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January 12, 2007

Your Turn: Bugle Boy


(larger version here)

Talk about a fruitful time for images.

Because … there are literally a half-dozen incredible pictures on my desktop, all so desperate for attention that I can hardly choose; the week wore me out a little bit; the BAG discussion threads have been on fire, and I always want to make more room for you… once again, our trusty stimulus, The Economist, rides to the rescue (if you can take one more post about Bugle Boy).

Silly at first, I think the construction and the layer of messaging in this illustration is just fabulous.  Having spent some time looking at this, there seems to be a good eight or nine separate visual tidings transmitted here about the facts, political dynamics and shifting perceptions of the war.  So, I leave this to you, the BNN cavalry.

Before I ride out, however, I wanted to endorse a sentiment expressed in the threads this week.

I know a lot of you — especially new visitors — have been enjoying the commentary and the discussion here, but have been hesitant to jump in.  Because many of the “regulars” have been around for a while, are pretty familiar each other, and have pretty sharp eyes, I can see how that might raise the bar.  Still, with the good spirit, along with the respect for the subjective, and the love of the “aha” moment we all bring to our project here, the more ideas, voices and new friends (if also, occasional sparring partners), the better.

(illustration: unattributed. The Economist.  January 13 – 19, 2007.  Cover)

  • Rafar

    The first thing that I noted was that there isn’t actually an enemy in the picture. presumably there is one from the incoming fire, but who they are is hidden.
    Other things that I noted, ethnic mix of the soldiers (I assume that is a Mexican at the front on the curiously red horse) and is it just me or is Uncle Sam sitting on a donkey? Also, those uniforms imply either civil war or Injun killin’ times don’t they?
    As for that Wide-eyed “What the hell is he doing” expression on the audience’s faces, priceless…

  • PTate in FR

    Rich imagery, indeed. I had three immediate responses: The first was that Bush is all by himself in a rut. The second was an impression of “Custer’s Last Stand” and the last was the recollection of a poem I memorized when I was a child, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, by Alfred Lord Tennyson:
    “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
    Was there a man dismay’d?
    Not tho’ the soldier knew
    Someone had blunder’d:
    Their’s not to make reply,
    Their’s not to reason why,
    Their’s but to do and die:
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.”
    Both Custer & the Charge of the Light Brigade were controversial. In both cases, leadership failed and soldiers died for nothing.

  • demit

    I saw the Custer allusion too, but on top of that (or under it) I saw two references to Bush as lightweight: his love of dressing up in military costume, and his past as cheerleader. And, as the illustration shows, the breathtaking reality is that he even fails as a cheerleader.
    I also love the illustrator’s attention to that curiously obscene nose Bush has.

  • Ksue

    George is in this alone. Even his “base” is refusing to step off the cliff with him.
    Even his horse thinks he’s certifiable.
    And if you go with the symbology of head=ego and horse=personal power … George’s head is twice as big as his horse’s.
    What bugs me the most every day, is how this nation has allowed a giant, psychotic ego to drag us all into this war and keep us there.

  • LQM

    This is my first post at the Bag, but I’ve been lurking for some time.
    What I noticed first in this image was the jutting spires and plateaus in the distance, which mark the setting of this battle charge as Utah, Nevada, Arizona, or another western/southwestern section of the US. Taken together with the title, it seems the road to Baghdad begins in the heartland of America, which had always been solid Bush territory before. But as always, the President is unaware that the battlefront has been pushed back and he continues kamikaze-like to press ahead.
    Extending this metaphorical reading, the explosions and bullets could represent the eruption of scandals and reinvigroated opposition of the American public to Bush’s policies (especially after his last TV address), making it a farcical scene in which the President is so tied down fighting his own countrymen that Iraq never really makes it into the picture.
    The donkeys carrying Uncle Sam and the multi-ethnic Americans, and by extension the rest of the country, have clearly drawn the line (unless that horse the Prez is riding is really just Joe Lieberman spooked that he has carried Bush’s water a little too long!). Perhaps the many ethnicities represented in the American contingent are a reference to the Pentagon’s recent offer of immediate citizenship for immigrants who sign up with the military?
    And what of that title? This common hitchhiker phrasing so often scrawled in permanent marker on a piece of cardboard reinforces the image of a shabby loner on an idealistic quest, ready to attach himself to anyone going in his direction (not to mention a loner who has likely driven himself to the edge of poverty for his dream).

  • Napalm Dog

    First time posting, although I’ve been a long time viewer…
    I think the picture is slightly misleading as Bush has never shown the willingness to actually ‘lead’ like this. His sole idea of the tern ‘leadership’ is issuing hard commands and orders that demand sacrifice of others while never sacrificing himself.
    I think the picture would be more accurate if he was above and behind the infantry and American public on the hill, which I assume is represted by Uncle Sam on the sitting horse, probably the most powerful statement of the picture, in the background.

  • departed

    the picture gave me an idea the cartoon “George on Bush” Bush will be the horse of course:) that will really get his stocks up

  • mugatea

    Ya, Rafar, and the donkey is also sitting down.
    Perhaps representing the Democratic majority in Congress.
    I was going to say Rove (the surge’n of this folly) is the horse Bush is on,
    but Rove rides Bush when represented as man and horse.
    Word to the tina for coining ‘lurker’ into the Bag lexicon.

  • smiley

    I do believe one of those shells is about to intrude on Dear Leader’s ear canal. Closed casket, for sure. If I had the final edit, I would have penned “IMPEACHMENT” in very very tiny book-antiqua font on the side of that silver bullet.

  • Rafael

    I think Jon Stewart said it best on his show last night when he was talking about the heaping way to many analogies on Bush latest attempt at coherent speech.
    But a few things: Notice that Bush is a) along among the gunfire, b) a few inches (visually) below the rest of his comrades, c) the expression of said comrades, the (“I don’t believe it!) stare clear on their faces.
    Of course, the slings and arrows that George faces are not those of Iraqi insurgents but of both Congress and the American people. A more accurate pic would have Iraqis and other world leaders on the hill while American (perhaps in the form of Native Americans) shooting at the Preznit.

  • The BAG

    A warm welcome to LQM and Napalm Dog, and one or two others, I assume. Sorry for jumping in — it’s my communal instinct (plus, my curiosity about what happened to the handle “PTate in MN.” Has PT moved to France?).
    Regarding the bullets, did anyone notice the trajectory of the one that ricocheted off the ground under the horse? (All that discussion about manhood earlier this week must still be running around in my head.)
    Okay, I’m off again.

  • lettuce

    long time listener, first time caller…
    I just love how his eyes are closed. And while I agree, having Bush among insurgent slings and arrows is overstating his involvement or understanding of this war to great ends — I like that we don’t know who’s doing the firing. Opposition leaders finally in power? American people disapproving of the plan 2 to 1 — and disapproving of him by a greater margin?
    And, again, his eyes are closed. Lovely.

  • bartcopfan

    “I think the picture is slightly misleading as Bush has never shown the willingness to actually ‘lead’ like this. His sole idea of the tern ‘leadership’ is issuing hard commands and orders that demand sacrifice of others while never sacrificing himself.”–Napalm Dog
    Yep, that was my first thought as well. W’s great for “let’s you and him have a fight!”

  • Unbreathless

    Again, a first post for a lurker!
    My only addition to previous analysis is the bullet that is ricocheting off the ground, about to strike the horse in the groin (but not Bush himself). If the horse is the American military operations in Iraq, Bush is riding, and is literally about to kill it with this move, mere seconds from now.
    The bullet may not kill the horse though, and may merely destroy its genitalia. Symbolic of a destruction of power, this move is also potentially embarrassing to the military. They will take the hit for what Bush is about to do. It will suffer the most.

  • Megan

    There is no cover in sight and his allies sure aren’t offering any. Might as well go forward as back; it is all equally bad for him.

  • PTate in FR

    This really is a dandy visual.
    Looking at it again, what struck me this time was the Western cowboy setting when our enemy is in Iraq. Cowboy GWB is leading a charge against the wrong enemy! Also the image stimulates thoughts of the neo-colonial: the white man with his modern weapons (hmm, swords?) invading the land of the primitive red man (hmm, bullets & bombs?).
    And, yes, as of Jan 10, PTate resides in France. My husband and I will be here until Aug 2008, (with multiple trips back home to MN, of course.) I’m washing French bread and cheese down with a cheap bordeaux even as I type this.

  • ummabdulla

    Nice to see some new people…
    Bush and his horse just jumped off the cliff, but can’t persuade anyone to go down with them. Or maybe he’s trying to back up and get out of the way of the bullets.
    I also noticed that the setting was more like the American Southwest than Iraq. And wondered why Bush is portrayed as actually being brave and leading the fight.
    I thought that might be a donkey back there, too, representing Democrats – but I wasn’t sure, because it also looks like the horse.
    PTate’s mention of neo-colonial reminds me of a column I just read by Zbigniew Brzezinski. The last paragraph is:
    “The speech reflects a profound misunderstanding of our era. America is acting like a colonial power in Iraq. But the age of colonialism is over. Waging a colonial war in the post-colonial age is self-defeating. That is the fatal flaw of Bush’s policy.”

  • Lara

    yet another lurker…
    I noticed the imminent castration of the horse as well as the imminent death of GWB as well. And of course the Custer’s Last Stand sort of reference. When I looked at it I thought George’s small, unprotected, steed with no safe place to go represented the ground troops being rode into a bad situation strained and stressed against an invisble enemy. Just as the “insurgency” can melt into the population, the enemy is everywhere and nowhere.

  • Pam

    Actually, this makes me think of F-Troop as well as Custer’s Last Stand.

  • tina

    If this is Custer’s last stand, the enemy has upgraded their firepower quite a bit. Look at those explosions kick up the dirt. Yikes.
    The trouble with Custer’s last stand was that Custer took everybody down with him. There were no U.S. Army survivors, except for a single riderless horse that laid down and hid behind a bush.
    Smart horse. Where’s a bush?

  • Victoria

    An odd image because Bush is in the line of fire – okay, yes, he’s got lots of political fire right now – but, still, this is not someone who puts himself in a soldier’s danger. Never has.
    Because there have been so many visual and verbal references connecting Bush to Custer, I started to project that on this until I realized there were bullets but no arrows.
    And then I saw the clenched eyes. Oh! Right. Willfully blind man calling the bugle sound for a place no one wants to go…not even the horse he rode in on.

  • Mary

    The first thing I noticed, and IMHO it’s still the most significant, is that Bush is out in front – in danger – which is just plain wrong; he should be behind the others – driving them forward into the hail of bullets while he poses for the camera.
    The hat’s wrong, too; it should have a pinwheel twirling around on top.
    I’m seriously convinced that he’s lost in early Alzheimer’s, and that’s no joke.

  • truthseeker

    Is is this cover unusually color-saturated for ‘TheEconomist’? The first thought I had was that old phrase, screw you and the horse you rode in on – only here the horse seems to be the only one that gets it: the surge ain’t gonna giterdone. Uncle Sam and the people (congress?) are holding back, reluctant to fall off the next cliff. Given that the US’s wild west mythos still carries some romantic attractions for some of the EU states, the setting of this ‘commentary’ illustration is understandable. But what I’d like to give them credit for is anticipating the current situation. The people holding back on the cliff could be the congress, not at all willing to go along with the CIC. The reluctant horse, looking terrified, could be the military, including those generals with the balls to stand up to a CIC out of control. The bullets going in all directions and the exploding IED’s are all missing Bush while he charges blindly towards total annihilation. He’s always skated out of trouble before so of course he will this time. All he has to do is blow his horn louder and charge ahead. Never been stopped, ain’t gonna be now.

  • Night Owl

    Another long time lurker jumping into the fray.
    Statues honoring military officers on horseback follow this artistic tradition:
    - Horses with four hooves on the ground represent an officer who served but was not wounded in battle.
    - Horses with three hooves on the ground represent an officer who was wounded in battle but not killed.
    - Horses with only two hooves on the ground represent an officer who was killed in battle.
    With all the recent talk of impeachment, could the Economist be making a larger point about Bush’s political fortunes should he continue on his current course?

  • ummabdulla

    Wow – interesting points by Night Owl, and others. I learn so many interesting things reading BAGnewsnotes…

  • LQM

    Nice try, Night Owl, but you should check your facts first. The number of hooves on the ground means nothing. This is a discredited urban legend:

  • stevelaudig

    Reminds me of a joke which has offensive potential. I’m passing it on. It’s from Pat Robertson. Once upon a time there was an Indian [American], a cowboy and an Arab. The Indian said “once we were many, now we were few.” The Cowboy said “once we were few, now we are many.” The Arab said “once we were many and now we are many.” To which the Cowboy said, “that’s because we ain’t play “Cowboys and Arabs” yet.”
    George W[orst] Bush.

  • Karma

    Yet another lurker here. For me, the most telling thing is the way Dubya hasn’t got his hands on the reins..

  • Ti Molo

    How many of you have read the article inside the magazine supporting bush?
    Another example of the admin and its supporters controling the debate with distraction. We are talking about the cartoon on the cover while inside the “surge”, the actual topic, is being supported.
    “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… get fooled again.”

  • Night Owl

    Snopes found exceptions to this ‘myth’ by running around an American city (DC) counting hooves, and concluded that just because some of the statues the didn’t fit the pattern, there is no artistic convention at all.
    But as I’m sure you’re aware, the Economist is a British magazine, and according to at least one person in London, who did his own quick analysis of European equestrian miltiary statues, the pattern does appear to hold pretty consistently there.
    My guess is that there is indeed a ‘horse hooves’ artistic convention which began in Europe but was not as strictly adhered to when it was imported to the States. This would fit the traditional pattern, from Noah Webster to the present, of Americans skepticism toward European cultural conventions. (I would point out, however, that all of the Gettysburg statutes DO follow this convention, which makes sense considering how important the outcome of the battle was in discouraging Eurpeans to intervene on the side of the Confederacy.)
    Yet in the end, whether there are exceptions to the ‘horse hooves’ rule, or even a rule itself, is not really the point. What is important is that, as you point, so many people (perhaps the cover artist him/herself?) believe it to exist.
    So here, the inherent symbolism of the dead officer on two hooves remains powerful regardless whether there is actually a hard and fast sculptor’s rule – although as I say I still believe there is one.

  • daveminnj

    does anybody else see yosemite sam (from
    the great bugs bunny cartoons)? reality
    is not in the least bit funny- but look at the devolution of bush’s cowboy image
    from the plainspeakin tobacco chewin texan into the pint-sized rootinest tootinest outlaw that has ever………
    and always ends up getting shot out of a cannon.
    bush’s idiocy, corruption, bullying
    and sanctimoniousness has not mortally
    damaged his standing (wish it had, but hasn’t really).
    this image of him as a puny blowhard could.

  • Bushtit

    Bush is going it alone in more ways than one. And I thought the “Mexican” was actually an Iraqi, looking on in mixed horror. He really doesn’t want to go along with Bush’s plans. It’s Bush’s last stand. He’s rallying his troops, but the “troops” aren’t cooperating. There’s fire ahead, but he’s going to foolishly press forward. The horse (the military) has his eye’s wide open, and is considering “cutting and running.” Bush is the monkey on his back. The commander in chief has dodged bullets up to now, but it appears the bullets are going to hit their mark this time. And by the looks of the sun’s rays, they’re an allusion to the sun setting on GWB’s presidency.

  • erthman

    In my humble opinion, the person referred to as Iraqi or Mexican, is no doubt Teddy Roosevelt, of former Rough Riders fame and our former President.

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