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May 19, 2006

Your Turn: Fill 'Er Up


I showed this to four people.  They each loved it -- but I got five interpretations as to what it meant. 

Want to try? 

(image: Anita Kunz/The New Yorker.  May 22, 2006.  Cover)


I love it too. Beautifully done art, clever point. Everybody needs something they don't have enough of, or something like that. The calm and unprejudiced drawing left me feeling good.

Here is my take:
The Saudis are so awash in petrodollars that they can feed their camels with bottled water.

Its a whimsical commentary on the important things in life: to us, its oil; in the Mideast, its water.

The man and his camel are alone in the desert; he wears traditional clothing and we can't see his face--to us in the West, he's part of the "inscrutable" East. Do we care what he's thinking--or are we happy to see him as a cultural stereotype?

Camels make good use of scarce water, so this cover gives us a lesson about consumption.

How would we react to this cartoon if a woman in traditional dress was filling up the camel instead of a man? Would it be as funny? Or funnier?

It is beautifully done. The soft colors and warm details remind of the best of the fairytale illustrations (the rich pattern on the border reinforces that sense of being a "page of a story". It is also peaceful (suitable for bedtime) as opposed to the violence and anger in the real world.

My eye was caught by the echoing curves of the waterpipe and saddle (and, yes, I'm reading it more as a hookah than as a draught of needed water, based upon the camel's dreamy expression).

Is fresh water a pipe dream?

If we'll spill blood a half world away for oil (which we don't need to sustain life), what will we spend for water?

A clear "gentle" warning. Water can be rationed too and used as a threat.
It is the end of traditional way for Arabs in general. The west influence is invading the culture and politics. Water tank instead of an oasis. What is there offered for the human being? Clash between the traditional way and the new way.
Lone traveler may be a terrorist:-)

"Lord Dunsany" wrote that "A book is like a mirror. If an ass peers in, you can't expect an apostle to peer out." Harshly put, but well taken: What we see in an image is affected in important ways by our values, interests, worries, state of mind, etc.

Which means that I must be worried about scarcity of resources, because I thought immediately of warnings that water will be the next oil. Since floods and tsunamis and hurricanes make such big news, people tend to forget that many parts of America and other nations around the world are already running dry.

Perhaps I was also influenced by the fact that I live in Volusia County, Florida. The seven-day forecast is for no rain at all and temperatures in the mid-nineties. Fires are already breaking out all over Central Florida—have been for weeks. We are being asked not to water our lawns or wash our cars.

Doesn't it mean that liberal upper-east-side New Yorkers hate America?
(What part of "upper-east-side NYer" don't you understand?)

I'll try analysis without first reading the comments of others.

My take is that the cover emphasizes the point of resource scarcity, that the Arab world is dependant on water even as we are dependant on oil. The use of a gas nozzle, the mode of transportation, the cooler in the place of a tank.

However (and not to be too pc), it's an image that unabashedly plays to stereotypes, obviously, but not in what I view as an obsessive way. The curb of the nozzle going into the curvy camel has an organic, even cartographic feel to it, suggesting the world as opposed to only Arabic or Persian speaking portions of the world.

oh, and though it's a little precious of me, the water in the cooler looks like a graph that could show either the availability of water or oil in the world. If the artist purposely did this, I would think it signifies "dwindling."

Some Middle Eastern countries are making so much money on crude nowadays they can afford to give their camels bottled water to drink. Only one hitch, hardly any one has a camel anymore. They are in possession of the crude they need to make their cars and industry run. And about water: parts of Europe and North America are in about as much danger as the Middle East of dying of thirst. In NYC they have good drinking water! And most readers of the New Yorker have more than enough money to burn in their cars. The message and drawing are in cute in the New Yorker's eminently condescending way.

What's the deal with the $3.99 price on the NYer?
Just make it $4.00. Please.

Gas is water, water is gas. That's what I see.

I'm taken by the visual phantasy that hauksdottir mentions. That border suggests magic carpet and Ali Baba. In this reading I can't help but notice that the exotic Arabian elements of the tableau translate one-for-one with an everyday American gassing up his ride at the Kwik-e-Mart on the way to work, another day in paradise.

It's not about water in the Mideast. It's about us (i.e. Western world). We are so powerful, we like to think, like the camel that has the unlimited skill of ruling the desert without drinking water. Well, not so much. The camel depends on the sheikh to survive. The only difference is in the kind of liquid. Ours is a bit darker.

I love the bell, an exquisite, extravagant ornamentation of the 'East' which has twinkling rung the attendant to service this ship of the desert. The occupant languishes with others in a nearby oasis drinking tea and sharing unhurried conversation. [Calmness and serenity]

Compare this transportation tale to:

A blast of the horn, a mad dash for pop, chocolate and chips, swipe the card, the visitor and vehicle getting filled while waiting anxiously to resume yet another reenactment of 'The Indie 500' on the freeways of America. [Loudness and fury].

Such pit stops are step 1 on the way to Road Rage!! -- scroll down to 'one lap around the track' = 9.84 seconds !

This is a magnificent drawing there are more than a thousand and one thoughts in it.


I took it as a straightforward visual pun: Water to "fuel" your camel is as expensive in the desert as gas to fuel your car in the USA.

Since there is apparently no article with this illustration, I'll go on the assumption that it is a sort of trompe-l'oeil editorial/cartoon. The first thing I thought of was the privatization of water, which is a hot topic of debate in some of the current left governments in South America. I also have a sneaky feeling that Halliburton & Co. are busily privatizing water in Iraq. Which is probably what is behind the problem of residents getting irregular spurts of water each day in Baghdad. Once Halliburton can charge Iraqis for their own water, it will flow like magic.

As an illustration, it is very well done. All the warm desert colors and the iconographic (though outdated) camel along with the typical costume westerners think of Arabs wearing (although I believe the headdress is Saudi, not Iraqi) and the detail stripe down the left recalls old manuscripts. So all the M-E desert icons are in place......then just behind the man is the gas pump/water bottle. It took me a few seconds to realize it was WATER not gas, because I was so lulled by the accoutrements of the camel, with the little bell and all. It's kind of a cute drawing and I think that gets the viewers attention first.

Someone commented on the dopey look on the camel.....I think camels just look like that all the time. They never get excited about's just too hot!

Does the camel look like Chimpy to anyone else?

Koo-Koo Kachoo....

I'm struck by how beautiful the camel is drawn. Soft and calm with lovely ornamentation on the cloth and saddle.

And I also noticed like The Decider did, that the face of the camel looks a bit like El Presidente, but I think it must be coincidental. There's something in those eyes, though...

I saw it as a threat. The Saudi's are sticking it to us with gas prices, they shouldnt forget they need water.

whats the bell for?

Hubris Sonic > the bell is there so you can ring it, or that's the way they install horns on camels, or because they haven't yet equipped camels with solar panels as a power source, or because it goes well with the saddle design, I suspect only the artist really knows and I bet he won't tell, but its an interesting question you ask.
China and other countries have taken a growing interest in this black gold stuff and that has more to do with the price of gas than a Saudi conspiracy. They definitely don't rely on us for water.
In fact as a Canadian I think in the not too distant future we may become "further liberated" because the US will need our water, of course on their terms which may be problematic for a few us if we don't like 'The Empires' terms.
Sorry to digress but oil and *water* are ringing many bells these days, especially for those who may be seen to have a surplus ?

Perhaps this is naive, but despite the charged imagery (arab, gas pump, water), I don't see it as having a particular political or topical point to make. It just looks like a bit of Far-Side absurdism to me--the guy's using a gas pump to put "fuel" into his camel, it's cute.

If it's got a deeper point to make, it makes it poorly; the multitude of explanations is proof that it's, at best, ambiguious. So I go with the simple explanation, to wit: It doesn't "mean" much of anything.

It is consolation for the west. Water is as precious as oil, we got it, they don't. It could be a threat but the sleepy-lidded camel with the disheveled hair and the quaint bell indicate that it is done without hostility.

I saw it as a threat. The Saudi's are sticking it to us with gas prices, they shouldnt forget they need water.

Are the Saudis really "sticking it to us" with gas prices?

Or is an increasing shortage driving up prices? It's a bidding war - you can't blame the seller for the price.

I wanna know what 'water cooler' conversations the Man and the Camel are having...

I also thought it meant that our use of oil for cars in this day and age (with what we have known now for some 30 years) is as foolish as filling a camel with bottled water in the desert. Short term luxury but wasteful and ultimately unsupportable. Bottled water really is pretty pretentious but it's everywhere now. It brings to mind all the infrastructure just to get the bottled water delivered so the camel can drink it. I like this picture.

It's a nice picture, but I don't know what it means either.

I was also intrigued by that bell. I don't know why; maybe because it seems out of place.

Availablility of water is a big issue in some places, but the Arab Gulf countries do have access to sea water. It's very expensive, but they have huge desalination plants to process the sea water, and they can build more - so even though it's a desert area, the issue is not as desperate for them as as for some other countries.

In Kuwait, at least, they are trying to encourage people to conserve water. The imams were supposed to talk about this at Friday prayers last week - to mention that Islam prohibits waste and that, for example, that people waste a lot of water making their ablutions for prayers, while the Prophet Muhammad used very little water for this. But water has been subsidized (although this is supposed to change), so people don't feel the real cost of producing it.

Law of the minimum, perhaps? An environment or culture is constrained by that resource which is in the least amount.

I am reminded of this (perhaps apocryphal) Saudi aphorism:

"My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a jet airplane. His son will ride a camel."

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