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April 15, 2006

Post 9/11: Are We There Yet?

Immediately following 9/11, there was actual fear that irony was dead.

In the following weeks, a wisdom emerged that it would take years

before a perspective of the event could be acquired — especially through

creative interpretation.

Has the point finally arrived where “enough time has passed?”


If Bruce Eric Kaplan’s illustration can be seen as a post-9/11 commentary,

will history distinguish between the event itself and the

Administration’s far-reaching and supposedly opportunistic reaction to it?

As well, has the cost of the aftermath turned out to be the barbed wiring

of our innocence?


Security,” a new series by artist Paul Shambroom, deals specifically

with fear, safety and liberty in post 9/11 America.  According to his gallery,

these figures “are posed to suggest the European tradition of elegant

full-length portraits of nobility.”  Is it really possible this icon (or this one)

has become America’s new model for nobility?  I’m not sure what’s scarier,

however, the images themselves, or the fact there is so little guidance over

how seriously to take them.

In retrospect, perhaps the greatest

casualty of 9/11 has been our sense of irony.

(…Finally, if you’re as compelled by image interpretation as I am, I’m interested in your take on the illustration.  One way to read it is as a triangle, with the two sets of couples and the lone child.  And among dozens of questions, why is the infant looking at the animals instead of Mom and Dad?  And what are the bear and the duck up to?)

(Paul Shambroom artist website.  “Security” exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery.)

(image1: “Childproof” by Bruce Eric Kaplan.  The New Yorker.  March 27, 2006.  Cover.  image 2: Police SWAT, camouflage and the linked Urban Search and Rescue courtesy of Paul Shambroom.  Image may not be used without prior permission.)

  • RomanticOtaku

    The parents in the New Yorker could be read as the current generation that believes it needs to “protect” the younger generation with new surveillance and security. Security is the barb wire. The surveillance could be those two stuffed animals on the left. Nanny cams. The need to watch every move.
    The policeman exhibit is just friggin scary.

  • James E. Powell

    The bear and the duck are part of the infant’s world of innocence. They are her “friends” and they are as real as the parents in her infant world.
    The parents stand at a distance, their attention is focused on each other. The bear and the duck are seated and closer, and they are looking straight at the infant, who is also looking straight them. The bear’s arms are open and welcoming.
    The parents are assured and happy with their child protected by the barbed wire. They do not see or feel their child’s dismay and anxiety at the separation and loss.

  • thirdeye pushpin

    The child is looking at the emblems of tactile security, rubber ducky you’re the one and cuddly teddy bear. He, has now been quarantined for his own good, safely ensconced between barbed wire, away from any comforting sensation that might let the enemy in; a trojan bear, bird flu, terror du jour. Mommy and Daddy as cardboard cut outs are taking every precaution.
    Following up on yesterday’s flying chastity belt, does this indicate a trend towards the limited freedoms of the next generations. Has security replaced liberty?

  • lytom

    For your own safety, accept the security.
    Accept the loss of civil rights and privacy.
    Accept phone taps and library list of who borrows what.
    Accept the availability of your medical history to the prying eyes.
    Accept the end of the anonymity of the internet surfing.
    Accept the contractors as your guarding angels.
    Accept the dictates of the Incompetent and the putrid statements of the msm.
    This guy looks scary and has the look of authority…Just give it up trying to talk to him and to try to discuss why maybe he should let you get down to metro line…or ride a bike in NYC!
    Accept the authority and know you have lost the right to protest…
    After all the democrats as well as republicans have a respect for this kind of security uniform – they’d call him a Patriot! There is no freedom left.

  • black dog barking

    Barbed wire in the cartoon keeps the parents out as well as penning the child in. They look pretty happy with their arrangement, the child not so. Does security have to be toy-less?
    The portrait of the fully deployed policeman reminds us that the new policeman is actually a soldier, the logical consequence of treating Bin Laden’s crimes as a military matter. Rather than European portrait I see a museum diorama, the wild animal portrayed in its natural setting. Note this speciman’s natural setting is not civilization.

  • JG

    The barbed-wire twists plus the bars of the crib create a rough stars-and-stripes effect.
    The rectangle of the crib — which of course looks like a prison — also doubles as an American flag, albeit a crude one.

  • Gregorius alexandrinus

    Too soon? Wasn’t that the reaction to Gilbert Gottfried’s prepared joke about the Empire State Building at the Hugh Hefner Roast that launched him into the telling of the Aristocrats joke? Far too many people in the US seem to be not merely willing but champing at the bit to forego freedoms for security. I did a cartoon in HAIL DUBYUS! last year of a store Santa Claus surrounded by secuity men and “Santa Cams,” designed less for the protection of the kids but for the stores against litigious parents. That policeman portrait reminds me not so much of the medieval knights but of the Nazi propaganda portraits of soldiers as the new Teutonic Knights.

  • Mad_nVT

    In the cartoon, the parents look as though they think that they have done right by putting their kid inside a little Gitmo cell, in order to protect the kid from the Real World. At the same time the adults look pretty clueless, as if they don’t know what they are doing. It sure seems to be a commentary on what the adults of today are doing to the future of our children.
    As far as “nobility”, I think that the Bush Presidents should be portraited as the current American nobility. The family sure seems to think it runs the world. They managed to pass the Emperor’s throne from father to son. And they are very closely tied to the Oil Royalty in Saudi Arabia, with Oil being the currency of the Global Realm.
    But in portraying Emperor Dubya Bush, he should be wearing the same outfit as the hero in the desert, completely cut off from any contact with his senses, completely cut off from the natural reality— and with the fog of war developing in the background.

  • daniel

    Regarding irony:
    Thomas de Zengotita wrote a great essay in 2002 called “The Numbing of the American Mind” and it began:
    “It was to have been the end of irony, remember? Superficial celebrity culture was over; a new age of seriousness was upon us. Of course, they way media celebrities focused on their own mood as the consequence of September 11 was in itself an irony so marvelous you knew immediately how wrong they were.”
    I remember having that feeling: people kept saying oh, everything has changed forever. But that feels wrong… if it’s truly the case, why do we even have to time make grand statements like that?
    As for the cartoon, I didn’t realize what a subtle commentary it is until reading the BAG’s comments. When I saw the cover of this mag, I thought it was mocking over-protective yuppie parents (and of course it is). But 9/11… the security state… of course!!!
    Look at the panels in the door! It’s the profile of the World Trade Center. And it’s echoed again in the vertical slats of the baby’s crib. The imprisoning barbed wire is literally built on the foundations of September 11.
    I feel silly for not noticing this before!
    (PS: I love this website)

  • gmoke

    It might be good to compare and contrast these images with Rockwell’s paintings for one of the Four Freedoms, Freedom from Fear (

  • jt from BC

    The Security Exhibition is a White House dream come true. This series of “on the job exercises” creates a sense of immediacy upping the fear factor. They project a foreboding presence and elevate the civilian employees to homeland warrior status. “The bad guys” must be chuckling at such sights while “the good guys” feel cowed, intimidated, freaked out or shit scared by these technological humanoids.
    Great conditioning for any additional militarization of other social services in “these new times” and when the imposition of martial law is deemed necessary it too will seem normal.
    Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)
    “Day of wrath and terror looming
    Heaven on earth to ash consuming..”
    Joseph Goebbels would be immensely impressed.

  • readytoblowagasket

    The subtle genius of the New Yorker cover didn’t hit me at first. But after letting it steep — and with the help of the insightful commentary here — I now see how it works on a symbolic level.
    I think the significance of the child’s “little Gitmo cell” (brilliant observation by Mad_nVT!) is that it obviously imprisons *the child.* So, how does that protect the child? Well, it doesn’t. Exactly like listening in on citizens’ phone calls doesn’t protect *us* for one minute. The child therefore is us, the parents are our “overprotective” (and self-satisfied) government, the stuffed animals are the freedoms (the pleasures of a democratic society) our parents have removed from us (they are still in sight, however, and we are starting to miss them).
    The BAG asks: “And what are the bear and the duck up to?”
    Answer: Nothing. They are benevolent but immobile, gathering dust.
    That the illustration is a black-and-white line drawing can also be read as symbolic: as in, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”
    Thoughts on image #2 to come a little later . . .

  • jt from BC

    Kafka comments on Kaplan,
    the baby, all the little people, which are really you
    the crib, homeland security + lytom’s 6 accepts + + +
    barbed wire, safer in your confinement I said
    “It is often better to be in chains than to be free.”
    Teddy Bear, ah yes ! Col Roosevelt & “Rough Riders
    “charging (walking actually) up San Juan Hill.”
    “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
    chirped a willing helper, one William Randolph Hearst
    “yellow journalism” from the “newspaper of record”
    did you little people forget this cuddly Teddy bear tale
    you saw him in in a cartoon sparing the life of a bear cub.
    so kind and comforting are such pictures
    the duck is just a duck or is it a dead duck
    Happy State of the Union with Happy Parents in Charge
    Ops another one of my kafkaesque moments
    “I am free, that is why I’m lost.”

  • Victor F

    those portraits are more about the equipment than the people in them. Were portraits of European lords about their armor or the person wearing? Anyway, I think they’re brilliant. Brilliantly unsettling, that this is the modern American version of “nobility:” anonymity, uniformity, isolation. Being on the cutting edge of technology has always been a thing for nobles I suppose. Tanks and bomb-defusing robots instead of armored steeds. I like how you juxtaposed these frightening armor portraits with the New Yorker cover. How are the innocent supposed to feel with scary masked men as their “protectors,” when they would really be nightmarish to anybody? Maybe nobility was always a little scary to those kept from it. All this “protection” is really quite frightening. Will the upcoming generation be fearless or fearful of what they were kept from, what their protectors told them about but didn’t let them experience?

  • ummabdulla

    The more I look at that teddy bear, the more I think it doesn’t look like a teddy bear. The ears on a teddy bear are usually round and standing up. And the snout isn’t so elongated and pointed. I can’t think what other animal it looks like, though, and although I hesitate to say this, it actually looks like a breast… which in this context would suggest the nurturing of breastfeeding, which is not available to this baby.

  • Rafael

    Is it just me or does the police officer in cammo hlding an AR-15 looks more like a real life GI-JOE(tm) than a police officer. And who the heck wears a breathing mask in the desert! Why the masks? Is it a way of saying “stay away, the truth is to toxic, can not be handled without the proper equipment.” Why hide the face(s) of the subject?

  • readytoblowagasket

    Thoughts on image #2:
    Immediately after 9/11, police and National Guard soldiers stationed themselves in major subway hubs like Grand Central and on selected street corners in New York City (in Times Square, Greenwich Village, etc.). The security kids (and they all seemed shockingly young) may have worn most of the trappings of this Security Cop (except for the mask, the one thing they should have worn), but they did not hold their bodies in the GI Joe pose shown here. The kids — with guns that could take out New Jersey — looked tense and every bit as scared shitless as the rest of us. It was anything but comforting to see them; it was upsetting, nerve-racking, anxiety-triggering, and ultimately (in true New York fashion) irritating. What are you doing here? I wondered to myself. Guess what? You’re too late, was another thought I likely had. It wasn’t lost on me that if they needed *that much* gear to apprehend terrorists, what chance did I have for survival in the big showdown? That may be the same irony Paul Shambroom is getting at: If the security forces are outfitted to withstand a nuclear bomb and the people they are protecting aren’t, who’s really being protected? The protectors.
    According to Webster’s, “nobility” = “aristocracy” = “the aggregate of those believed to be superior.”
    According to history, 9/11 + Bush = Homeland Security = image #2 above = useless.
    Like putting barbed wire around a crib to protect a baby.

  • Asta

    The juxtaposition of these images make sense if you’ve read “Oryx and Crake”. In the cover of ‘The New Yorker’, I view a pigoon offering up a rakunk to the young Crake, who really should have been more seriously contained but instead his indulgent parents later sent him to a biotech university.
    That’s why we later have image #2, and the following visuals of artist/photographer Shambroom, all the HazMat uniforms and gas masks. Portraits of those who are here to save us from genius renagades like Crake in their ambitious tasks to rid the world of homo sapiens. Those brave and heavily protected soldiers who will save us from the feral wolvogs and pigoons, and maybe one day save us from those who are unable to think outside their selfish ambitions and petty vindictiveness and false prophecies.
    The book doesn’t have a very happy ending, I must warn you. And it bothers me alot because I live in the Pleeblands.
    (A hat tip to Ummabdulla for the inspiration from the phrase “The more I look at that teddy bear, the more I think it doesn’t look like a teddy bear.”)

  • lytom

    That white double “bracelet” seems out of the place. The gas mask indicates that the environment favors the authority. Bracelet presents intimidation to anyone and is a clear sign that words will not be spoken nor will there be any meaningful communication before the physical contact of the steel. Will the law observers help?:-)

  • dave maize

    If only irony was the greatest loss from 9-11.What we have seen since 9-11 has been the consolidation of power by a fascist government which has no problem with attacking any country which does not open it’s oilfields to the US or allow a pipeline to be run through their land.I can live without irony.

  • Cactus

    Perhaps the irony is just too literal for me to get. But then, I’ve never ‘gotten’ New Yorker cartoons.
    Those photographs are not of the nobility. But they are of people who will happily serve the nobility. They are more like cossacks, or storm-troopers. Or minutemen? Why are they photographed in the desert? Are we supposed to think of Iraq? It would have been much more terrifying (and probably closer to the mark) if they were photographed in the middle of a city street. Twice I have seen military units patrolling the streets of Los Angeles. And I was relieved to see them. I wonder if I will be next time.
    They are more disturbing because you cannot see their faces. It’s an impersonal threat; we are not allowed to see the face of the person who may end our life for any reason. Perhaps they are more frightening to us because we remember what the world was like before.

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