Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
August 21, 2005

No Fear From The Fuelhardy


Give the NYT Mag a free car wash for trying. 

Today’s lead article (The Breaking Point – link) discusses various factors and scenarios that could lead to a dramatic oil shortfall.  Following the theme, the cover illustration asks the reader to imagine the sudden possibility of not enough oil to fill up the car.  (As the article reminds us, the U.S. consumes a quarter of the world’s oil supply — mostly to produce gasoline.)

The problem with the illustration, however, is that it appeals to deaf ears.  In other words, Americans are currently so reinforced to consume without consideration of consequence, and the Administration is so utterly unwilling to recognize limits in any form (in spending, in resources, in the exercise of power), who could seriously entertain the suggestion that an American couldn’t have something just for the wanting?

In an analogy, exaggeration can be quite effective — especially if the proposition happens to introduce some fear.  In this case however, the technique misfires.  It might cost an-arm-and-a-leg to move that needle, but the right to a full tank has become as sacred an American article of faith as violence, charge cards, television and God.

(image: NYT Magazine. August 21, 2005)

  • eva

    Perhaps if the needle had been snapped in half, or were flaccid under that “E”, the image might have been more telling. I haven’t read the Times article yet, but will. I hope it cites Michael Klare’s book, Blood and Oil, or David Morse’s recent piece, “War of the Future”, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Kotchka

    “…the right to a full tank has become as sacred an American article of faith as violence, charge cards, television and God.” And guns, you forgot the guns.
    “In other words, American’s are currently so reinforced to consume…” That is a very bad use of apostrophy.
    I have just discovered your blog and like it a lot, thank you.

  • Hubris Sonic

    Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.
    Jake: Hit it.
    Were on a mission from God.

  • Hubris Sonic

    That is a very bad use of apostrophy. and thats a bad use of spelling.
    you arent from the Apostrophe Protection Society are you?
    /cue dragnet theme.

  • The BAG

    Fixed the apostrophe problem.
    Really, I don’t mind the editing support. Sometimes though, I wish I knew of famous writers I could cite who had a similarly tangled history with grammer. (I’d call my status: “in recovery.”)

  • Kitty

    The most powerful image would be one of long lines at gas stations. An image of epic inconvenience would hit people much harder than an image that says, “time to buy gas.”

  • Martin

    Well done BAG for choosing such a simple picture and such a stark message. Will the picture backfire? Surely time will tell. Time, and more of the same, of course.
    Thanks Kotchka for adding the guns. What happens to a consumer society with guns, when oil really starts to become scarce and the price really shoots up? We’re not there yet, but it should be interesting. As I kid, I spent two years in the US, and was made to go to the local evangelical church. I was struck by the difference in the use of words: in my own experience, prayers used the terms “us” and “we”, whereas in the US/evangelical, these were replaced by “me” and “I”.
    Am today in Libya, and met a political scientist who reminisced about his studies in the US in the seventies, and the development of the Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson style of Christian fundamentalism. He sees a direct link with the modern Islamist fundamentalists: the latter learned from the former all the propoganda techniques. He concluded that the only difference now, is that Arab governments are still for themost part combatting fundamentalism, whereas the US government has already succumbed and been taken over. I hope that’s he wrong about the second part of this proposal!
    All that from a simple pic of an empty car fuel tank! As for apostrophes… “it’s” instead of “its” is a common mistype in BAG, but surely we can overlook these small grammar mistakes and enjoy the overall blog?

  • MGR

    A very important reading recommendation on the subject
    of energy:

  • John

    I noticed that rather stark image last night and turned it into a small Flash file for my homepage. Just livin’ in a fool’s paradise.

  • Martin

    I don’t see why the NY Times is to blame for American consumer habits. The image seems powerful enough to me. It expresses a simple idea, “out of gas.” The use of black space is stark and bold, forcing us to focus on the message. How would a broken indicator needle make the image better? Anything like that would just distract from the message.
    In fact, is there anything specific that would make the image better? Mr. BAGnotes offers no suggestions.
    Still: great blog. Look forward to every new post.

  • Diane

    I agree with Eva. Showing the gas guage below/at quarter tank would get me more anxious than the way it’s (correct usage, I believe) shown in the image now. It just looks like I haven’t fired the car up yet.

  • Neko

    Great image, the stark colors and straight-forward design really send the message home. I do agree, however, that having the fuel indicator point left of empty diminishes the strength of the picture since it makes the image more hypothetical. How do you get left of empty? Use anti-gas? An indicator just barely right of empty would be more powerful simply because it reminds us of that frightening thought when we’re just barely running on fumes–”Oh crap, do I have enough gas to make it?” Also, I like how the fuel indicator shows how something that might seem far removed (Saudi oil fields) has a very big impact on our daily lives.
    For some reason this picture reminded me of an earlier picture on BAG. Probably just the black background, simple colors, car association, and lighting from above. Oddly enough, now that I look at it the lines are almost the same angle too. Has NYT Mag been taking their inspiration from gay car ads? ^^
    Go Apostrophe Protection Society! It’s making the world safe for its favorite punctuation mark.

  • bob crane

    this graphic is also possible grounds for a lawsuit. it is practically identical to a film about the same subject “the end of suburbia: oil depletion and the collapse of the american dream”.
    a little sloppy but well worth watching.

  • Kerstin

    Edward Hopper: Gasoline Dreams
    The NYT image is sterile and doesn’t portray a sense of urgency. The fuel gauge is left of empty. So what? Fill ‘er up!
    But Hopper’s work tugs at the heartstrings and leaves one with a growing sense of dread: The American Dream is dying. Where does the open road lead to? A dead end.

  • neven

    Here’s a suggestion:
    Keep the starkness and delicate proportions of the original image. However, remove all marks from the gauge other than “E”. By that I mean, have the indicator point straight up at a lone “E” with a dash above it, and the word “FUEL” on top.
    Nowhere to go but empty.

  • lytom

    The administration of the City of New York is very unfriendly to bicyclists, especially when they exercise their right to be on the street just like cars.
    No gas is necessary and there is no pollution, and there is no support of the blood for oil policy.
    The Critical Mass engagements in many cities are fresh approaches to metropolitan problems. Bicyclists are being harassed every time they are riding because of the drivers’ mentality, (not to mention administration, police and main media) that they have a right of way earned by their horsepower machine. NYT is missing the point if they are leaving out the bicycle – the reporting is biased to say the least…

  • fotonique
  • Martin

    I think neven’s suggestion is really excellent, but I would keep the indicator at its… whatever, 30- to 40-degree leftward slope, and the E just above it. Nothing else but black.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes