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October 16, 2011

The New Frankness

While people are busy debating the mid- and long-range prospects of the Occupy movement, it’s evident to me that it has already shifted the visual tone, tenor and menu within the editorial environment. All of a sudden, I’m seeing quite a bit more pictorial coverage of poverty and economic schism in the traditional media — and in those images, I’m also seeing more rawness, more bite.

Regarding the example above, if the progressive media is still bearing down on much the same set of issues and political dynamics that have been on the table for some time, I also sense — in the phrasing and visual analogy — a sharper and harder edge. Like most other granular observers of FUBAR Washington (too often described in milquetoast terms — such as “gridlock” — that I’m hoping to see go out the window), I wasn’t shocked at all to see Obama’s jobs bill go down in flames last week. What did shock me a bit, though, was how the event seemed to hardly register in the midst of this tonal shift after 44 had invested so much fresh capital in it. Just like the passivity and the public’s “make-like-a-lemming” instincts are coming off now in the streets, editorial photographers and political illustrators are picking up the beat. To that end, the representation of “killing,” the depiction of head down thuggery and the conjuring of drowning the government in a bathtub in not just reflective of “the new frankness” but helps to convey, more by way of the gut, that violence being perpetrated on our democratic systems and mechanisms is hardly a metaphor.

(Illustration: Tomer Hanuka)

  • Philipdperdue

    Thanks Michael, for another concise read. We also notice the GOP in the top right corner — MJ making a more (not-so-) subtle swipe against corporatist “job creator rhetoric.” Within the rules of graphic design and eyeline directives, this cover reads: “GOP, cruel, job killers.”

    • guest

      Yes, great reads. The elephant, for me, is unfortunate precisely because it works to reinforce the focus on Republicans. “Smart and fearless” would have been to include an ass in the circus!

  • Gasho

    Thank you, Michael!!  Even without demands being clear, it’s good to see that OWS is having a “shifting” effect on media and the national conversation.  It’s about time we got real about the harshness that is out there – and I see echoes in this imagery that not only speak of violent tactics on the way to a smaller government — I see WATERBOARDING coming up as an UNRESOLVED NATIONAL ISSUE.

  • Anonymous

    Note that American democracy is being destroyed by three white men in business suits. You know, like the banksters, all but two of the Republican presidential candidates, the Republican talking torsos we see on television every day. I think the elephant in the corner is a good touch, Guest.

    • David

      Interesting that you see three white men. To me, it seemed that the man in the middle might be intended to represent the President – similar haircut, and the large ears resemble Obama’s as they are often caricatured in political cartoons

  • tinwoman

    Excellent,excellent image, correctly framing the small government fanatics as unpatriotic and treasonous.  I love it.  The image also brings up the question, if you drown government, then who is going the drowning?  This shows us who.

  • thomas

    Yeah, great image and read. And I can’t really recall another instance of Norquist’s graphic description appearing in such an appropriately graphic form. It’s such an accepted mantra at this point, and representative of such a catalogue of right wing violence and anti-democracy sentiment, that it’s sort of a relief to see it openly—-and frankly—acknowledged.

    Conservative corporate culture has had such a hammerlock on the conversation for so long that even Mother Jones wouldn’t have run this cover in 2004. You’re right. OWS has helped redistrict the discourse.

  • glenn

    Evokes waterboarding, too.

  • glenn

    Evokes waterboarding, too.

  • Tim J Luddy

    Michael, as the creative director of Mother Jones, and the person who art directed this cover, I can confirm your assessment that this imagery is coming as a response to worsening social and economic conditions; but I would say that they have been ongoing, and precede the recent Occupy events. Tomer Hanuka completed this illustration in mid-September. The ‘drown the government in the bathtub’ quote which inspired this particular imagery came from Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a document written in 1986 that commits politicians to oppose “any and all efforts to increase taxes,” and which, as of this writing, all of the GOP hopefuls except for Jon Hunstman have signed. Also, while it’s been the conventional wisdom that dark or violent imagery doesn’t appeal to newsstand buyers, we’ve been finding for awhile that that isn’t always the case for us. Our “Vampire Economy” cover (March/April 2011), depicting a Bela Lugosi type vampire and a female ‘Uncle Sam’ victim post-bloodsucking, has done rather well. Not coincidentally, the related cover story contained a set of charts and tables on the theme of Income Inequality; one of them, depicting the average US household income of the bottom 99% versus the top 1%, has been reproduced and distributed at Occupy events in several cities. Again, the vampire cover imagery came directly from the conditions that the charts show, and that the Occupy events are seeking to call attention to.

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