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January 23, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Eerie “Skeleton Photo” of the French Soldier in Mali


Juju or Ju-Ju is a word of either West African or French origin[1] used previously by Europeans to describe the traditional West African religions.[2] Today it refers specifically to objects, such as amulets, and spells used superstitiously as part of witchcraft in West Africa.

Juju has acquired some karmic attributes in more recent times. Good juju can stem from almost any good deed: saving a kitten, or returning a lost book. Bad juju can be spread just as easily. These ideas revolve around the luck and fortune portions of juju. The use of juju to describe an object usually involves small items worn or carried; these generally contain medicines produced by witch doctors.

– from Juju Wikipedia entry

According to the backstory at AFP, the way this photo came into being is innocent enough. There was a dust storm and the French soldiers in Niono, in central Mali, grabbed whatever they could to protect their faces.

The thing is, however – and we’ve address this pretty consistently here as its become ever more relevant – there’s a universe of difference now between the content and context of the image on the ground once its been swept into the swirling winds of the combined media and social media sphere.

That is why the French military freaked out when it saw Mr. Call of Duty (1, 2)  on their desktops. Once a picture like this goes viral, military public affairs might just as well go into hiding, so great is the power of a resourceful sand-aversion maneuver to suddenly attach a badass, gangster, video game braggadocio to the best laid plans of the former colonialists as they take on Al Qaeda offspring in the north of the African continent. Call it social media juju.

Good luck.

(photo: Issouf Sanogo / AFP – Getty Images caption: A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask stands next to a tank in a street in Niono, Mali..)

  • LanceThruster

    So the problem is steely-eyed killers looking like steely-eyed killers? Combat infantry is generally not babysitting.

  • i.boskone

    The flip-side of this is the not infrequent sarcastic commentary about UN peace-keeping troops looking ‘adorable’ wearing their ‘baby blue’ headgear. And certainly among the US armed forces, official insignia with death’s heads, devils, demons etc are now forbidden. I’m also pretty sure the scarf in that picture is civilian snowboard gear.

  • i.boskone

    It’s not the first, or only, time an active duty soldier has worn a similar accessory -

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