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August 18, 2008

Russia Resurgent: One Side Of The Same Coin


Time-3 3 03

I’m not making excuses for the Russians, but I am interested in double-standards.

The first cover is from this week’s Economist.  The second is the March 3, 2003 TIME cover preceding the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  The main distinction here is that the TIME cover, in spite of what Hans Blix had to say, completely overlooks any ramifications of a massive invasion and occupation of a sovereign Persian Gulf nation, the only tension in the illustration involving whether the man incarnated as Uncle Sam feels like doing it or not.

On the other hand, in a wonderful example of visual hyperbole, TIME The Economist depicts Putin unleashing the full weight and force of the Russian army (notice the buildings on the lower left) based primarily on damage to two apartment blocks in the Georgian city of Gori.  (And then, when it comes to visual balance, I don’t think anyone got to see where these ended up after the Georgians fired them into South Ossetia.)

It is instructive to note the role of the visual media in dramatizing the trauma around the two Georgian structures, using different camera angles — as well as the emotional quality of the color pink — to create such a sense of cataclysm that the structures actually might merit juxtaposition with the attack capability of the entire Russian military.

You’ll notice The BAG itself was drawn to this dramatic imagery showing French foreign minister Kurshner in front of one of the damaged pink structures.  Joining the parade was also the LAT, The Guardian, The NYT, The Telegraph, ABC, and AOL (video), among others.


I have to emphasize, I’m not condoning the Russian aggression in Gori, especially given the abandonment of the city, and the death of a handful of people, including a Dutch cameraman.  What I am doing, however, is calling attention to the hypocrisy and gross asymmetry between the Russian behavior in Georgia and American’s staggering incursion into Iraq.  I mean, isn’t the contradiction itself largely responsible for the Russian muscle flexing in the first place?

Of course, to really put the Gori shock-and-awe in perspective, one could always compare it with the March 31st, ‘03 TIME edition of this popular American fireworks show.

(h/t: Miles)

(image 1 & 2: unattributed. image 3: Ramzi Haidar for TIME)

  • Toe Tag

    That’s the Economist, not Time, with the Putin cover. Time’s cover this week (the Euro edition, anyway) has a picture of a Russian tanker on it, with the headline “How to Stop a New Cold War,” a lead-in for Zbig Brzezinski’s screed on The Bear Is Back.

  • WorldAsUnwill

    One thought immediately came to mind when I saw the Economist cover: World War 2 propaganda. The image looks almost frighteningly much like the propaganda posters from the Second World War. It’s a fearful picture to be sure.
    And also: am I the only one who thinks that Putin looks vaguely like Lenin here? I think it’s the costume.

  • Ti molo

    Can you expand on the significance of the color? Besides providing brightness what emotions are viewers suppose to feel?

  • steve

    … all in for election-year-fear-mongering.
    Oh, please
    handsome maverick
    ride in
    on tamed cougar
    save us all,
    These images make us feel weak and defensive.
    The way the art lies on TE cover, the movement is headed West.
    WAU – ya, the thumb under the lapel is cut & paste Lenin.

  • bystander

    Possible Correction???

    in a wonderful example of visual hyperbole, TIME The Economist depicts Putin unleashing the full weight and force of the Russian army (notice the buildings on the lower left)

  • The BAG

    Although color psychology is highly subjective, especially in a cross-cultural context, I do subscribe to the idea that the color pink has associations that often are connected with empathy and health.
    I don’t offer these couple lines from as definitive, but instead indicative of the thinking on the dynamics of the color:

    Pink induces feelings of calm, protection, warmth and nurture. This color can be used to lessen irritation and aggression as it is connected with feelings of love. Red is sometimes associated with sexuality, whereas pink is associated with unselfish love.

    Short of a deeper investigation into the psychological literature, I do feel the color of these buildings heighten their centrality in counterpoint to the Russian aggression.
    The color matrix at wikipedia under the term “color symbolism and psychology,” by the way, also emphasizes an association to health.  I find the color off-putting myself, but there has to be some reason Pepto, a 100 year old product, uses a colarant to make it that intense pink color.

  • Rafael

    Hurray for our side?

  • T Moynihan

    Nice evocation of Lenin on the Economist cover. I thought Putin’s pose looked familar. Try Google Images on “Lenin” and see how many you find in sculpture and canvas. Artwork with this pose seems to have been from the WW II era; the only canvas I could find with a name for the painting was a Vietamese version titled, “Lenin on the Tribune”

  • Asta

    After reading all the comments, I feel rather ashamed for thinking that Putin reminds me of the new James Bond, Daniel Craig.
    All that cold, steely-eyed stuff and all. Ruthlessness. Get the Job Done.

  • Kit (Keep It Trill)

    I agree; the hypocrisy is a shock ‘n awe to one’s senses.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    The Economist cover uses styling cues we associate with Stalinst-era artworks from the Soviet Union, roughly Russian Revolution through The Great Patriotic War. What is “menacing” / offensive (from EAST to WEST) to the West may seem “defensive” / responsible to the Comintern mythology of “a besieged Workers’ Paradise” nascent State, fwiw.
    With a similar genesis, (1917) the Time Magazine cover uses styling cues from J.M. Flagg’s Uncle Sam patriotic poster-art, itself based upon the original recruiting poster created by British Lord Kitchener three years earlier. Again, this medium : message was also employed as a visual means to manufacture consent through World War II.
    What’s interesting (to me) is that the Totalitarian directs a plural, “collective” mobilization of Us! (or, Them! as the case = POV may be) to action; while the Unitary Executive of the USA demands a personal, “singular” mobilization / surrender of You! or, your self to ME = US, with the conceit implicit Royale that: l’Etat, c’est moi!

  • MonsieurGonzo

    billmon : “Since when, I wondered, had the United States bound itself in a collective defense pact with Stalin’s birthplace?
    1984 : “Midway through the book the alliance breaks apart and Oceania, newly allied with Eurasia, begins a campaign against Eastasian forces; Oceania and Eastasia are enemies once again. The public is quite abnormally blind to the change, and when a public orator ~ in mid-sentence ~ changes the name of the enemy from Eurasia to Eastasia, (still speaking as if nothing had changed), the people are shocked and soon enraged as they notice all the flags and banners are wrong. This is the origin of the idiom :We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” Later on, The Party claims to have captured India. As with all other news, its authenticity is questionable.
    Orwell… explains that ‘The War’, apparent is unwinnable, and that its only purpose is to use up human labour in meaningless endeavour, destroy fruits of their labours; and by ‘War Powers’, apparent enable the Unitary Executive in perpetuity, thus.

  • travc

    In defense of the Economist, I’m sure they assume their readers get the obvious references and put the image into context (actually, the context is the point). It isn’t propaganda, it is a reference to propaganda. I’m sure the connection to the flap over the recent New Yorker cover is obvious.

  • Joe the Dog Lover

    We took our eye off the ball (Afghanistan) and blew it.

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