Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
October 9, 2006

Your Turn: What A Mess


(click for full size)

As a rule, I don’t post “Your Turn’s” on Mondays.

Rebooting the week, I believe people want an image and The BAG’s take on another news cycle.  However, given what we have to confront, I felt an exception was in order.  Often, sites link here not just for the posts, but for the fine discussion threads.  I had only to look at this cover to know it was time to call in the reinforcements.

Accordingly, I invite you to join and follow my readership in attempting to tame this TIME-ly mess.

As well, I did have some further thoughts on the GOP decline.

In the elephant’s blasphemous about face, I believe Karl Rove’s ability to fundamentally influence and control America’s visual politics has also come to an end.  I hinted as much in yesterday’s post featuring the Fighting Dems, and I’ll have more examples to show and tell this week.

There was a specific image recently, however, in which it struck me Karl’s trunk was about packed.


It was six days ago, in this NYT shot of Bush at a ceremony in which an elementary school was named after him.  (So maybe, we can just skip the Bush Library?) (By the way, did you notice how 43 re-scaled little 41 again a few days later, in becoming attached to an aircraft carrier.)

If the stars-and-stripes have always been a political staple, Rove made it absolutely requisite.  As the logical, geopolitical, then moral standing of the right-wing deteriorated, however, the flag’s metaphorical translation also became confused.  First they were upholding and defending it.  Then, they were wrapping themselves in it and hiding behind it.  And lately, they’ve been (more than symbolically) walking all over it.

This image reads like both a last gasp, and final justice.  In the latter case, the flags pointed at the President could be seeking retribution.  With the Foley scandal hovering, the symbol functions as a protective shield.   In general, though, this hyper-inflationary old glory moment turns the Rove narrative into a manic episode.

Even with its back turned, the right wing has no idea what to do but “stay the course,” which ultimately translates as: amplify the volume and multiply the imagery  — until you finally disappear.

(image 1: Image: Weegee/Getty.  Digitally altered.  TIME Magazine. Oct. 16, 2006. Cover.  image 2: Jim Young/Reuters. October 3, 2006.  Stockton, California.  Via YahooNews.)

  • PTate in MN

    What a witty cover! The first things that strike me about this elephant’s behind are its wrinkled skin and, of course, the flaccid tail…A “tawdry Washington sex scandal,” heh! Why am I suddenly thinking about the aged men in the Oct 6 thread about poor old Dennis Hastert flanked by a predatory Republican leadership?
    The second thing that strikes me is the contrast between the simplicity of the TIME cover and the visual clutter of the Bush with flags photo. We’ve talked in previous threads about the right-wing’s instinct for visual clutter and the Bag’s observation seems right on: “Even with its back turned, the right wing has no idea what to do but “stay the course,” which ultimately translates as: amplify the volume and multiply the imagery….”
    Finally, I almost laugh at the flagpoles pointing at the President. One appears to be poking him in the stomach! We have also talked in these threads about iconic imagery. This picture might be an iconic image of the final days of the Bush WH: The POTUS is smothered in flags, but I am laughing at him.

  • limapup

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely = GOP.

  • mugatea

    Ya, his supporters appear anonymous, masked by the flag –
    almost non-existent,
    like flag poles.
    Embarrassed by thier blind faith in a pooper-hole.

  • Bluegrass Poet

    Definite aggressive feel to those flags — like the lynch mob closing in.

  • Darryl Pearce

    The cropping of the Time cover’s elephant is a little distressing (as the head and shoulders are missing)–but it’s appropriate given the “decapitating” of the high-falutin’ “republican” ideals of small government and self-reliant citizenry. Our budget is blown, our foreign policy adrift amidst the shoals of nation-building (sand castles on the beach at high tide?), the incumbent political party didn’t have the self-discipline to keep its pants zipped (God, I hate being so cynical).

  • Sara

    It seems an unfortunate moment to be running Karl Rove’s portrait on the cover of Time.

  • acm

    it striking how much this (elephant) image plays up the texture of the skin — its wrinkled, rough surface. tired old elephant, ready to be put out to pasture? kind of a coarse beast to start with? hmmmm

  • marc sobel seems to be an example of subtext plagerism. or is it coincidence that this appears four weeks before a major election. inquiring minds don’t want to know.
    I tried to find the cover art on line but was unable to navigate the grey lady website. I have a 46kb connection (bad phone lines) and although I tried patience, it took too long (credit BTVS)

  • MonsieurGonzo

    annus horribilus

  • donna

    No, Karl is “turdblossom” – he is what the hind end of the elephant has produced….

  • Ksue

    Despite Karl’s best efforts, the GOP is turning its back on GWB — and with this most delicious parting line … “I fart in your general direction.”

  • weisseharre


  • Lt. Bighorn

    What parent in their right mind would send their kid to a school named after the stupidest man ever to set foot in the Oval Office?
    What’s next?
    The Bonnie and Clyde First National Bank?
    The Tammy Faye Bakker Cosmetology Institute?
    The Richard Cheney Marksmanship Academy?

  • Lt. Bighorn

    What parent in their right mind would send their kid to a school named after the stupidest man ever to set foot in the Oval Office?
    What’s next?
    The Bonnie and Clyde First National Bank?
    The Tammy Faye Bakker Cosmetology Institute?
    The Richard Cheney Marksmanship Academy?

  • margaret

    In the past, the prevalent images were the flags waving in the background, with the Great Leader standing in front. The chaos of the many small flags, the jumble, with the Great Leader swamped, as it were, by them is what caught my eye. “Patriotism,” indeed.

  • jt from BC

    We may be observing the tale side but note those big ears standing up with dark eyes looking backward, is this subliminal Rovian humour ?

  • jt from BC

    George Walker Bush’s flag fury, Kim Jon-il eat your heart out.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Must be a female elephant.

  • Rafael

    You know, the first thing I learned about elephants is that they stink…really stink, you can smell them from miles away. If you are ever near a circus or zoo with elephants, that musky, haven’t wash in a million year smell is the smell of elephants.
    The fact that we see the rear of one is a sign that while they might be going away, the stench will remain and they will probably crap big loads of doodo on their way out.

  • Keir

    Eh, I don’t buy it.
    So what if the Republican party is crumbling (and, unfortunately, it ain’t even)…? Whatsa difference? Someone above linked to another image of an elephant from a NYT article. Read the article. What a convergence! What do angry elephants do when backed into a corner? They trample everything in sight.
    I really think we need to stop gloating over the apparent implosion of one of the two corporate-sponsored business parties in the US (the other one having imploded years ago), and focus on more pressing issues. The NYT article suggests (unwittingly) how horrendous our situation is on this planet.
    Sure it looks like that criminal thug GWB is dwarfed by all them flags, but no doubt a certain fascist dictator from last century felt small every once in a while next to all that heiling.

  • Rafael

    As for the flags: Is this communist China? Is this what left of the Republican Cultural Revolution?
    Something like this:

  • limapup

    The implosion of the Republican Party must be recogninez openly – no more skeletons in the closet. Time to wash the American flag until politics have been fumigated in DC.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    the present through a rear-view mirror: marching backwards into the future.”

  • readytoblowagasket

    I keep thinking about this TIME cover. My first response was laughter. The message is very facile. Then, that facileness made me crabby (TIME always makes me crabby), because I thought it was the easy joke, the lowest-common-denominator humor. And it is, especially with the implied reference to bodily functions in the cover blurb, “What a Mess.”
    Giving the image even more time to “sit” (sorry), I now think it’s rather brave, at least relative to the Bush-whipped (sorry again) American media (I promised myself I would not add the word “circus” after “media”). The cover is *SO* minimalist that you can’t escape the in-your-face effect of its simplicity. Considering the American media’s abject ass-kissing during these last six years, I actually have to give TIME credit after all. Whether or not the American voters are going to rise in revolt in November (and they are going to) matters as much as the long-awaited revolt of the MSM depicted on this cover. I do think The BAG is right when he says, “In the elephant’s blasphemous about face, I believe Karl Rove’s ability to fundamentally influence and control America’s visual politics has also come to an end.” Like a rebellious teenager, TIME seems also to be saying the Republicans are exiting the media’s center stage.
    Keir, I appreciate your critique about the corporate-sponsored control of both parties in this country. But before we can even fix that, we must break the monopolizing stranglehold by *just one party* of all three branches of the U.S. government. I don’t think it’s accurate to say the Republican Party is “imploding” either. But I do think the Neocon yes-men in Congress are toast. Many Republicans are *beside themselves* about the Neocons, and without help from old-school conservatives, the Democrats still would not be able to break the stranglehold this November. I think some Democrats are going to lose their jobs too, so we’ll have to see what the power shift means. Will the world be a better place by December? Depends if you think no nuclear war with Iran makes the world a better place. Of course I want more, but I want that most urgently.

  • Doctor Jay

    Hmm, readytoblowagasket, you’ve hit something. Instead of kissing the hindquarters of the elephant, Time put it on the cover. In hi-res detail. Sort of a “We kissed that???!! What were we thinking?!” moment.

  • Doctor Jay

    Besides the obvious scatalogical reference, the elephant also makes me think of my favorite term for people like Hastert, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Cheney, etc. Jackass. Braying fools. If only there were something associated with elephants. Pachass, the trumpeting fool?

  • floopmeister

    The Bonnie and Clyde First National Bank?
    The Tammy Faye Bakker Cosmetology Institute?
    The Richard Cheney Marksmanship Academy?
    Regarding the (ironic?) naming of a school after Bush, I reckon I can top that for an inappropriate/ironic naming of a something after a public figure. We have a swimming pool in Melbourne that’s called the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Pool.
    Click here to see the irony…

  • Mad_nVT

    Whoa— folks are already counting the Bush/Rove team out. To paraphrase Aesop: “Don’t count your turds until they’re compost.”
    That Time photo looks to me like Karl Rove’s ass, he just dropped a big flop on our head. He’s still moving forward, while we’re here steaming under his big Turdblossom.
    By no means should Bush be counted out, he isn’t cowering in DC or Crawford. He is out raising more money, and talking trash to good Americans.
    Rove has plenty of time and ammunition, we can be sure that there will be more surprises. Was that a nuclear test in North Korea? Is there going to be a terror alert in your hometown? Will Rove play the fear-card, and will he be successful with it. Yes; and “yes-enough” to hold the Congress.
    Dems offer nothing as an alternative. “Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t.” We know what Bush/Rove stand for (turds on our heads). We don’t know what Dems stand for.

  • jawbone

    Keir @ 11:53AM–Just read the Sunday Times magazine article you linked to, about the breakdown in social order among elephants and the unnaturally violent behavior of many young males (which included raping and killing rhinos!)–thought about the Time cover immediately and the breakdown in ethical and social order among the Republican office holders, political staffers, and lobbyists.
    I saw a sort of blowback from Nature among the elephants. Cause of of the metaphorical elephants dysfunction is more on the order of power corrupting.

  • ummabdulla

    It’s a great image – clear, simple, and you get the point exactly even with no text.
    But this elephant seems to be lumbering away slowly, of its own accord, as if it’s tired and worn out. The Republicans – if they do as poorly as expected – are being forced out with a big kick in the behind.
    Also, it’s as if the elephant is wandering off into the night, never to be seen again. But even if the Republicans lose control of the House (and the Senate, which is less likely), it’s not as if they’re disappearing altogether. They’ll still be there, and in a few more years, attitudes will change, and voters will get disillusioned with another set of politicians, and they’ll be back in control.
    And the cover seems to express mourning – all black and stark.

  • Cactus

    I’ll say it again…….don’t count out bushcheneyroverumsfeld just yet. They don’t care what we think or what TIME and the MSM prints or televises. They will continue to do what they want to do. And don’t forget that this year almost everybody in the country will be voting on machines owned by their diehard supporters that can be tampered with by a ten-year-old child. And most of them probably have already been tampered with. The size of the miracle it would take to turn the congress over to the democrats would make all the apocalypse believers salivate. Just like all those ‘errant republican congrespersons’ scampered back into the fold for the torture amendment, the religious base will scamper back to ODL at the last minute, giving just enough of the illusion of a total victory that they can claim a ‘mandate’ once again. And if they have some ‘terrist’ plot planned to explode, it won’t even be close.

  • ummabdulla

    You do have to wonder about an “October surprise” if they believe they’re going to do so badly…

  • readytoblowagasket

    “Dems offer nothing as an alternative.”
    They don’t have to. At least not for the House midterms, which amount to local races. Since we last looked at this:
    “Democrats lead Republicans in 11 of 15 crucial races in the November 7 election to decide which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.”
    Six months ago, the Washington Post would have turned that sentence around to say:
    “Out of 15 crucial races in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republicans still lead the Democrats in 4 of those races, thereby maintaining majority control of Congress at least until 2008.”
    Apparently, Newton’s First Law of Motion can also apply to politics:
    Democrats = The Juggernaut of Inertia.

  • Aunt Deb

    Oh, I don’t think it’s so brave of Time to run this cover. Piling on is what the media does best, especially if they can do it with a bit of a giggle, as though they just couldn’t help themselves, you know. Perhaps if they had run a cover that showed dead Iraqi civilians with their arms cut off with the caption “What a mess — why the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis may cause the Republicans to lose their stranglehold on the US government”, we might call the Times folks brave. Perhaps.
    I also think that the caption is odd. Not the what a mess part. The stuff about tawdry sex and the end of the Republican revolution. As far as I’m concerned, the Republican revolution in this country’s governance was to make tawdry sex the most important measure of a politician’s performance (okay, I know, but if Time can do it, so can I). Seems to me that the response to the Foley affair makes it clear this part of the revolution is not going to become a comma in our history. Unfortunately.

  • jt from BC

    Jon Stewart on Comedy Central gets it.
    First, great graphics of ‘The Nuke Kid On The Block’ then MSM clips of information/dissemination about the 99% of the unknowables, which Rumsfeld had perfected in his prize 13 word winning “known and unknowable unknowns…” comedy routine about Iraq in 2004.
    By weeks end I suspect the MSM production/addiction will rise to 99.9 % as more experts weight in, which should result in greater anxiety and fear, for those who aren’t laughing.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes