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July 6, 2005

The Situation At Hand


The BAG again falls for another compelling TE cover (and another crack at the maybe not-so-accessible G-8/Africa topic).  As usual, though, I have a few questions:

1. Re: Sex

Isn’t TE (at least partly) indulging in titillation?  Is there some suggestion that "these people" can’t keep their hands to themselves?  Is the action seducing?  Isn’t this guy a little old for her?  Is he paying for it?  If the AIDS epidemic is one of the continent’s biggest problems, is it worked into the image as well? 

2.  Re: Help

How does this image in any way signify that Africa is being helped?  Is the ambiguity intentional?  Is the top hand not African?  Do we really get any socioeconomic information from these hands?

3. Re: Religion

Is this a Sistine Chapel reference here?  Given that Christianity (especially in its more conservative form) is growing more rapidly in Africa than anywhere else, could the top hand belong to a priest?  Or a missionary?  If the Western world (or,just The Economist’s subscriber base) is threatened by Africa and African immigration, does a religious hand represent a welcome vehicle for domestication? 

4.  Re: Cash

Does the jewelry — although apparently modest in itself — make reference to the Continent’s riches?  From that perspective, does the image involve going after it?  Does the placement of the bar code (which is marked with a price and practically stamped over the lower arm) reinforce this association?

5.  Re: What’s Happening

Is the right hand actually holding something that it’s giving to the left?  Isn’t it interesting that you can’t tell?  What is the interaction? 

  • ms kubelik

    The older hand is placing a seed in the younger hand, I think.
    I would not agree that the older hand is necessarily a man’s hand; the allusion to sex is a bit out there for me.
    It is an eloquent image for me that speaks to the connection between generations and how little “material” the older African has to pass on to the younger African.
    If the title is “Helping Africa to Help Itself” then the self-referentiality suggested by the two hands makes sense, but reinforces the limited success possible if success depends on what the older African generation can provide the younger.
    Is that yellow plastic band a “cancer” bracelet? If so, one could riff on the unwitting but continued pathologization of those who are “other” through their (unknowing?) incorporation of such items.
    Yet that yellow bracelet also could be a point of connection if knowingly worn.

  • victor falk

    1. Re: Sex. No,not to me. the only possible sexual imagery is that there is one female and one male hand, but that’s just because of heterosexual normativity; would you you see something (homo)sexual if both hands were male or both female? I see tenderness, most alike that between father & daughter.
    2. Re: Help. a hand, palm up, is a gesture for asking for help, not only across all human cultures but also among chimps and gorillas; so it is universal, and not the least ambiguous to me. The bracelets would reveal socio-economic information, but I don’t know enough about comtemporary African jewellry to say anything about it.
    3. Re: Religion. It is indeed not unreminiscent of The Creation of Adam. Together with what I mention in point 1, I’d say there’s a certain paternalism in that picture.
    It makes me also think of an Alpha Blondy song (Les Imbéciles), about how Africa is full of ore but drained of brains…
    Furthermore (my translation): “I insist, I persist, and I sign, the enemies of Africa, are the Africans.”
    4. Re: Cash. So that is the hand of a robber? a con, a scam, and the hand we see is as wretched as HC Andersen’s match girl? But there is nothing is the picture with that devilish connotation. One would have to be greedy indeed to covet those plastic trinkets. And the barcode is not part of the picture, it just happens to be on the lower left every week. But whaddaya know, I might just be naïf.
    5. Re: What’s Happening. Yes, it is intriguing. I think it means that nobody knows for sure what exactly kind of help Africa needs. If it were money, we would see a coin or a bill; knowledge, a pen or a book; etc.

  • MonsieurGonzo
  • cj

    Perhaps the point of the two hands is to symbolize contemporary Africa reaching out to its own traditions/past/knowledge/resourcefulness. I really don’t get an obvious sense of sex, religion (or even rock and roll, for that matter!), but I do see a transmission (of something) from one to the other. On the other hand(!), perhaps the real message is that maybe its time to pass the power/control from men to women.

  • neco

    There is definitely *something* that is being handed. Look at the hand with the bracelet, touching the middle finger is a yellow ball about the size of an acorn. I think ms kubelik is right, it’s a seed. The interaction is a bit odd. One hand is trying to give, but the hand with the bracelet doesn’t seem able to take it, or put it to use, alluding to the title and the need to help Africans use aid effectively.

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