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February 25, 2014

Netanyahu Gives Merkel Hitler’s Mustache. Or: How Photos So Easily and Often Remind Us of Other Things

It’s easy to get all theoretical about this marvelous object known as the photograph. Simply put though, one of its wonders has to do with its tendency to call up related pictures from that encyclopedic storehouse known as the brain. In the case of today’s Merkel/Netanyahu photo by Yoav Lemmer, people couldn’t help tweeting (and cleverly riffing with vivid word play) because of the drop dead A to B relationship.

Yes, sometimes the connection between one visual and another is so blatant, it commandeers our mental hard drive in connecting the dots. The pieces in play around that “mustache” are just too rich here – given the behavior of a shadow in combination with the presence of the Israeli Prime Minister, the German Chancellor and the infamy of that lip ornament. Of course, what raises the photo to “epic” is everything ironic that gets baked in also:  the fact Bibi is projecting a Hitler vibe on a comparatively low alpha German chancellor, and a female one to boot. The fact Merkel’s gaze and profile is in the ballpark too. And the fact that Bibi, being his usual imposing self with that digit, is continuously evoking the Holocaust … and stands for nothing if not the triumph of the will.

Because photos are often as significant for what they remind us of as for what they contain, Netanyahu turning Merkel into Hitler reminded me of a photo link that pulsed through my synapses just last night. How idiosyncratic vs. culturally relevant it is, you’ll have to let me know.

In this case, the photo circulated by joint American-Mexican narco security about the major, major arrest of major, major Mexican drug kingpin, Joaquín Guzmán Loera on Friday, instantly reminded me of another photo, a hugely infamous one.

Certainly, its rare to encounter as single, clear and near-ubiquitous a reference as the Merkel Hitler photo did — at least, not so accidentally. The rest of the time, photos — like prisms — dole out a spray of associations, weaker or stronger depending on what’s in your “encyclopedia” as compared to mine. One part of The Bag’s mission, in fact, is to look at those connections trying to discern their cultural implications. Because this realm is so suggestive, however, the best we can do is draw some lines, and and then compare notes.

Of course, any similarity between the detention of “El Chapo” and that of alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Muhammed, might be as incidental as how one presents to the camera after being rousted out of bed by a SWAT team.  To me, though, the first thing the drug lord picture did was call up the other.  The association to “terrorist” might not be as culturally sure as that shadow said “mustache,” and then the “mustache” said “Hitler,” but it hit me just as fast.

(update: there is a very slightly different version of the Merkel image by Jerusalem Post photographer Marc Sellem which you can see here. This post originally attributed the photo to Sellem.)

(photo 1: Yoav Lemmer for/AFP/Getty Images. photo 2: LATimes.com screenshot via handout. photo 3: EPA)

  • black_dog_barking

    Both of the newly captured outlaw leaders are camera-captured in a moment they had to have thought about a lot, thoughts I’m sure they suppressed as quickly as they could: namely, that moment when the powerful forces tracking them down finally show up. The life change they worked so hard to avoid has ceased to be avoidable.

    It looks like each was roused from deep sleep and appears that each has just realized that sleep is over, that this nightmare moment is not a dream, that the life they know is over. Their mustaches may help the pattern matching of our subconscious close the loop but I suspect the disheveled hair and utterly bewildered countenances play a bigger role. These guys are looking at the mother of all bad hair days.

    • Jerry

      There’s another issue here. Both of these people have been painted by our leaders and press as larger than life supervillians. You’d half expect them to be dressed in Spandex and shooting rays out of their eyes. It’s a shock when you see them as just human beings having a very bad day.

  • mcquiggle

    I’ve squinted around at the first photo long enough to give up trying, any analogy to Hitler is a mental stretch and a function of an isolationist, hermetically sealed pop-culture which does a profound disservice to its citizenry by refusing to connect with & learn about events and people in the modern world (unless an armed conflict or a natural disaster is happening)

    Actually I’d add a refusal to look deeper into problems of modern and historical genocide & human right abuses worldwide as well, instead pinning all evil above the monster’s gallows before whistling homeward, absolved and blind.

  • Scarabus

    Seriously! I was struck first by the mustache. Then I thought of how, as part of every examination, my ophthalmologist has me follow his finger with my eyes. We always see new stuff through the filters of previous stuff we’ve seen. I had an appointment with the ophthalmologist just two weeks ago, so for me that particular filter is still strong.

  • Ian T

    I think it’s interesting that many tweets and articles headlined the mustache photo as “Photo of the year!” It’s just one more example of how spoof and LOL culture has overtaken actual news on the internet.

    • pbgd

      Nonsense. Hitler only had a tiny toothbrush-size mustache just under his nose.

  • Wolfenotes

    Why does it look like the shadow mustache is bent at a greater angle than the finger?

    • Colin Nicholls

      Because Merkel’s face is three-dimensional.

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