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Feb 17, 2006

Economist Watch: Another Definitive View Of A Black And White Issue


(Economist Magazine.  Feb 18th 2006. Cover)


I want to ask. Who is this for? Isn't it the aging workforce that reads that thing?

Is he supposed to be part of that workforce? I know that a lot of older people work; my father enjoyed working part-time jobs after he retired, and competent, experienced retired people are often perfect for some jobs that ambitious young people would consider boring or "dead-end". But this man doesn't look like he's part of the workforce; he seems pretty "out of it". So is he meant to represent the older population that won't be working anymore? That will need to be supported by that aging workforce?

This is a critical issue that's at the heart of a lot of the immigrant issues in Europe. The workforce is aging, so they need immigrants, but they don't want them...


He looks much too old/tired/sedentary/ill to be a worker. That chair looks more like outdoor patio furniture than something from office or factory.

All the energy of the piece is conveyed by outward forces... such as whatever is pulling him down and out of the picture. All of the horizontal lines (hair, glasses, chair seat and back, leg, raised hand) imply motion... like he is on the skids. Yet he barely has enough energy of his own to raise a hand?

The type sizing reinforces the feeling that he is going down and out of sight, but it doesn't have the pull.


I wonder how old the editor and art director who worked on this cover idea were. Susan Murray points out the ironic fact that the older people the magazine is talking about actually represent the demographic of the Economist readers themselves. If this cover is to be believed, the elderly are male, unattractive, isolated (all that white space) and decrepit. In fact, most older workers are more likely to be women, simply because they live longer than men. Since older workers are "different" from the rest of us, according to the Economist, their behavior is subject to more workplace '"management" and control. When I first saw this cover, I was struck by how British it was. This nonpolitically correct view of the elderly wouldn't fly in a US publication, which would be more upbeat. Still, I'd rather see a man like this on the cover than yet another image of Bush, Blair, etc.

Manage like the medical terminology, managing one's 'inevitable' elder-illness and debility? I.e. sell 'em all the meds they can possibly afford with underlying message that only pain, some of it anyway, will be 'managed' since decrepitude is part of the ag(e)ing pro-cess. Manage the older employees that you can't get rid of because, of course, they are basically useless and in the way? I am grossly insulted by the entire cover. Is it a spoof?

Another idea that comes to mind is academia. The guy has prof. hair and glasses. Would it read that way in the UK?

I don't understand the message of this cover. The man looks old yet dapper — nothing he's wearing looks decrepit (nice wool flannel trousers, tucked-in black shirt, black belt, hip glasses) — indicating he's actually quite active, but whether he's active in the workforce is impossible to determine.

"HOW TO" are the most important words in the headline, set atop the word "MANAGE." Who is "HOW TO" addressing? Business leaders? Political leaders? Society? My eye read from "MANAGE" to "Ageing," skipping "an" altogether, so I initially thought the article was about health or quality-of-life concerns. When I read "workforce" I was totally confused because it sits like a label above the man's head. He does not look like a "workforce." The words are arranged like an eye chart, so yes, there's a text reference to vision as well the reference provided by the man's glasses and obvious age.

He sits alone in a starkly minimal space. He is not working. What does that mean? Is it supposed to indicate a hospital or doctor's office? Is the piece about health care costs?

Good question... what IS the piece about? I assumed it was about how there is a growing number of retired elderly, and how young people just aren't having enough children to provide the workers that will be needed in the system to support these older people.

(And that seems to be a popular theme lately - but the illustration for this article in today's Observer is as different as it could be: a newborn baby.

UK 'baby gap' to cost £11 billion
Career pressures blamed for baby shortfall as too few children are born to support future elderly dependants.)

But maybe that's not what it's about at all, since that's not really what the title says.

Like dus7 I also find the cover offensive. What is quite striking is the use of the isolating white space. Also, what I haven't noticed being commented upon is the fact that the man is viewed from the side, making him appear less confrontational than a face on shot could. He looks like he's been doing something other than working (napping?) and just been caught by his boss.

The readership of The Economist may be older as Susan Murray points out, however, the message here is that they are not ageing (but maturing) and are not the workforce (but the management). As such they have the uneviable problem of dealing with crotchety employees that in the good old days would have been fired and replaced with fresh human resources. Thankfully, The Economist is there to help them make the best use of low quality human resources such as the man in the picture.

Looking at the cover makes me wonder what it could have looked like given a less jaundiced view of the elderly.

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