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July 26, 2005

Osama Jumps The Turnstile



Once again, fear and loss spells more media bank.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Osama bin Ladin’s mug.  Just give us two subway bombings in two weeks, however, and suddenly — despite a middle to high grade case of trauma still hovering over London — there he is in a dual role. 

First, he’s the ghost of the transit system staring mockingly at the heavily armed, yet oblivious transit officer.  At the same time, Osama hangs directly over these unsuspecting passengers — as if they had already been convinced to go quietly. 

Oh, and he’s also a Madison Avenue pitchman!   

I found this image running in two places at the beginning of the week — in a Boston Globe article, and Newsweek’s slide show on the terror threat.  In Newsweek’s case, neither bin Laden or al Qaeda was mentioned in the caption.  He just shows up like a subliminal suggestion.

Newsweek couples this image (which leads off their "show") with
photos of police on alert at public locations around the world.  The
spots include Spain’s Atocha station (check out the officer yawning,
and the two cops in front who seem to be touching hands); Red Square;
the British Embassy in Berlin (nobody’s getting near that
place); the NY Stock Exchange (Baghdad burning!  Oil stocks hits new
highs!).  For a quick case study in media overkill, however, you can’t
beat the shot of the Sheriff deputy and the bomb sniffing dog down on
all fours in the train station at the highly targeted train station in
Santa Ana, California.   

So, what’s the most insensitive thing about running this image right
now (not to mention, these subway ads– assuming the photo is

With enough commuters (and cops) riding subways these days thinking
they see Osama’s minions all around them, why do they/we need to see
this?  Doesn’t the photo play directly to the kind of anxiety that led
to the killing of the Brazilian electrician by British police in the
underground the other day?

And, while I’m rolling, how does one deconstruct the ad poster
itself?  (BTW, if any of you can supply links to this image or related
ads in the series, please post them in the comments.  Believe me, I’ve
looked.)  From other ads I’ve seen before, I believe this is a campaign
for TIME Magazine.
(If I’m wrong, I apologize in advance.)  The series takes a famous
person, and superimposes a series of red rectangles over the face, each
with the TIME title at the top.  At the bottom left corner of the ad is the phrase: "Know Why."      

So, what is the implication (especially in this context)?  Is it that bin Laden has gotten so large, he’s too big for TIME?  Or, is the point that he’s behind so many incidents lately, they might as well put him on the cover every week?

(image: Chip Somodevilla /Getty Images.

  • Raph Levien

    Yes, this is part of an ad campaign for TIME. I’ve seen a bunch of these on the BART transit system in the San Francisco area.
    And, indeed, the campaign itself is well worthy of your brand of deconstruction. It’s not just images of famous people. They had another one with a diagram highly reminiscent of a subway map, showing the connections between right-wingers, the church, and something else (abortion, perhaps?).
    We’re not the only people in the blogosphere who have noticed these ads, or who have noticed that they can at least be interpreted as questioning the conservative status quo. The fine folks at Powerline are not happy with another ad in this series, this one showing a dispirited American soldier.
    They also seem to be doing the guerilla marketing thing too, paying a graffiti artist to enhance the experince. Time President Eileen Naughton freely admits in a quote in that story that the campaign is intended to be provocative.
    BTW, keep up the fabulous work! I especially like seeing the little ads on Americablog.

  • Kerstin

    Hey BAG, check this out:
    Was a “bomber” superimposed on the surveillance camera photo? I don’t have photo software to blow this up so I’d be interested in what you see.
    Here’s the link to the Powerline discussion of another Time ad:
    “Defeatism has never gone over well with the American people, and I think all but the most obtuse have figured out by now that we are winning, not losing, in Iraq.”
    Yeah, give the American people what they want. It sells so much better.

  • Vitalis

    The ad also forms the “Time” rectangles into a shape that relates to the portrait over which they are superimposed. Other examples include Bush’s face with the rectangles in the shape of a cross and Martha Stewart with an opening door.

  • Stella

    The words are the provocative thing – Everybody thinks they know why. I’ve got my own opinion of why we must see Osama everywhere, why a soldier would hang his head, why Martha had to go to prison. Certainly the grafitti artist has his opinion of why white folks want to pay him for this stuff. This campaign is not about provoking people to buy magazines, it is about arousing combative emotions.

  • tfsteven

    No one seems to have pointed out that those rectangles are arranged in the shape of the Twin Towers.

  • pjr

    Jesus, what’s next? Using the Koran as doorstoppers on public transit? The administration couldn’t care less about capturing the guy, so logically they turn to advertising to ensure the public remain cognizant of his inherent ‘evil.’ All the while, tens of thousands of Iraqis whose lives have been turned upside down in the name of ‘freedom’ are told that the problems created by the invasion and occupation are now ‘theirs’ to combat. Anyone wondering why Cheney conveniently disappears again, after being excoriated for his ignorant statement that the insurgency is in its ‘last throes?’ It’s a freaking Terry Gilliam movie, without the pithy humour.

  • The BAG

    Thanks for the “TIME Frame” ads. I do remember seeing the soldier with his head down. Also, I don’t want to change the subject from TIME/Osama, but Kerstin’s comment is disturbing. I looked at the version of the King’s Cross CCTV photo at LegitGov and it certainly doesn’t look right. Just for backup, I found a “more objective” site which reproduced the photo from the AP. Same problem, particularly with the lower piece of railing. If anyone has a more technical background and can lend some insight into the London transit photo, email me. It just seems an incredible shame to have to raise questions about that image right now.

  • antpoppa

    Not a killing… a hit. Big Tony put a hit on the kid. 7 to the head, one in the heart. Kid couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Wrong place, wrong time.

  • cj

    I hate to say this, but I actually think this photo is kinda funny. Considering all the death and destruction around the world during the past couple years, this photo seems to represent the hunt for Osama. The general public doesn’t really care about him any more and the authorities seem to be deliberately looking in the other direction…. Why o why does Orwell’s 1984 keep poppoing into my head…….!

  • Mad

    Thank you and Kirsten for pointing us to the King’s Cross CCTV photo of the four Bombers. It certainly appears doctored or otherwise incorrect.
    So what’s up? Please keep us posted on what you find.
    In this Photo Appreciation lesson you are looking at an ad for Time, and refer to an ad series for Newsweek, etc.
    Advertising photos are extremely powerful and extremely well-planned– they should offer much information about current and future trends in our society.
    Perhaps you could have a separate focus on ad photos.
    For instance, the back cover of The New Yorker, a prominent and pricey location, seems to be applauding the use of torture, perhaps by a Nazi. Very weird !! Has torture become acceptable in America– and even marketable??

  • Addison

    The “fake” CC footage is not doctored. What you all are thinking is the continuation of his arm is actually the continuation of the building edge seen rising from his shoulder. His arm is folded up and holding that white parcel.

  • Tilli (Mojave Desert)

    I also don’t think the CC footage photo is faked.
    In the electronic version it looks like a bad Photoshop cut & paste has been done because the railing behind the man (his left/our right) appears to continue in front of him.
    However, the newspaper-printed photo in recent Guardian Weekly (approx 5×7″ size) shows that’s just an optical illusion.
    The man is wearing a baggy jacket. His left arm is crooked. He’s holding a white carrier bag or package in front of his chest. You can see part of the railing in the crook between his arm, the baggy jacket sleeve, the backpack of the guy in front of him & his left hand holding the bag/package.
    Can we just leave the conspiracy theories out of an already complicated matter?

  • Mike

    Nevertheless, we’re still thankful for those video cameras and all other wireless video security cameras out there. We’re one step ahead now.

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