Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Enduring Power of Images (or Is This the Return of Dr. Strangelove?) Open Thread

The cafe next to the gallery was playing "Ask" by the Smiths the other day, and I as hummed along it struck me how anachronistic the lyrics seemed:

If it's not Love
Then it's the Bomb
Then it's the Bomb
That will bring us together

"Huh," I thought. "I forgot about 'the bomb.' How incredibly large that used to loom in my imagination/fears/concerns." (Yes, I think in slash-separated serials) "But now? It almost seems quaint."

Indeed with the rise of less high-tech terrorism and the exposure of just how hyperbolic BushCo's warnings about Baghdad-originating mushroom clouds over American cities turned out to be, the threat from "the bomb" seems rather diminished or at least much less immediate than it used to. Even with fears that Iran is working on one and those already existing in Pakistan might fall into extremists' hands, if forced to rank what I saw as the most scary threats at the moment, the bomb comes rather far down the line (after global warming, virus pandemics, mass transit terrorist attacks, and Ron Paul as president [just kidding...don't send me hate mail]).

That's why I was taken by surprise to see just how alarmed I was by this image by Bruce Conner (part of an exhibition titled
Apocalypse Now at the California College of the Arts’ Wattis Institute (via the Art:21 Blog):

mere moments after reading that "the radical Czech arts collective Ztohoven are to be put on trial for tampering with an early morning TV program that brings live feeds from cameras stationed in attractive locations across the country" (on
Jessica Lack's post on the Guardian's art blog). They hacked in and put up this image:

I don't feel qualified to comment on the politics of Ztohoven (you can read about it yourself on their
site here), but I am surprised that an image I had assumed had lost its impact on me could have such immediate power in a new context. Seeing those images back to back, I felt that old fear of the bomb resurface (as a child raised in the MidWest under Reagan, I was certain we'd see Soviet missles raining down on our cities one day).

This power of images in new contexts would, I'm sure, explain a good deal of the lingering appeal of collage and appropriation in contemporary art making, but in an era where we consume images at a staggering rate, I'm surprised I'm not more numb than that. Perhaps I am. Perhaps it would have only taken 1 image of the bomb to rattle me back in Reagan's day. The fact that it took two to make me rethink whether The Smith's song was quaint might indeed be evidence that we are more numb than we used to be to such imagery. Consider this an open thread on the lingering power of images.



Blogger George said...

... but in an era where we consume images at a staggering rate, I'm surprised I'm not more numb than that.

Ah ha, but that's what the visual arts are all about, making you see what's already there but you are blind to.

1/10/2008 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Morrissey's always been good at this kind of thing. One of the finer moments of Ringleader of the Tormenters is in "I Will See You in Far-off Places": "If your god bestows protection upon you / And if the USA doesn't bomb you / I believe I will see you somewhere safe / Looking to the camera, messing around / and pulling faces." And he punctuates "U-S-A" with the most withering scorn he can muster.

video for "Ask"

1/10/2008 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Todd W. said...

as a child raised in the Midwest under Reagan, I was certain we'd see Soviet missiles raining down on our cities one day

Interesting that I grew up at the same time in a different household and a different state and I never had that fear. But "under Reagan", I did believe the Cold War would come to an end in our favor. We probably consumed similar mass media, but different niche media and that, coupled with our circle of friends, may have made the difference. It concerns me that Americans increasingly rely on niche media and this is driving our commonalities apart.

1/10/2008 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only one around here who is still frieghtened by the notion of a dirty bomb or suitcase bomb? Clearly this particular meme is a distant or close relative of the bomb scare from the 1950s.

1/10/2008 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Interesting that I grew up at the same time in a different household and a different state and I never had that fear. But "under Reagan", I did believe the Cold War would come to an end in our favor.

With all due respect, Todd, I have to wonder if that belief isn't in part hindsight, as even Bush Sr.'s team (after we were "under Reagan") expressed surprise at the Cold War's ending so quickly in our favor.

1/10/2008 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Also the whole point of the theory of nuclear deterrent is a willingness to push the button... based on that, no matter your politics, how could one not be nervous it would one day come to that (from misunderstanding or miscalculation, if not outright aggression)?

1/10/2008 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I was told to fear the bomb but it never scared me - I was into the Red Dawn thing - still am - you know, the apocalypse is fun! (naming a show Apocalypse Now is no better than naming your show DEATH or DOOM or SEX) Everyone wants change, and thats why Obama is going to win over Hillary everywhere it counts - its an archetype thing.

Clearly the "next generation" is ready to take over - if not in 2008, then later. Will it be different? Not really. But you have to kill all the nights of the roundtable in order to make room for 100 more, you know?

Bush clinton Bush Clinton? No, the circle must be broken. Just like the Kennedy thing - Kennedy being "the one who must be sacrificed", in Jungian terms - depends on how paranoid or "poetic" you are.

Its not religion and politics, its poesis and politics, no doubt, just like they said with the Nazis - bad juju when you are choosing sides based on the resonance of hair styles and swagger sticks.

But bomb? Ha! A dirty nuke wouldn't cause more than a hundred deaths and a few thousand cancer cases - look it up. Even a suitcase nuke is nothing that cant be absorbed by America, vast tidal flat to rivers of trauma - 9-11 proved that.

Though the reverberations of the cold war, the indian wars and slavery continue to totally suck in the diaspora or whatever. You do have the power to damp it down though - just like a bad childhood.

Suck it up!

1/10/2008 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...



When I read you describe nuclear missles raining down from the sky I thought of it as one of those what to do, scholastic animations. Put on a gas mask and hide under your desk? That was the best they could come up with.

I really kind of miss the cold war, the U.S.S.R. was more like an alcholic cousin you argue with at holiday dinners, it's the same argument every year, but you're family, eventually you stop arguing and watch the football game. Plus there was all the friendly competition in, sports, science and Arts, What gave the U.S. an advantage was, even though some Soviets were better than us, their best were intelligent enough to want to live in freedom, so they were always defecting to America, and in the end we won not because we were better, but because we were free.

There's a saying that applies about arguments which fits how Reagan won the Cold War

"He who comes to his senses first, Looses"

The important thing was Reagan remembered a time before the cold war, although it was some Frank Capra Idealistic version of it. According to his advisors, when he was briefed on the cold war he didn't accept the cold war as the way it has to be, and believed it should be better, and that is the most important ingredient in initiating Change.

even Bush Sr.'s team (after we were "under Reagan") expressed surprise at the Cold War's ending so quickly in our favor.

Which makes it fortunate he wasn't elected president in 1980, with that attitude we'd all still be afraid of "The Bomb"
instead of looking for the next thing that's
"Da Bomb"

1/10/2008 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:12, you aren't alone.

Considering the claims of long gagged Sibel Edmonds, your fears are somewhat justified. To decipher the function of Rovian mushroom clouds here is some suggested background reading.

Or if you are feeling lazy, here's a video teaser.

1/10/2008 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Must be an election year huh? Ramp it up bitches!

Buy the book, feel the fear!!!!! Brian Eno soundtrack!!!!!

MMMM fear.

Gonna put my fear into you!

push the envelope!!!!

I guess what I'm saying is images and "brand erosion" or "desensitization" are the least of my worries (or my fondest dreams)- and what is an image anyways? Gosh, if there was no text, might the illiterate high priests pretend to read the bible while inventing unholy babble to entertain our reptillian brains?

I don't have time or attention enough to read sociopolitical porn like The Shock Doctrine - is there really enough information (stuff I don't know/will convince my foes that SATAN is hereeeeereeeee) to justify reading a book written at the twelfth grade level (judging from the video). Like current events class when I got an A - ONLY because I read the stupid newspaper?

Did they ever resolve the fake Israeli art student dealio? -drag to 02:12

Apparently all Israelis are required to learn and serve as terrorists for two years. My god, it's sick! Fox News, you are my sole light of objectivity in a sea of liars.

She don't like fashions, she don't like phonies
She don't like junkies, she don't like druggies
She just wants my beef baloney

Beef, beef, beef, beef balogna [x4]

She don't like salami, she don't want pastrami
She don't want a chicken, she don't want a roast
She just wants her double dose of my

Beef, beef, beef, beef balogna [x3]

1/11/2008 04:56:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I liked "28 Weeks Later," is what I'm saying - that was brutal! And I think I could watch it over and over and still get a sugar high you know? But I have a high tolerance for repetition, so when I see a lot of the same kinds of images (Chelsea anyone?) I sort of collapse them into various tropes, or "hairshirts" as I used to call them, though i guess I lost "ownership" of that one by not "inhabiting" it enough (itchy) and so now I have to squat down on my bed of nails and reify or reiterate or repeat myself. Yep, history is too damn big for this tent pole.

1/11/2008 05:08:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

totem pole. Hey look up a book called "The perfect machine" by this canadian neomarxist chick.

Also, stop worrying, you know?
tic tac toe is the way to go if you are talking zero sum games.

1/11/2008 05:16:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

The day after - not so good, but also not so bad. Miracle Mile. I guess Jericho is supposed to be about post apocalyptic stuff. A Boy and His Dog - havent seen it, to be honest. Cherry 2000, Omega Man, Andromeda Strain, Damnation Alley (awesome!).

I could go on.

1/11/2008 05:22:00 AM  

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