brave tycoons opening fire on ungrateful moochers is one that’s all too possible.
C. The Lamppost (suggested elsewhere): this was a method of political violence that was contemporary to the use of the guillotine. However, the lamppost in and of itself does not really represent the concept in the way the guillotine does. Also, it’s been used much more recently as an instrument of political violence, most notably by the Nazis at the end of WWII, which makes liberals and progressives using it as an image open to accusations that we’re just as bad.
In your listing, you also use the image of the fatcat capitalist. Cory regularly uses an even better one (and various alterations of it):
This is one of Thomas Nast’s cartoons about Boss Tweed, repurposed to represent later Gilded-Age greedpig capitalists. It’s effective, can’t be misinterpreted, it conveys a negative image of inequality. However, it doesn’t bring across the admonitory fact that extreme inequality results in political violence that hurts us all. Which is probably why Cory uses the guillotine image just as much as this one – especially when death or physical injury or incarceration are part of the story.