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Mar 18, 2005

Your Turn: Winging It


The BAG's crack team of image analysts did such an acute and thoughtful job of deconstructing the NYTimes Magazine Mahmoud Abbas cover (Fitting the Fabric - link), I thought I'd offer additional stimulus for commentary. 

Obviously, the one liner here is: "The fly on the wall."  However, I think there's more in play on this latest cover of The Economist.  Surprisingly, I found myself taking a good long time to study it.

To provide a little more context, here's the teaser on their home page:

In the wake of failures over September 11th 2001 and the Iraq war two years ago, intelligence-gathering is being reformed on both sides of the Atlantic. The task is daunting ...

And, here's the lead-in to the story on the linked page:

AN ARMY without secret agents, Sun Tzu observed 2,500 years ago in The Art of War, is exactly like a man without eyes and ears. From Moses and Caesar to Churchill and Stalin, rulers have made use of spies to ferret out useful information about their opponents, both at home and abroad. Yet even as governments have built up their intelligence services, they have cursed the failings of their spies: their cost, their tendency to break the law and, above all, their habit of getting things wrong.…

So there it is.  Have fun!


Its interesting how the two flies were oriented. The British fly is obviously pointed not quite, but nearly opposite of where the US fly is pointed. Both flies are doing the same thing, even if the British fly is trying hard to be looking in another direction (to appease public opinion?). The wall looks as if its supposed to be middle eastern as opposed to something you might find in an office or on a western style building, and its an outside wall. Are the spy agencies putting their flies on the right walls in the right places?

Yes, an "underdeveloped" wall for sure. Much like the Abbas cover the subject matter is less than the material around it.

The larger American spyfly is looking at the headline, the part of the cover with the most immediate impact on the public. The British spyfly is looking down at the content of the magazine, ready to absorb the content.

Or...the Americans look to a higher source, the all mighty, above. While the Brits are focused more down to Earth.

Either way they are not eye to eye nor are they the same type of fly.

What are you doing with the Ecomist on a Friday afternoon? I subscribe and don't see it 'till Satuday if I'm lucky. Arrrgh!

2 flys looking in opposite directions cover more ground than 2 flys looking in the same....If you intend to share what you collect why waste time looking at each other.......

these flys are maggot producing and are on something that is dead...

The U.S. fly is bigger, of course. A textured wall is visually more interesting than a plain one, so put one on the cover, said the editor, it'll sell better. It also evokes more associations, whether pertinent or not. These flies maybe take us into the dark back allies of Karachi slums or simple houses in Syria where all kinds of oh-so-horrid plots against the west are being hourly hatched. Be scared, Economist readers, say the flies. If the wall was flat and plain, the readers might think the flies were listening in the west wing of the White House or the offices of the Pentagon or Whitehall, where the clever justifications for the next U.S./U.K. move in the Middle East are being compiled and approved. What I mean is: why do the media keep insisting, nurturing, in line with the politicians' jabbering, that the intelligence agencies got things entirely wrong instead of sharply pointing out how egregiously the politicians distorted the information supplied to them? Ultimately, they intentionally misled everyone: remember, Mr. Blair bears an enormous responsibility for what has happened, as much as Mr. Bush, as well as their handlers and most of the media.

It looks to me like the British fly is inquisitive, actively looking for the information, while the American fly is too full of itself to be doing anything other than looking upwards, in the manner of an evangelical type preacher.

[Larger cover image here]

Although incredibly agile, perhaps a fly is not the best visual metaphor for intelligence agencies, or is that The Economist's point? Certainly this cover illustration is a pretty sticky web.

With so much work to do closing the Gap, why are these Western flies just basking on its poor old wall? Shouldn't they be flying reconnaissance missions? Maybe they can't get in under the radar screens, or they're leery of getting shot down, or low-altitude flights are too risky. While they're grounded, at least they can crawl the Web for any suspicious data.

They need to be stomping their little feet around in some tasty information, but what about their indelicate table manners? Will anyone want them back for dinner again? Let's hope they wash their hands before coming back home.

Unfortunately, they can leave a small legacy behind, but that can be a good thing as long as the hosts don't mind.

Lord of the flies or mutant flies?
A star on one and a stripe on the other. My, my, science is good. It appears to me they are within a stylized heart-- a romantic encounter -- watching each other's back perhaps. Do flies carry disease?

The flies are there because they saw Wolfowitz's name in the corner of the cover and they thought they were landing on a piece of shit.

Remember, flies have many eyes, so they can see in many directions at the same time. Its the orientation of the flies that interested me, not where they are looking.

Lord of the Flies was good!

Who is gonna be Piggy?

"It looks to me like the British fly is inquisitive, actively looking for the information, while the American fly is too full of itself to be doing anything other than looking upwards, in the manner of an evangelical type preacher."

Are you kidding me? I nearly snorted my coffee after reading such pretentious garbage. They're FLIES. Flies don't ever sit parallel to each other, nor acknoledge each other, nor know what way is up or down. From the perspective of the fly, they are on the wall, and walk toward what is interesting to a fly.

I think that it is interesting to note that they ignore each other, but to say one is inquisitive and the other is looking towards God is a bit much, even for BNN.

Using the image of a fly is a bigger dig, I think. The use of such an wide expanse of wall shows how much ground these tiny bugs have to cover.

The British fly is checking out how much the economist costs in UK Pounds

What is impressive to me is the intermingling of positive and negative connotations to the image. We are being subjected to each. On the one hand, we clearly see the "flys on the wall", alligned like soldiers (Ya know, the way they are trained to "cover" each others backs). Reinforcing this is the background, which is the color of Desert Storm type military fatigues. They are nimble, fast, can-do survivors who are "all over" the middle eastern wall and are GOING to find the shit.

On the other hand, the "unclean" flys are also associated with the major Western Powers by means of symbols "branded" on their backs. It is as if nature has been the form of biting, swarming, yet apparently patriotic flys. Is this the lord of the flys...or of coalition of the willing"?

It all seems mingled in a disturbing way, to me. Somehow the flys are powerful and "dominating" while also representing a form of life better associated with the "underworld" than with Democracies. Are we supposed to identify with insects?

I was just reading about various "patriots" in the West and their defense of torture in the service of freedom. Now, I look at the flys again...somehow the image and the narrative "fits".

The wall is a fake drawing of a wall on the Economist Magazine, and the photo was taken in an office of the Economist Magazine. The EM and its offices actually contain no useful information for the American and British spy flies.

But, the spy flies have no idea where they are. They are on a random, featureless, uninteresting and unproductive location, but it is safe.

The two flies are not aware of each other, yet they are positioned to make their combined presence more noticeable. Any movement by one will betray the location of both.

There are two flies, but good coordination would remove one or both at this location, But, that cannot happen because they are different species and do not share a common spy-fly language, although both speak "English words."

The American spy fly is fat because it has a better compensation package, expense account, food, working hours, etc. than the British spy fly. The American spy fly can barely fly without a running take-off, which is activated by a cost-benefit analysis. If it takes-off, it must be assured of going to a find. The British spy fly is sniffing the air currents, being stimulated by the scent of possible find. The scent is too weak to excite the obese American spy fly. Perhaps, the American spy fly will will respond to the noise of a find by the departed British spy fly, and the American may take possession of the find.

I may be delving too deeply here into fly psychology, but this cover actually makes me think more about each administration's past use of their intelligence rather than the quality of the intelligence itself.

The American fly is front and center, larger and more powerful. It almost seems to be on exhibit. Its very position seems to not place a high value on discretion, on nuance. "Here I am," it states.

The British fly orbits the American one, smaller, not insignificant but clearly less interested with being so visible, of conveying strength.

Strangely enough, if asked which of the two were most likely to dig up useful information, I'd go with the British fly. It seems less concerned with status, with image, and more interested in going after information effectively.

The proximity of the flies suggests both could swatted with one swipe. They would benefit from some distance, methinks.

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