Time Magazine banality of puff

Dead presidentBagNewsNotes drew my attention to the cover of a recent Time Magazine, a posterized image of Iranian President Mahmmud Ahmadinejad. The photo was manipulated reminiscent of OJ’s mug being darkened for sinister effect.
Readers commented on Ahmadinejad being made a cartoon, or a throwback to student movement political posters. I’d put it back further. I think the photo editors at Time are after a tin-type look, suggesting the Islamic Revolution is profoundly backward, belonging to the century before last perhaps.

The composition of the picture, particularly the woodgrainish, oddly insufficient backdrop behind Ahmadinejad’s head, reminds me of the post-mortem photographs of dead outlaws in the American West. Pictures of the outlaws brought to justice, laid out semi-vertically against their wood-box coffins, were circulated in the old west to publicize their successful apprehension. This provided proof for everyone to see with their own eyes that a feared outlaw was dead.

Add to Ahmadinejad’s resemblance the dark hair and beard and I think this Time cover emulates a photograph made iconic in Latin America at least, spread around by our government as a warning to others: the Dead Che Guevara.

How do you suppose the Time editors excuse themselves for their art direction whim? Do they think readers will accept it as fair that one personage be accorded an intimate portrait on the cover of Time, and yet another receives a editorialized visage?

The editors at Time can’t expect their readers to remain naive for much longer. I’m encouraged by the trend in children’s TV cartoons to mock the manipulation toolbag of media artists. The cliche of Bambi Eyes for example is mocked from Spongebob to Jimmy Neutron. They make obvious the deliberate use of caricatured expressions when they are being manipulative. Our children’s media literacy will be greatly enhanced and Time’s techniques will have to become more sophisticated.

I had a chance to peruse a copy of this issue at the dentist’s. Further inside is a profile of one of the marines, The Face of Haditha, on trial for a possible war crime in Haditha. Shooting 24 Iraqi civilians, some of them at point blank range. Sargeant Frank Wuterich speaks out, the headline reads, “for the very first time.” The layout features a large picture of Wuterich on the left and a brief bio and interview on the right. Let me cut to the meat of the article, Wuterich is not permitted by his lawyer to say anything about what happened at Haditha except that he believes with incredulity that the actions of he and his comrades were within their legal rules of engagement. Wuterich also ponders innocently why he has not been asked more by the military investigators about what happened at Haditha. Thus, Time Inc has slipped us two items: the suggestion of innocence, and the suggestion that the prosecutors are not after the truth.

Take a look at the photograph. Sargeant Frank Wuterich stands with his arms crossed in frank honesty. He’s got big brown eyes and he’s addressing us squarely, looking like our paperboy come to collect our subscription. He’s young, attractive as American Pie, with big doe eyes. He’s got a partially concealed tattoo on his forearm and in the article we read he has several. One tattoo he was reluctant to show the photographer, we’re told, is of a dagger skewering severed fingers and eyeballs, his wife “doesn’t like that one so much.”

On the issue’s back page is a whimsical article by book reviewer Lev Grossman defending himself against blogger Edward Champion who has been picking on him. Grossman’s piece is an honest rebuttal to a difference of opinion, but he ends it with the usual dismissal columnists use to trump their blogger counterparts, “at least I’m getting paid to write this.”

Paid by whom Mr. Grossman? By a media conglomerate which is distorting the news to an audience of readers less culturally savvy than a common child? Good for you.