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July 23, 2005

New You

Newyourev

When a city is being terrorized and suspected bombers are at large, the last thing anybody needs is a semiotic analysis of a sweatshirt.  I’m sure to a Londoner, just the thought could be perceived as insensitive.

Still, if you believe as strongly as I do in the power of news images not only to shape attitudes, politics and emotions, but to also provide greater understanding of the events and people they depict, I believe it is worthwhile to delicately touch on a visual confusion about this closed circuit image of the Oval Street station bombing suspect released Friday by London police.   

In most of the news accounts I have seen this morning, the text on this shirt has typically been reported (Guardian; NY Daily News: Chicago Tribune) as reading "New York."  On closer inspection, however, it actually reads: "New You."  In either case, the implications are ironic.  For example, "New York" could be seen to reference 9/11 as inspiration.  (In fact, the NYT ran an AP story filed yesterday afternoon with the following first line:  One of the four London bombing suspects shown in closed-circuit TV photos distributed Friday by police wore a dark shirt bearing the name of a past target of terrorism — New York.)

Or, "New York" could be thought to foreshadow Gotham as a new target of transit terror — especially since the look of this passageway is so generic. 

Ovalsmalllast

(Not to discount the media’s tendency toward over personalization, NY Newsday actually ran a story — Reading Into Bomb Suspect’s ‘New York’ Shirt –claiming the sweatshirt as local and possibly even purchased at the World Trade Center.)

Of greater relevance, however, is how the actual text ("New You") might offer some small insight into the psychology of the bombers themselves.  In picking out this particular sweatshirt (as a purchase and/or his choice of attire this day), was this young man hoping to reinvent himself — and do so specifically through this act?  Or, does it imply a profoundly brash and narcissistic message directed at all of us that we could be transformed through the actions of a few young men?  (And, isn’t he right?)

(Big credit:  Bob K.)

(image 1: nynewsday.com. 7/23/05. front page image. image 2: guardian.co.uk)

  • http://www.justagwailo.com/ Richard

    I saw “New You” the first time as well, and wondered if there was an agenda behind the media (and others) saying it was “New York”.
    Actually, the thing that most struck me about the photo was my wondering whether he was running or walking. Running would indicate he was running *from* something or someone. Since he seems to be leaning to his left, my first guess was running, though it’s ambiguous whether his right foot is in the air.

  • LieparDestin

    Why are there never any random civilians in any of the released photos. Seems that in a crowded bus/subway station, there would be more than 1 person in any given video frame.
    Also calls attention to the lack of media research into issues. Turning New You into New York sounds like a Rove-ian spin to put on things.
    From the article: ‘The seven letters spelling “New York” on the suspect’s shirt appear to be in a Gothic-like font and are roughly 3½ to 4 inches high. In New York, lettered sweatshirts sold by mid- to high-end retailers and on street corners alike more often come with 2-inch lettering, manufacturers said.’
    So they went out and talked to manufacturers, but never bothered to even look at the picture they where writing a story on?

  • HEY

    Or, maybe, this guy simply isn’t a terrorist.
    First: A bunch of agents just pinned down some petrified guy to the floor and unloaded five bullets into him, execution style—and turns out he was some random guy.
    Second: The British broadcast the image of some teenager, declaring him as one of the suicide bombers, and turns out the fellow was alive and well and had nothing to do with the bombing.
    Given the confusion and incredible incompetence of the British, I don’t count on fellow depicted in the above image being one of the bombers.
    Maybe this fellow had nothing to do with anything.
    By the way, I first read the shirt as saying “Screw You.” But, you’re right, “New You” seems more like it.
    Mr. Grumpy

  • hey

    Richard, above, writes:
    “Running would indicate he was running *from* something or someone.”
    Impeccable logic. I’ll remember that next time I’m late for work.
    Mr. Grumpy

  • mugatea

    All these photos of chaos on public transportation systems are making people avoid public transportation. If more people drive cars every day – that benefits the oil companies. The war in Iraq benefits the oil companies. Proof is in the profits.
    If the terrorists truly want us out of the mideast they should stop attacking our transit systems that decrease our dependency on foriegn energy.

  • NEW ME

    NEW YOU?
    I have never heard of or seen any “NEW YOU” brand shirts before. What the heck does that even mean? I tried to google for it but couldn’t find anything. Has anyone seen a shirt like this before or knows that this brand exists? this is going to drive me crazy.

  • EagleEye

    Hate to spoil the fun, but I believe that the shirt in fact says “NEW YORK”, it’s just distorted. The resolution isn’t much help either – you can’t see individual strokes in N and E. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect R and K to merge into a |_|.

  • jjnyc

    Of course it says “New York” – -
    I admire so much about what you do here, MShaw, indeed I visit your site constantly: there is nothing like bagnewsnotes anywhere else (by the way, I mourn the decreased frequency of the brownbagcartoons!) and I have recommended it to friends of a political bent as well to visual artists.
    Perhaps this is a case where not only a double-take, but a triple-take is in order…!
    The metaphysical, iconic and cultural meanings you touch on in your comments on this image are intriguing to consider, but I would be truly astonished to learn that it was confirmed this garment was imprinted with “New You” – - after all, it doesn’t seem likely this young man would be wearing a sweatshirt promoting some…what? hair treatment, day spa, wrinkle cream?!
    (As EagleEye points out, neither the presumed “N” nor “E” are any more definitively visible than the “R” or “K” – - yet horse sense induces us to read these letters and certainly the words as what they almost certainly be.)

  • Asta

    For all you folks who can’t find any info about New You:
    http://newyouskincare.com/
    http://newyouboutique.com/
    http://www.newyouwellness.com/
    http://www.newyouwellness.com/
    It could be something so local that you wouldn’t find it on a Google search. You need to go LOCAL. Sometimes the Internet will FAIL YOU.
    I wear a T-Shirt for the pet shop I work for…if you had snapped a picture of me with my shirt saying “Birds are Us” at the subway, you would probably be at a loss for identifying me by my clothing.
    But…I agree with Michael…the shirt does NOT say
    NEW YORK. It says NEW YOU. Some people on this comments thread need to get bifocals.

  • http://questiontechnology.blogs.com Kevin

    There’s a second photo in this BBC story, but it’s no clearer in this photo whether it’s “YOU” or “YORK”:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4715201.stm
    The police say: “He left Oval station at about 1235 BST and ran towards Brixton, discarding his distinctive New York logo top in Gosling Way as he went.”
    I would assume that from watching the whole video it is clear to the police that the shirt does in fact say New York.

  • Gasho

    Whose Truth?
    I’m not so sure it matters what the shirt says – it’s the image of the shirt that we all see. It ‘reads’ “New You”.
    The fact that it does is interesting in the same way that the random tossing of coins can give us an iChing reading – it’s not science – it’s chance. Interesting none-the-less.
    I often find this kind of “chance” meaning in the photos reviewed at the Bag. I don’t always think the photographer is the architect, nor the editor or publisher – but rather, sometimes pure chance plays a role [in revealing a hidden meaning?] Reading the results can be fascinating or even telling, but the meaning behind these occurances may simply be subjective.
    In cases where images ARE chosen by editors because THEY see a subtle meaning in them, then some agency can be ascribed to the selection and the communication function of the image can be discussed objectively.

  • Gasho

    New Orwellian Life
    The fact that the shirt reads “New You” and depicts a nearly faceless person running from the authorities (guilty/not guilty?) describes a potentially grim reality for the ‘any man’.
    The facelessness of this image, due to poor resolution, reminds me of the composit image of the “known soldier” which was created by layering images of all of the fallen soldiers and resulting in a blurry ‘any man’ image.
    Google “known soldier” or see:
    http://www.bluestarfolly.com/art/photage/faces/LHFC041007-US-dead-in-iraq-i.jpg

  • http://www.justagwailo.com/ Richard

    “Impeccable logic. I’ll remember that next time I’m late for work.”
    I didn’t specify what I meant by “would indicate”. I was trying to make the point that presented as a photo of a suspected terrorist, e.g. myself, could *imply* that he was running away from someone or something. I haven’t read anything to suggest he was walking or running, one way or the other, so I was thinking only hypothetically. I probably would have been safer writing “could” instead of “would”.

  • zapa

    look at this blog has the same topic
    http://www.agonist.org/story/2005/7/23/141244/890
    and one of the commentors has a different picture where it looks like he’s wearing “NEW YORK”, although the guy in that picture looks different.

  • Holy Galloping Gorbachevs

    Well I read it as A&W YOU. The sort of moniker you’d get from a place of higher learning run by a fast food company. And I think he wore this gift from his auntie as its two sizes too big. Good for concealing the bomb bits. She thought he’d grow into it.

  • AW

    Given that they actually found the top, they can say with absolute certainty that it says ‘New York’.

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