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Nov 20, 2005

Your Turn: In Which President Seinfeld Meets The Wall


I was interested in your interpretation of this latest cover of The Economist. It is set at the Meridian Gate at the entrance to Beijing's  forbidden city.  I think there's a lot going on here.

And while you are at it, I also invite your comment on the series below.  A number of you sent me links to the "wrong door" image (below, upper right).  Initially, I saw it as a trivial swipe.  I reconsidered, however, when I saw it featured in what is tomorrow's NYT on-line story detailing Bush's intimidating encounter with the hard and unrelenting President Hu Jintao.  (By the way, given the way Hu put a political lock on Bush, could you see Cheney lasting even five minutes trying to play his little games under this guy?)


NYT caption: "After meeting with reporters in Beijing, Mr. Bush tried to exit through a locked door. Realizing the mistake, he made a mock grimace, and an aide pointed the way. He joked: "I was trying to escape. It didn't work."

Of course, in the single photo of the "door incident," Bush was able to contain his bonehead maneuver by turning the joke on himself.  In creating this four panel narrative, however, the NYT turns it around again in a rather devastating way.  With the screen wall functioning almost like a stage prop, The Times montage seems to simultaneously evoke the presidency as a slapstick TV show and a cartoon strip.

(Really, I can't wait to wake up and see if The Times dares put the "bonehead image" on Monday's front page.)

As one other point, I did a write up on HuffPo right before Halloween (The Return Of Pumpkin Head - link) warning to expect more instances of Bush playing the fool.  As an old strategy, it's a way Bush/Rove try to lower expectations -- especially when Bush's incompetence becomes a little too obvious.

(Wearing my shrink hat for a moment, however, I really wonder how much more failure the thin-skinned Bush can actually  take.)

(image 1: Cover Photo/Illustration unattributed.  November 19th 2005. Economist Magazine.  image 2: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press.  November 21, 2005. Beijing.


The Economist cover is strange. Why is Mao there? And in the place of prominence? His pic is a bit blurred but still looks resolute. The current Chinese president looks like any strong competent executive. But Bush!! His age and wisdom (had he any) is softened so that he looks like a bewildered mouse, quite out of his depth. Is it that everyone is jumping on the 'kick Bush' bandwagon now? Or finally feel free to depict him as they always thought of him but were afraid to disclose before now?

The headline must be purposefully indeterminate - there are two superpowers here. But the deck is stacked 2:1 re heads of which state and likewise in depiction of competency; Bush is decisively out-numbered and out-matched.

(Mao is in the pic because his picture hangs on that wall in Reality(tm)). Are the others a photo-illustration by the Economist, or did the Chinese put those pictures up for the duration of the visit?

Whoever put them up, clearly thinks Bush is the one who came, hat-in-hand, to meet his debtor.

Looks to me like the only thing separating Bush and Hu is Mao.

With Mao in the center, the cover title makes clear "Meeting the Superpower" means China.

Although the Chinese aren't shy about manipulating images to their advantage, The Economist is the propagandist here.

They have photoshopped framed pictures of Bush and Hu onto the wall alongside the existing portrait of Mao (who also received a little digital touchup). If you carefully compare the light and dark splotches on the green frames, you can see that all three are identical.

Mao usually stands alone: note these photos of the Meridian Gate in June 2005 and April 2001.

Kinda puts a whole new meaning to the term "red state".

It wasn't too long ago when the Cold War mantra was "better dead than red."

The Economist has really gone 'round the twist with this cover. Can they ever go back to respecting GWB after publishing this photo of him with Mao and Hu? Talk about your deer in the headlights! Who took that portrait, and how on earth did it ever get released? After the meeting with Hu and Bush a reporter asked Bush about the meeting--asking whether the meeting had been particularly tough, that Bush seemed a little off his game. Bush said he was jet lagged. . .

In the caroon panels I was reminded more of Johnny Carson or "Let's Make a Deal." Imagine how humiliating that must have been for Bush. When was the last time he's been locked out of anything? He didn't throw up in Asia like Poppy did, but Georgie did get lost. Have you seen the photos of him on his bike in China?

On the TE cover Bush looks like he is frowning slightly. The superpower is both countries.
Bush has tarnished the US image so bad, we're in decline - they're movin' on up.

The series of photos is fun, what a dope?
The NYT caption made it look as if the session with reporters had ended and he walked away. It ended because he didn't want to answer a specific question. He was "cut & running." He can't get out of an uncomfortable situation without assistance.

Wiz of Oz material. The colors, the oversized doors, the wee little man with straw for brains.

As for the Bag's "Bush playing the fool" theory, I agree but Bush doesn't have to play the fool. Rove and crew just remove the controls and the fool is naturally exposed.

Mugatea, the Wiz of Oz analogy is excellent.

I keep hoping that maybe Bush comes down with the Avian Flu and he has to be quarantined on Air Force One in Mongolia.

At first I thought Bush and Hu were actually put up on the wall with Mao, so thanks to fotonique for clearning that up. The choice to use the out-of-his-depth picture of Bush was made by the Economists, not the Chinese, so I think it reflects well the current western opinion of him (mine included), and leaves ambiguous exactly which "superpower" they are talking about. Very clever, these English...I agree with BAG that Bush might be fragile right now, and expect him to be out with at least a headcold any minute. Some of us might remember how Dick Nixon's phlebitis always seemed to kick up when he was being "found out". The stress must be enormous as this stupid man slowly realizes exactly what position he is in. If he crumbles, we get Cheney, which would be worse. I forget who comes after that - Pres Pro Tem of Senate? Sec of State?

Good comments from all, and The BAG's reference to Seinfeld is perfect. If the Seinfeld characters had ever gone to China, the writers would not be able to resist the trick door sight gag. Alas, if only what we are watching were a sit-com/cartoon and not real life, I might laugh. The rest of the world audience must be eagerly tuning in to the American President Show every day, as it is no longer possible to predict what will happen in the next unbelievable episode. My feeling is that The Economist cover reflects a global (not just editorial) perspective about Bush's visit to China.

In other news, has anyone noticed how studiously ignored the story about Patrick Fitzgerald's convening a new grand jury is?

You can watch the video here.

You'll see that Bush was simply confounded that the door did not open. He was not clowning around -- "he made a mock grimace" was how the Times put it. The stills give the false impression that Bush reacted quickly to turn the mishap into humor. In fact, he was hardly unflappable. He was a deer caught in the headlights. He looked like a poor schoolboy terrified about his first speech in class.

The question is not "how much more failure the thin-skinned Bush can actually take" but how much more we can take.

I think the series of images of Bush trying to get out of the room is the perfect visual metaphor for Bush's inability to find his way out of trouble. Rep. Murtha mentioned this image yesterday to Russert. While Bush is, by position, in charge of the situation, he chooses the obvious answer (one goes out of a room via big, official looking doors), and is shocked, confused and chagrined that something so clearly correct could not be right. Applied to our situation in Iraq, Bush offers to lead the country through the twin doors of "freedom" and "democracy", only to discover that those doors won't open to him. No wonder people are coming to the conclusion that that path isn't working. Try a different exit, George! TE's cover supports the growing recognition that George is way out of his league.

The fact that he was chased out of the room by someone asking if he could ask another question to follow up on the "off your game" comment adds an additional pathetic footnote to our understanding of Bush's psyche.

Wow, I'm out of touch, or maybe the coffee just hadn't kicked in yet. My initial thought was that the guy in the middle was the current Chinese president, with the other guy as his second in command or something, and had wondered why they got two pictures to our one (not like I wanted a shot of Cheney's grimace). I thought it was a big diss to Bush. I figured out it was Mao before I was told, but I really should have known.

But to be honest, while I do think the picture is a diss, I don't think it's directly aimed at Bush. It should be, but it's probably not. I think they were just being ironic about the whole superpower thing. To give a slightly shocking contrast about the situation. But a lot of this just depends on whether they were going for the "Deer in the headlights" picture, or if this was just the best they could do to avoid that. They couldn't have used his codpiece pic, or anything like that; and it's possible that they think he looks strong in that picture. I know it's hard for us to believe, but when we look at him and see a big boob, other people see a strong man. I suspect this has to do with the Trust & Affection hormones they put in the water at GOP fundraisers, which were discovered by the Ruskies during the Cold War, but I have yet to prove that.

Overall, I'm not convinced that this is the complete diss that we see it as. I think it might just be a somewhat ironic, but realistic reflection of how things are going between us and China. It all just depends on whether the Econ likes that Bush photo, and if they thought he got outgunned by the Chinese. Perhaps we'd know if we read the article.


Thanks for clearing that up. The Economist certainly has a way (it's way) with images. As for the image of Bush: really bad. He looks worse there than on stage trying to escape. Also, the first two headlines are bad for the Nation and especially this administration, and as far as the "breakthrough for Gaza", how many of those have we had in the past?

itwasntme, next in line is Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. Not much joy there.

Regarding TE, I think it's interesting that Hu is wearing a red tie (red = good luck), whereas W. is not. Don't know what if anything blue means, apparently Bush ofteen wears blue. Looks like the blue tie is the same one as in the other pictures?

My impression was how much he looks like Red Skelton doing one of his zany sketches. Not Presidential by any means.

CNN is dubbing Bush's meeting with the locked door "no exit for Bush" meaning that he can't get away from the domestic uproar over the war, even in Asia.

I also have noticed that Bush generally seems to like to wear blue. I think it is because he looks overpowered in red. Sort of shrunken and pale, whereas blue blends in with his coloring, grey eyes, grey hair etc. Or perhaps it is because Bush the Father waw a red tie wearer...

I definitely qualify as a Bush hater, but I thought the episode, while amusing, was not damning. Bush seemed to me to have an appropriate social reaction for someone in the public spotlight. What was the guy supposed to do? He's walked off briskly to the wrong place. What would you do in a similar position? What would Prince Charles do? Remember the eyes of the world are on you, and you've just walked with maximum dignity into the closet.

But I do wonder how often Bush misses his exit cue. Surely someone always tells him where to walk in and where to walk off? All a public person has to do is follow directions. So no one gave him his exit direction or did he forget?

Some people with Alzheimers have such superb social skills that people don't recognize the symptoms of memory loss until the disease is quite far along. Not that I think Bush has Alzheimers.

As for the Economist cover...they are such clever dogs. Except that there are two Chinese for the one American, I'd say this was a kind of visual pun on the Mad magazine gag of Spy meets Spy. But with Mao dominating the picture, I think it is pretty obvious who the Economist thinks is the superpower.

The central gate (the archway seen under Mao's picture) is the gateway reserved, traditionally, for the Emperor.

It is also in a direct line with:

- the Dragon throne and Mao's mausoleum.

The layout of the Forbidden City is deeply symbolic, and the later Communist monuments in Tiananmen Square follow this layout. Everything important is placed along the meridian that leads from Mao's tomb through the central gate to the foot of the Imperial throne.

Only mao sits on this meridian which is the heart of the Chinese world. Both Hu and Bush, whilst their photos are at the same height as Mao, are obviously less important than the Great Helmsman.

It's a very clever cover by the Economist.

After suffering the VP's latest rant from AEI what better medicine than reading these comments, to jump start a very angry brain .
Before Mao or the cold war, the Chinese were "The Yellow Terror, Peril or Menace."
Asta's ... 'gives new meaning to red state, better red than dead, the wizard/ virus/ Mongolia/ themes were therapeutically helpful, but I got into the Yellow stuff and the Dragon thing.
China + Dragon = benevolence/West + Dragon= malevolence, are myth and reality ready for that noble knight aka 'The Commander In Chief'. Is it his calling to saddle up, jump The Great Wall and slay the evil doers within. Lets give the 3rd Cav. some R&R so he & his draft dodging chicken hawks can see action, ride on freedoms journey...and experience the PNAC menu, a daily serving of indiscriminate murder and mayhem as opposite to defying death from a pretzel or falling of a bike, or the 2IC's ticker probs ......something tells me its time to leave fantasy land take a hike or a pill or reread The Little Red Book
I'm definitely over qualified in harbouring evil thoughts for you know who.

I agree with PTate_in_GopherState that the fact that Bush blundered off in to the wrong door isn't necessarily all that bad. We all make mistakes, and when in the public eye it sure is tough. EXCEPT that (from Mugatea comment above) Bush was refusing to answer a question from the press, he was chickening out, he was running and hiding, he wasn't being accountable, he wasn't doing his duty-- in which case it must have been pretty damned funny. A snit turned into crap. Unless this man is your president, and then it is pretty damned frightening that such a bozo is the President of the Universe.

And I think that that is the point that The Economist is making with its cover. I assume that TE is a rather conservative and business-oriented magazine, which makes their cover in to an extremely strong statement. They are showing President Bush as being a weak, meek, frightened, clueless fraud. Way, way out of his depth. Maybe even a bed-wetter. This is a very loud and very damning statement from a former ally.

They have seen the fraud behind the curtain, and they want everyone to know.

jt in BC, maybe the clue in all this is that red, yellow, blue are primary colors.

Thank you for re-introducing the Yellow Stuff. That has been overlooked or left behind.

I appreciate your stream of consciousness and your taking the time to share that with us. I followed it quite well and indentified with it. You summed it all up in one neat, clean package.

I wish the remedy could be that tidy, because I feel sure it will not be so.

I just had a new association for the Economist cover: a slot machine. Bush took a gamble by going on this trip to Asia, hoping to hit the jackpot. He pulled the lever,
and instead of coming up with three pictures of himself, he came up with reality:
Joker, China, China.

joker, china, china
joker/fascist/capitalist/america, joker/fascist/china, joker/capitalist/china?

Bush and Hu next to Mao? Mao's an icon. Bush and Hu are just posers. Mao's bigger than life, figuratively and literally. Bush and Hu can only aspire to that level.

I agree with floopmeister's comment above. Mao overshadows them both. As far as China goes, isn't Mao still in the driver's seat? Mao's legacy still haunts Bush and America's dream of a liberal China. Hu, like any Chinese leader can't escape Mao, either. Whatever market reforms China makes, Mao is still peering over their shoulder.

The Economist cover:

A poster in an earlier discussion (on Frist, maybe?) mentioned covering half a person's face to see the two sides of their personas. I tried that with the Economist portaits. The right half (our left) of both President Bush's and Hu's faces are neutral and public. But the left half of President Hu's face looks amused, strong and not-to-be-fucked-with. I would not want him turning that eye on me. The left half of Bush's face? He looks purely sad.

Third frame of "The Wrong Door":

China is showing America the door.

"So no one gave him his exit direction or did he forget? "

PTate, I think he caught the stage manager off guard by jumping a few pages of dialogue in order not to answer more questions. The stage manager was probably kicking back thinking there was plenty of time before he had to open the wall like door and had to scramble to help him out. I would have loved to see the back stage reactions! Did anyone catch Leno last night and the sound effects he added to the exit? Tee!

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