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Feb 23, 2005

Bush Snakes Through Europe (Or: Art of Darkness)

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I have been looking at photo coverage of W's trip to Europe, but the most interesting image I found was this illustration on the cover of The Economist.  (Larger version here.)  I'd be happy for your comments, because the jungle analogy seems to "miss the boat."  If anything, it suggests a significant gap between how the Administration perceives Europe, and how Europe (or, at least the Economist) thinks the Administration perceives it.

I mean, do the Europeans seriously equate this trip to Bush entering a treacherous forest?  The way Bush/Cheney/Rummy view the Europeans, a sandbox might have made a better metaphor.  Geography, this image actually seems more suggestive of the United States, where various cowboy-types have always been bent on taming the wild.  The hand with the bow-and-arrow in the lower right corner contributes to this sense.  Symbolically, what native group in Europe has a pull stronger than the American Indian?  (On the other hand, if you assume Bush is traveling down the Mediterranean -- even though his trip takes place further north -- you could make a case for the hand on the bow being African.  ...And, what's with that arrow tip?  Maybe the person aiming the arrow is actually one of those woodland-loving Greens still ticked off about Kyoto.) 

Maybe, though, the boat is on an American tributary, after all.  If you told me this image depicted the second-term Bush traversing the political wilds at home, having to navigate between foes on both the left and right (maybe that's Hillary in the tree, Howard Dean setting up the arrows, or the skeleton of his father's "no new taxes" pledge), that would make more sense. 

Getting back to Europe, however, could the antagonists in the graphic represent specific adversaries?  Considering that Bush met with representatives of NATO, the EC and the EU, as well as Chirac, Blair, Yushenko, Berlusconi, Schroeder, and Putin, and three of the nine -- Blair, Yushenko and Berlusconi -- are either allies, or insignificant players, that leaves six potential attackers.  That number matches the six threats in the illustration (the snake, skull, scorpion, native, spider, and eyeballs).  With that symmetry, who's to say you couldn't match real life players with illustrated counterparts? 

Maybe the giant snake hanging over Bush's head could be the EU, for example.  With a population a third larger than the U.S., it appears the snake -- if completely unfurled -- might prove about that much bigger than the boat, which, with a motor painted like the American flag, seems to clearly represent the U.S.  In terms of other actors, Chirac could be the scorpion.  Although France is nowhere near equal to the U.S. in scale, ol' Jacque is famous for shaking a pincer at Bush.  Over the past few years, he has certainly also shown he knows when to pinch and where he can sting. 

Of course, another way to look at this picture is from a directional perspective.  In that case, it's helpful to read the text supplied with the illustration:

George Bush is about to venture bravely into darkest Belgium, and beyond into Europe's interior. For the moment, the natives are friendlier than before, but those grins can be deceptive....

Bush's trip involves three stops, each destination lying further east -- the same direction he's moving in the drawing.  Following Brussels, Bush heads for Mainz, Germany to meet with Gerhard Schroeder.  The last (or, most interior) stop is Bratislava in Slovakia, where Bush meets with Vladimir Putin.  Coincidence or not, both of these cities are on large rivers.  The main river that passes through Mainz is the Rhine.  Bratislava happens to sit beside the Danube. 

Because both cities lie on the northern bank of these rivers, they would equate with the top, or far bank in the illustration.  Since Bush visits Germany first, and the skull precedes the spooky eyes in terms of perspective, the skull could be seen to represent Schroeder and the Germans. In contrast to the conciliatory tone between Bush and Chirac, Schroeder seems to be the one European leader who keeps rattling old skeletons.  Last week, the Chancellor challenged the U.S. to recognize the EU as the military successor to NATO.  Schroeder has also become Bush's harshest opponent regarding negotiations with Iran.  Just last week, he challenged the U.S. scenario that the situation automatically be taken up by the U.N. Security Council if European-Iranian talks failed. 

Of course, the spooky eyes at the furthest point of the river can easily represent Putin.  The former spy has steered his country into a dank and edgy darkness.



From a European (in my case Swiss) perspective, the image is all wrong... Bush is portrayed as

- downtrodden,
- subject to many perils,
- fighting his way against the current
- into new territory.

The reality on the ground isn't really the opposite (that would have been too much contradiction), but it is still rather far from the truth.

Bush's appearance, posture and language is, in everything Europe, arrogant and self-assured, and definitely not bent and suffering. He isn't really facing any perils (angry European PMs?), since he is here to try gain support for his terrorism thing and not to face criticism (oh, yeah, like he really cares that we're all fussy about the Kyoto protocol?). He is not really fighting against the current either, since the European Union is more than willing to talk with him and the new territory is the same swamp he got Poland, Great Brittan, Italy and Spain to go with the first time...

I think the image does a much better job of trying to tell the Homefront how Bush would like to be seen -- something of a heroic mission to the cowardly (they're all waiting in ambush), backward Europeans.


The Economist is a British magazine, not an American one. That may or may not be European but it's certainly not President Bush's homefront. That is what makes the image interesting.

The magazine is British, but I can only assume they're playing to their North-American audience...

There's an editorial cartoon by Chappatte that appeared in "Le Temps" a few days ago that, in my opinion, does a much better job representin the European view of Bush's visit:

nah, i think the cover misses the point. it was probably a sketch that the editor thought was too "witty", in a bourgeois way, to pass up.

Bush is going into what for many Red staters is the Heart of Darkness. I do not know if the Belgian Congo analogy is apt but there may be traps for the unwary. Bush and his marinettes are far cries from Metternicht, Tallyrand and the like. Caution is warranted.

In Joseph Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness", it is the representative of the Colonizing Powers that travels up river in an attempt to rein in a renegade member of the Colonizing Power. Like the movie that was based on "Heart of Darkness", Apocalypse Now, the travel up river reveals that the Colonizing Power is as much out of control as the alleged renegade members. The Christian/Missionary mindset that still exists today is more of a motivating force than people are willing to admit. Taming "the savages" and extracting resources, whether it's ivory or oil, is still a part of the Colonizing Powers M.O. In the insulated world of America, Bush does not get much opportunity to contemplate his own Heart of Darkness. Karl Rove will try his best to keep him insulated on his journey "up river" in Europe.

Of cause the Economist is British. They live on an island and call Europe 'the continent'. From all what I hear from them here at the Cote d'Azur it is their picture of 'the continent' that is shown. They just warn a close ally from entering 'the continent'.

If you look at the larger version of the picture, you will see that this is the north-american edition of the Economist. This confirms Pedro's impression ("I think the image does a much better job of trying to tell the Homefront how Bush would like to be seen").

I think you can't make a proper analysis of this picture without knowing it refers to a Tintin album:

It underlines the parochiality of Bush, as Tintin is known for having adventures in dangerous & exotic countries, and the picture implies that Belgium have these qualities to Bush.

and belgium is Tintin's homeland. more about him:

Zencomix you are right on the money.

Duh. It's a "Heart of Darkness" visual pun. Read the book? Seen the movie (Apocalypse Now)?

Casting Bush as the protagonist (and the Europeans as Kurtz!?) is disengenuous.

But there's more to it. The British generally don't like the Belgians (or the French, or the Dutch, or the Irish, or...), and this is a British magazine.

Actually, most of Europe has contempt for Belgium; I've no idea why.

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