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« June 26, 2005 - July 2, 2005 | Main | July 10, 2005 - July 16, 2005 »

8 posts from July 3, 2005 - July 9, 2005

Jul 09, 2005

Uncle Sam George


Two questions:  First, does The New Yorker imitate life or does life imitate The New Yorker?  Second, how much does the personality of a leader come to represent (or supersede) the image of the country he leads?

TNY produced a cover -- dated July 4th and titled "Party of One" -- showing Uncle Sam celebrating his birthday alone at a party table set for for leaders of the world.  The obvious reference was not just to America's Independence Day, but also the "stand-alone" policies of George Bush as highlighted by his conflict with issues on the agenda at the (then impending) G-8 summit. 

At the same time, the birthday image turned out to be more literal than one would have supposed.  I wasn't aware of it (and I'm not sure whether the illustrator was either) but Dubya's birthday happens to fall on July 6th.  Stopping in Denmark on his way to the summit, the Queen presented Bush a patriotic-looking cake to mark that occasion.


Seeing these two images within days of each other, I was interested in how concretely the world connects Bush's polarizing agenda with the American people, and how synonymous George has actually become to Uncle Sam.  Obviously, this identification occurs, to greater or lesser degree, with all U.S. presidents.  However, given Bush's rampant adventurism and radicalism and political isolationism and contempt for dialogue and put-downs of Europe, along with all the talk of mandates and capital to spend, I wonder how much we've literally turned into the United States of George

(Certainly, al Qaeda isn't suffering any distinction.)

Of course, the New Yorker cover does a fine job illustrating what Bush is doing to an identity that belongs not to him but to us.  (I say: more power not just to body language and empty chairs, but also to subtle elements such as red phallic balloons; blue pig-like balloons; wayward eyebrows; and hats pitched slightly forward implying cowboy brims.)  (And no, the "lone star" and the southern-style bow tie and goatee are just traditional to Uncle Sam.)

The way these two images seem to merge (with reds never more red, and blues never more blue) only emphasizes how much a single birthday boy has taken America hostage, and has come to personify a set of values that I cannot recognize. 

(image 1: "Party of One" by Barry Blitt. July 4, 2005. Cover.  The New Yorker Magazine. image 2: Claus Fisker/AFP/SCANPIX. Fredensborg, Denmark.  July 6, 2005 in YahooNews.)

Jul 07, 2005

Move Over Zarqawi: The New Iranian President And The 1979 Embassy Take-Over

The Administration would be happy for you to believe that the new president of Iran helped lead the take-over of the U.S. embassy  in '79.  So would your own eyes.


How much does the administration single-handedly create new evil-doers and how much does the press go along?

One thing the White House has been expert at is the personification of evil.  To mask the neocon agenda and to direct attention away from failed policies and theories that don't add up, they are masters at stoking fear and creating false urgency by building up bad guys.  Sometimes though, the press can take a suggestion here or an innuendo there and conflate these figures on their own.  We had a nice case study of this just last week. 

With the election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the new President of Iran, images began circulating on the internet showing the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.  Because of the likeness between one of the hostage takers and Mr. Ahmadinejad, the White House and several of the U.S. hostages -- over denials from the Iranians -- began implying they were one in the same.

Continue reading "Move Over Zarqawi: The New Iranian President And The 1979 Embassy Take-Over " »

Right After The Bombing



These are the two most striking images I found in the immediate aftermath of the bombings in London.

I don't mean to disrespect the shock, loss or gravity of this event by being interpretive.  I do feel, however, that images are presented to us and resonate with us that we can use collectively to process, cope with, and better understand what has happened.   

The subway image contains elements I find painfully truthful.  For example, it highlights the profound anonymity of these kinds of disasters -- whether talking of victims or perpetrators.  That we are literally in an underworld makes darkness and death that much more palpable.  Also, as I stare at the far light, I can conjure my own slight taste of the anxiety and the stubborn (yet intermittent) paranoia spawned by these events.  I wonder, is this the escape route ("the light at the end of that tunnel") or an oncoming train?

I haven't put as much thought to the second shot -- except to conclude that it is also quite truthful.  These leaders are so imbued by the tragedy they don't have their "public" faces on.   I am really taken with the sadness of Chirac.  It's no time to take swipes, but I really feel that Bush doesn't knows where to take himself.  (In a situation such as this, his normal M.O. is to fly into action -- as opposed to feel.)   Also, I'm proud of Tony Blair.  I know he has his weaknesses -- we all do.  Still, he steps forward naturally (not just because he's the host, or his land is the "host victim").  Whereas the others are turned almost completely inward, Blair embraces the shock and pain, but still manages to offer himself near completely.

(image 1: Alexander Chadwick/AP in  image 2: Charlie Bibby/Pool photo in  Both July 7, 2005)

Jul 06, 2005

The Situation At Hand


The BAG again falls for another compelling TE cover (and another crack at the maybe not-so-accessible G-8/Africa topic).  As usual, though, I have a few questions:

1. Re: Sex

Isn't TE (at least partly) indulging in titillation?  Is there some suggestion that "these people" can't keep their hands to themselves?  Is the action seducing?  Isn't this guy a little old for her?  Is he paying for it?  If the AIDS epidemic is one of the continent's biggest problems, is it worked into the image as well? 

2.  Re: Help

How does this image in any way signify that Africa is being helped?  Is the ambiguity intentional?  Is the top hand not African?  Do we really get any socioeconomic information from these hands?

3. Re: Religion

Is this a Sistine Chapel reference here?  Given that Christianity (especially in its more conservative form) is growing more rapidly in Africa than anywhere else, could the top hand belong to a priest?  Or a missionary?  If the Western world (or,just The Economist's subscriber base) is threatened by Africa and African immigration, does a religious hand represent a welcome vehicle for domestication? 

4.  Re: Cash

Does the jewelry -- although apparently modest in itself -- make reference to the Continent's riches?  From that perspective, does the image involve going after it?  Does the placement of the bar code (which is marked with a price and practically stamped over the lower arm) reinforce this association?

5.  Re: What's Happening

Is the right hand actually holding something that it's giving to the left?  Isn't it interesting that you can't tell?  What is the interaction? 

Taking It To The Blank


What's your take on the NYT pulling this shot of Gonzales' AG swearing-in ceremony from the file?

Does he ultimately look more credible or incredible next to O'Conner?  (And visually, how much is he "coming up short"  given the fact she's literally "upstage?") 

In putting Gonzales front and center, does it provide Bush some support in toning down the counterproductive harping of the far right?  (And, along those lines, is Gonzales primarily a decoy to flush out -- and, maybe begin to wear down -- the extremists on both sides?  Or, mostly the left side?)

Does the shot with Mom help establish the terms for another vacuous (flag, family, apple pie, up from the bootstraps, minority makes good) PR campaign?

Does the image accurately depict Bush sitting in the background and enjoying the mayhem, firmly entrenched in the stealth zone? 

What else are you reading here?

(Caption:  Alberto R. Gonzales being sworn in as attorney general earlier this year with President Bush, his mother, Maria Gonzales, and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Mr. Gonzales had been the White House counsel in Mr. Bush's first term, and before that a judge on the Texas Supreme Court.)

(image: Doug Mills/The New York Times.  July 6, 2004 at

Woe The Bicycle


(If this sounds callous at first, bear with me.) 

Perhaps the real obstacle to helping Africa (and the tens of thousands of children like this) is that we can't take enough interest in the bicycle.  In other words, it's easy for the West to feel it's heartstrings for this boy in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, but the case is entirely different when it comes to generating the kind of focus and ongoing concern for the broken structures (the countries and it's internal institutions) necessary to get the people off their feet and going somewhere under their own power.

In James Traub's article, The Congo Case, in the last NYT Magazine, the maddening political dynamics of that country could be represented by this two-wheeler.  If the idea is to "seat the populace," it seems there's no way for that to happen without the tandem wheels of a viable political and economic structure.  And then, you need a legitimate political base (consisting of a politically aware population and a reasonably honest professional class) to pedal. 

Where you would expect to find plenty of strong wheels in a country with the rich resources of the Congo, however, instead you find a thoroughly corrupt government with the aim of enriching itself, and a network of warlords and tribal leaders that make a mockery of a working government by colluding as legislators.  Sadly, the corruption seems to have also compromised the international organizations on the scene that have, otherwise, moved the situation out of anarchy.

If the hard politics don't form a clear or compelling picture, however, how are well intentioned Westerners supposed to access the problem?  And, do these kinds of images -- as seductive as they are -- actually get in the way of a more clear eyed focus as to what's underneath?

(Revised: 6/6/05. 2:32 PST)

(image: Karel Prinsloo/AP. Friday, July 1, 2005. Nairobi. In Yahoo News.)

Jul 04, 2005

Dressing Up The 4th


A number of you wrote urging me to post this image.  I thought I would, along with this very incisive description from Eric, a BAGreader and professor:   

[This photo] appeared on the NY Times website front page on July 4th.  The most obvious effect is that of Bush appearing to wear a ridiculously over-sized skirt, banded at the waist with the red stripe.  Note the saggy hello/sieg-heil salute.  But perhaps more interesting is the absence of a right arm, amputated above the elbow.  The flag just behind his right shoulder appears to replace that arm, in some way.  The absence of a human backdrop, save the abbreviated eyes/beret of the soldier to his left, adds to Bush's isolation and weird feminization.  Finally, there is the odd angle, tilting upwards at the old Victorian mansard roof and red brick with elongated windows.  No flag here, like Bush himself, is complete.  The overall effect is of gothic and grotesque judgment.  A brilliant photograph.

Last night I saw David Hare's play "Stuff Happens" about how the Bush administration (in tandem with the Blair government) lead us to war.  I thought the psychological depiction of Bush (played by Keith Carradine) was an interesting one.  While effecting the stubborn stance of a guy who always makes the tough decision, I saw a picture of a man who -- in the face of someone pitching him a strong argument -- seemed less able, then willing to engage.

When it came time to make the tough decisions, it seemed that those with the most proximity (primarily Cheney, and Cheney surrogates Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) won out by appealing to Bush's macho persona and his ideal of decisiveness.   Perhaps the idea of Bush in a dress is so powerful because people intuitively understand that Bush is so pliable.  He has no internal compass -- except the one which functions by default, guided by the Christian coalition and the hawks who have so cleverly "gotten his number."

(Larger image here.  Article link.)

(image: Gerald Herbert/AP in July 4, 2005)

Jul 03, 2005

Independence Day Special: Howard's Rein


In honor of Independence Day (and a more relaxed summer mode), the BAG focuses on an illustration capturing one of today's most powerful political struggles for liberty.  If you thought freedom of expression was a right you could take for granted in this country, well, you're not the chairperson of the Democrat party.

Few issues have created more kicking among liberals than the function of Howard Dean, and the insinuation that he should watch what he says.  (From the position of the progressive Blogosphere, there is the sense that timidity and reticence is what has landed the Dems in the position they find themselves today.) 

With all the highly intuitive folks hanging around the BAG these days, I thought I would toss you still one more image to try and harness.  At the same time, it's a graphic that begs for clarity regarding Howard Dean's role, as well as the most effective strategy for saddling the conservatives. 

Of course, I realize we're smack in the middle of a holiday weekend.  That said, who would be the wiser if you slipped away from the bar-b-cue for a few minutes to check the discussion, and contribute one more insight to the virtual party.

From Gagging Dr. Dean: Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages Cover Story. Volume 26 - Issue 1281.  June 22, 2005.  Via:

(illustration: Jay Bevenour)

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