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Apr 01, 2005

The Royal Mice


It's Friday again.  Meaning, it's my opportunity to distribute some news image processing to the powerful, yet highly decentralized network of BAG analysts.

As is becoming a custom, we have another suggestive cover of The Economic to decrypt.  (I would have said "debug," but the last issue you teased apart -- collectively referred to as "The Spy Flies" -- better applies that metaphor.)

With the current example, I think it's more interesting to tackle the cover without any context.  At the same time, I offer you some questions:

First, and obviously, why the dual gender reference? 
Are the hands identifiable by gender?  If so, is there some kind of hierarchy to the arrangement?  And, does race or class play a factor?

Does the fact the far left hand is cocked have any significance?

Do you pick up any other associations besides hands?

Why (besides the fact it was simpler or cheaper to photograph) is there just one brand of mouse? 
What about those cords?

What's the deal with the monochrome?  (And the background colors?  And the gradient?  And where and how the gradient breaks?)

Why such a bold headline?  (It seems like a real departure from their usual.)

What else am I missing?

...And, what's all this power we're supposed to finally have now?

(image: The Economist) 


The dual gender reference strikes me as a cynical "we'd rather just use the colloquialism in its original form, but there's a tip of the hat to gender equality". Or put another way, "See! We're being politically correct, you fools". Rather lame considering that the British monarchy tradition is quite okay with both alpha-kings and alpha-queens.

The bold white of the mouse and the look of the chords immediately made me think of iPod ads. I can't help but think that the success of Apple as an Internet music retailer, and their incredible success at making consumers feel really hip and lucky to be, well, Apple consumers, is influencing this imagery.

Of course I would argue that is a fundamentally poor choice of allusion since Apple consumers don't have any particularly powerful sway over the company they idealize. But I'll wager the designers working on this piece are working on a Mac listening to an iPod while they do it...

Just my first impression and not that it makes any difference but I think that all four of the caucasions hands are the same hand photoshopped to look just slightly different.
The black hand is obviously reaching to try and get up with the white hands and it also looks like it was added as an after thought.

  1. It balances the headline better. When I worked on a newspaper, getting the headline length correct was far more important than getting it right.
  2. Some of the hands are clearly male hands, as indicated by the body hair on the arms. I don't see any hierarchy and if you can tell class from those hands, you've got better eyes than I do.
  3. No. The second from the right is cocked as well.
  4. Yes. Computer mice.
  5. I doubt there is any other reason than ease of production for one type of mouse. I suppose there might be a compositional reason, the same one that says don't use a plethora of fonts on the same page.
  6. Almost all mice have cords. Why go to the expense of clipping the cords or photoshopping them out?
  7. Photographers and graphic artists consider monochrome and gradients "cool". I also don't see where the gradient breaks. If you mean changes color, well if you have a two color gradient it's got to change color somewhere and this one changes in about the middle.
  8. The bold headline is to allow the inclusion of the subtext, which needs to be at a smaller font size yet still readable.
  9. Your last question about "the power we're supposed to have now" I find ludricious, given that you're writing that question on a weblog powered by cheap webhosting and bandwidth. What would it have cost you pre-Internet in time and money to set up the equivalent of this website as a fanzine or boutique publishing house? How many people would have bothered to write letters instead of writing comments? If you haven't noticed that, there's no point in going into the ability to browse and compare products in shops across the globe, or the vastly lowered costs of communicating via voice and text.

ah mr AOG,i agree with most of your points but take exception to #10.
a concession of the fact that the exploding access to communication tools does not a relinquishing of power make.
power comes from being at the higher echelons of a hierarchical establishment, which is the very idea that blogs were intended to be against.

it also takes far less investment to read bagnewsnotes, being free than the economist at over 10 bucks an issue, so they have more power over your wallet.

also, theres a couple of billion people out there that dont know what a computer is, let alone those that havent seen one. so the power, in effect is being distributed among those that already have enough. this is business as usual, but just letting you know so that you may see the world as the world sees you.

The headline is interesting, because it can be read at least two ways: (1) the consumer has finally triumphed over the producer and supplier in the consumption relationship, and/or (2) we as individuals have found that our only avenue to power in today's world is consumption (rather than citizenship). I'd argue that the withdrawal of political power and its replacement with purchasing power is precisely what has happened over the past few decades in most of the West (that tiny fraction of the human population that controls the bulk of the world's resources for itself).

While every person is a citizen by virtue of his having been born somewhere, not everyone is a consumer, because entry to the community of consumers is means-tested. Whereas citizenship forcibly places you in a broad and diverse society of interests, as a consumer you are in a community of one (or at most, those you choose to care about). However, to the extent that you pass the means test, you do enter a place of formal equality unmatched in the political arena. Especially on the Internet, where no-one can see you, you are unlikely to encounter prejudice based on physical attributes over which you have no control, like race or gender (hence the "queen" reference and the black arm?)

It's worth recalling, however, that any dominance the Internet has given us over sellers comes at the price of complete dependence on the providers of Internet services (the mouse cords, perhaps?) and those who regulate them. The identical mice can't help but be suggestive of Microsoft's near-monopoly power over the software we use for accessing the Web, which creates another vulnerability. How real is our power as consumers when it is dependent on groups over which we have no effective control (having relinquished the political power that might have given us such control)?

The hot-to-cool color gradient doesn't immediately suggest anything to me, though it does make the pale arms stick out and ties them to the background of the headline (for whatever that's worth . . . )

Since ye appear to be new to the Royal Kingdom, may I proffer answers:

Q. Why the dual gender reference?
A. Sirrah, dare ye imply that men cannot be power shoppers? Do we not have the wherewithal to break through the glass ceiling of consumerism? The gauntlets have been thrown down, and our swift blades shall answer the challenge. Hear these mice roar and tremble, ye Marketers!

Q. Are the hands identifiable by gender? If so, is there some kind of hierarchy to the arrangement?
A. From the left, Hand I the Elder and Hand IV the Younger are hirsute, manly men, unafraid of the dangers of the Marketplace. Hand II the Wise and Hand V the Fair are the gentler sex: may God save the Queen! Hand III (the Lesser) fills the Gap, and one day they too will share in the glory of the Kingdom.

Q. Does race or class play a factor?
A. In the Kingdom, all hail the victorious sign of the Dollar.

Q. Does the fact the far left hand is cocked have any significance?
A. Only to raise the banner of consumerism yet higher, so all may see it and wonder.

Q. Do you pick up any other associations besides hands?
A. Which guild are you referring to, my good man?

Q. Why is there just one brand of mouse?
A. We have only one Royal Mouser, 'tis true, but too many standard bearers confuse the troops, er, ah, people.

Q. What about those cords?
A. 'Tis the tie that binds.

Q. What's the deal with the monochrome?
A. Our crusade marches under a simple flag that boldly declares the truth. Heaven forefend that we should beat around the Bush.

Q. And the background colors? And the gradient? And where and how the gradient breaks?
A. Why, 'tis the glorious dawn of a new day, one whose brightness shall bring an age of prosperity like we have never seen.

Q. Why such a bold headline?
A. The arrival of royal favors are always announced with much fanfare. Are you from a faraway land, stranger?

Q. What else am I missing? What's all this power we're supposed to finally have now?
A. Gadzooks, man! Know ye not the Commandments?

I know naught else to tell you, bumpkin: perhaps ye should question the Royal Banker.

The mouse cords ARE interesting. They explicitly "painted" those cords black. I've never seen a white mouse with a black cord!

It's a race.

The grip of the white male hands I & III is tight and controlling; the white female hands II & IV are holding the mice more gently and more confidently with relaxed fingers. The trailing black male hand is holding its mouse in the feminine manner, but with the least assertion of all, as if it was a little unsure of what to do with it. It is also, well, trailing behind the others.

I like this game. It's fun.

1) The first striking thing in this picture is the repetition of the symbols : the hands holding the mouse and the cords. Their similarities are emphasized rather than their differences. I can't tell real gender differences in the hands : one is very clearly male with all the hairs. The others are a-sexual IMO. The smaller darker one could be black, or could just be darker because it's further down and further away in the shadow, so no clear indication of race. The overall impression is of white male hands. And that reflects the reality, more or less, because the internet is dominated by white anglo-saxon males (not all professionals, I grant you).
2) You'll never see anyone holding his mouse that way in real life. So we need to think about this : what does it convey ? I thought to the typical way the Statue of the Liberty is brandishing his hand and elevating her flame high toward the sky in a proud victorious and cheering movement. These hands brandishing their powered mouses convey the idea that consumming through the internet is the actualization of individual liberties and that it gives power to the masses (at least to the connected masses).
3) The cables coming down from the mouses don't really associates with an USB cable, but rather with a power cable. The warm/orange color of the back ground at the bottom reinforce the idea that power comes through these cables and that power is thus owned by the masses at the bottom whose hands we are seeing.
4) All this convey the idea that we are getting more power and freedom from consumming through internet. But freedom of what ? of making Microsoft more wealthy ?

That said, the internet contributes to create a better informed market : former, I had to believe what the photo reseller would tell me. Now I can ask in multiple specialized photo forum whether that scanner is really good, or whether that camera model is worth the extra bucks..

We've got a good head start. Most of the revolution's branding is already nailed down, thanks to Mighty Mouse:

POWER to the people!

*Tried mightily to locate a video clip of Andy Kaufman's performance online, but without success.

My reaction to the cover was to feel that I was being deliberately duped and in a condescending and contemptuous manner.

As you know, things have not been good for consumers lo these many years, as business has been deregulated, and corporations have consolidated into megacorps, and neither consumers or employees matter to the megacorps. (One corporate customer service rep actually told me this outright-- he said that with the vast number of consumers that the few companies can tap, loss of consumers doesn't matter because they feel they can always replace them).

My heart sank when I saw the cover because if they are saying that the internet is giving the consumer power it is a lose lose lose situation. First, they don't mean it, but want us to think we have power. Second, they make the assertion because it would be a last possible vestage of consumer power, thanks to their economic theories at the Economist, -- they having justified this global debacle for us on the basis of giving the consumer lower prices, choice, and innovation. (Three strikes and they are out). Third, if they are slightly surprised that consumers have power beyond their control, they will be sure to stomp it out, and the cover is a sign that they are close to doing so.

Why is everyone left-handed? I hold my mouse in my right. O brave new world!

Just my first impression and not that it makes any difference but I think that all four of the caucasions hands are the same hand photoshopped to look just slightly different.

definitely not -- the wrists and arm shapes are different, as is hair and nails, etc. probably some folks around the office or some sort.

obviously, one thinks of the upraised fists of the workers' movements past, particularly in Russia and other communist places. perhaps an implication that the Internet is giving power to the people (against the corporate media hegemony?). or that the average person can take power into their own hands... (revolutionary?)

as for why one sort of mouse, I would just say that the white mice blend with the white hands, allowing them to keep their fist-like look (which would be bisected by a different kind of mouse), and also the sort of uniformity common in the Russian art being parodied.

am surprised you didn't give more emphasis to the one "arm of color," which is clearly an afterthought and has a "me too" look in both size and angle. almost certainly a concession by the graphic designer, as it ruins the populist uniformity of the design, to concerns of the editorial board. better would have been to make one of the original full-size arms brown.

a few images using similar motifs:

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