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May 3, 2005

Doe, Oh Dear

Ramadimicky198  Hamascartoons198

Here at the BAG, the typical process goes like this: blogger meets image; blogger falls in love with image; blogger writes up image.  There are certainly other times, though, when the image takes longer to get to know. 

I found this first shot in early March.  I had been regularly tracking the wire photos from Iraq, and I was interested in news from Ramadi.  Word was that the U.S. was on the verge of a major assault.  Since little information was available, I wanted to know what the pictures had to say.  The day I checked, several of the photos showed heavily armed insurgents roaming freely through the city.

I pulled the Mickey Mouse shot, and one other.  The other shot showed these armed men in front of a a metal pull-down gate with a pack of Marlboros painted on it.  Looking back, I’m not sure why I saved those pictures.  I think it was to illustrate the worse-case scenario for globalization. 

I then promptly forgot about Mickey and McDemocracy.  At least, until last Thursday, when I stumbled on the second shot above.  As a Reuters “Editors Pick,” this photo captures Palestinian fighters resting prior to a Hamas rally in a Gaza refugee camp.  What really caught my attention though is that the caption (and the same was true for “Mickey”) failed to say a word about the backdrop.

If the doe character behind the Hamas contingent was identifiable as Bambi, the globalization theme might have stuck.  Instead however, what we have are images of Middle Eastern and Gulf warriors set against what are more likely random cartoons. 

In considering both images, I started thinking about how much we live in a world of escapism.  Perhaps the attraction of these shots is that they distract from the terrible nonfiction of real fighters and real blood being spilled and real limbs being blown off.  Just like the Administration creates readily accepted visual and verbal buffers between the public and the war, perhaps these photos do the same thing.  They help us look elsewhere. 

But, couldn’t it also work the opposite way?  Maybe these photographers are fully mindful how westerners move through life partly anesthetized by the cultural entertainment complex.  Perhaps the purpose of juxtaposing these fighters and figures is to push the foreground, supplying at least the passing shot that life is not all fun and games.

(image 1: Bilal Hussein/APMarch 9, 2005 in YahooNews;  image 2: Suhaib Salem/ReutersApril 9, 2005)

  • Galloise Blonde

    What these images make me think about is not globalisation per se but about children in warzones: the murals could well be the sort you see in playgrounds and schoolyards. (The globalisation of children’s culture in the world of Disneyland is another issue) To me, it shows children’s spaces (and by extension, lives) under occupation by adult conflict and war; the impossibility of the carefree childhood depicted by the girl on the swing within a context of armed political conflict.

  • Johanna

    Well said Galloise Blonde.
    I would like to add that for me, the pictures speak about innocence lost.
    Peace. Johanna

  • red2alpha

    Here is an idea from someone who is actually IN Iraq and knows what the terrane is like. What would you say to this? Pictures of Micky and Disney characters are everywhere here and painted on everything. Sure it could be a school or happy little playground or it could be the roll down to a garage, or the side of a house, or a gas station or a store or just a wall on a street.
    Maybe these pictures are not about globilization or EVIL America prehaps they are just pictures. As John Lennon said imagine that. I’d be intrested to see the uncroped version.
    Life is so easy for you in the comfort of your own homes where you can sit in judgement of things you don’t, and can’t, understand. You want pics? I’ve got hundreds that have not been seclected by editors showing the other side of the war here.

  • wayne

    Where are such backdrops found? Schools and playgrounds for the youngest of children, mostly. Perhaps the message is the willingness of the fighters to use such locations (which would be off limits to them if anyone on their regarded the Geneva accords as something other than weapons against Western forces) as staging grounds for their assaults. Who will be the victims of their attacks? Could the vicitms include the children who should be playing at these locations?

  • MonsieurGonzo

    if you die horribly on television
    you will not have died in vain…
    …you will have entertained us.

  • Johanna

    red2alpha -
    Your rage and anger spills out from my monitor into my heart. And I wonder, when will he feel comforted?
    It is not about “us here in our comfy homes” red2alpha (f.y.i., I am homeless and have been for 3 years now, so comfort is an rare luxury for me). It is not about how we perceive the war that you are actively involved in. It is about how you are processing it. How you are perceiving it.
    So share your views, I personally would welcome them as you are there. But if you would, stop attacking us for our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, and just share yours.
    with Peace and Prayers. Johanna

  • PTate in Mn

    Decoration, murals, happy anthropomorphized animals, bright colors are signs of a prosperous-enough, peaceful society. Subsistence level societies don’t paint murals of fawns. Totalitarian societies don’t paint murals of Mickey Mouse. People don’t paint murals of Mickey Mouse or pseudo-Bambi unless they have time to paint, paint to spare and hearts full of joy. What strikes me is that the images have been de-commercialized, co-opted. They are no longer Western icons.
    In contrast, the warriors.
    –The man casually scratching his back with a big gun that echoes Mickey’s lighted torch.
    –The faceless, bug-eyed Hamas warriors, pausing, waiting, overshadowed by the mural.
    For a stranger, the murals suggest that there is substance to these societies–their members care about them and, in peaceful times, experience joy. The soldiers are jarring, cause tension, but they will leave the picture. The murals will remain. The crowing rooster, the swinging child, the road sign–all direct our attention beyond the soldiers to something that we viewers are unable to see. As red2alpha observes–we’d like to see beyond this image.

  • Nate

    I think red2alpha is mistaking the purpose of the commentary on this site. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but) this site is not about interpreting reality so much as it is about interpreting Western representations of reality – primarily photojournalism – and how these representations influence public opinion.
    The first thing that came up in my mind when looking at the images was also children in a war zone. To me its a poignant reminder that war doesn’t happen on distant battlefields, but in average people’s homes and schools and playgrounds and safe places.

  • aethorian

    The visual power of an image, however innocent, lies within the eye of the beholder. You never know who the audience might be or how an image might influence them.
    Once upon a time, in a land not so far away and not so long ago, cartoon characters were used—specifically because of their appeal to adults and children—to promote war aims and goals. Although many animation studios produced wartime cartoons and shorts, Disney led the way. Several of their films, starring Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale, and others, can now be seen in Walt Disney on the Front Lines, a DVD set released in late 2004.
    One film in particular, Victory Through Air Power, was shown to American audiences in July 1943. It portrayed the concept of global military superiority through air power—intercontinental bombing, basically—as proposed by Alexander de Seversky in his 1942 book of the same name. Walt Disney read it, was convinced that Seversky was right, and decided to produce a film to get the message across. Walt also put Seversky on-camera as narrator.
    In the 1940’s, before broad use of television, nothing had the same visual impact as a movie, and perhaps no animated film had as much impact (every irony intended) on the lives of thousands as VTAP. After seeing it privately during their Quebec Conference in August 1943, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt finally decided to begin strategic bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan:

    The Air Attack Against the Japanese Home Islands

    Basic United States strategy contemplated that the final decision in the Japanese war would be obtained by an invasion of the Japanese home islands. The long-range bombing offensive from the Marianas was initiated in November 1944, with that in mind as the primary objective. As in Europe prior to D-day, the principal measure of success set for strategic air action was the extent to which it would weaken enemy capability and will to resist our amphibious forces at the time of landings.

    One animated sequence in VTAP colorfully shows the firebombing of Tokyo, prophesying the reality that occurred on March 9-10, 1945, less than two years after the film was released. An eyewitness on the ground that night, Robert Guillain, saw death imitate art:

    Roofs collapsed under the bombs’ impact and within minutes the frail houses of wood and paper were aflame, lighted from the inside like paper lanterns. The hurricane-force wind puffed up great clots of flame and sent burning planks planing through the air to fell people and set fire to what they touched. Flames from a distant cluster of houses would suddenly spring up close at hand, traveling at the speed of a forest fire. Then screaming families abandoned their homes; sometimes the women had already left, carrying their babies and dragging crates or mattresses. Too late: the circle of fire had closed off their street. Sooner or later, everyone was surrounded by fire.

    When the lights came back up, all of that colorful scenery, and most of the people who lived in it, were burned beyond recognition.
    While this terrible result was the end of a long chain of circumstances that began well before 1942, it’s likely that an animated film, mostly a cartoon, helped create the image in people’s minds that such an action was possible, acceptable, and justifiable.
    Strangely enough, Mickey Mouse appeared rarely in Disney war films, probably because Walt didn’t want the Mouse’s likeable image tarnished too much by death and destruction. I’d like to think that Mickey’s conscience just got the better of him.

  • aethorian

    Another view, although fictional, of the bizarre mix of American values, unfamiliar cultures, Hollywood media, and urban warfare emerges in the final scene of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam war film, Full Metal Jacket.
    After a grim firefight in the city of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, the surviving Marines, glad to be alive, break into the theme song they learned as children watching the 1950’s Mickey Mouse Club [.WAV audio here]:

    Who’s the leader of the club
    That’s made for you and me?
    M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

    Hey, there! Hi, there! Ho, there!
    You’re as welcome as can be!
    M–I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

    Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck!
    Mickey Mouse! Donald Duck!
    Forever let us hold our banners high!
    High! High! High!

    Come along and sing a song
    And join the jamboree
    M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

    Now’s the time to say goodbye
    To all our company
    Through the years we’ll all be friends
    Wherever we may be
    M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

    Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse
    Forever let us hold our banner high
    M-I-C – See ya real soon!
    K-E-Y – Why? Because we like you!

    Innocence lost, innocence regained.

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