Another movie last night, this time Kite Runner. The book was powerful; the movie, necessarily, had to omit several important elements. Still, the visual images — Afghanistan before the Russian invasion, Afghanistan after the Russians the Taliban and the Coalition of the Willing had crushed it — had a force of their own. And then there’s the story. That too. Powerful, intense, moving.
I had all that in mind as I rummaged through the morning paper and the on-line news sources. As usual, too much to recognize, too much to internalize, too much to sort and re-assemble into an honest view of the world. So I’m going to be highly selective, and use three of the images which struck me most immediately. (Again, keep in mind that I saw Kite Runner only hours before.)
John McCain. A few days ago I pictured him in a senior moment. (I’m older than him, so I’m entitled.) Today, John with his BFF du jour, Mitt Romney. Two good ole boys, hanging together on a fund-raising jaunt around the Rocky Mountain West. Doesn’t this look like a preview of the climactic image on the podium at the GOP Convention. And of course, these two are utterly in agreement on the need to continue the GWOT, no matter how much collateral damage might occur in places like, say, Afghanistan.
A box of bullets. Even those of you unfamiliar with firearms might recognize that these are not healthy bullets. Something bad has happened to them, something which very likely will have compromised their effectiveness. Which is exactly what happened. The fly-by-night company which somehow secured a multi-million dollar contract to supply these bullets is, finally, being investigated. Where were these bullets bound for, you might ask? Why, we (as in US) are sending them to Afghanistan to help the good guys defeat the resurgent Taliban.
Reminds me of the sarcastic line in Charlie Wilson’s War, to the effect that the American strategy for winning the Cold War was to make the Russians use up all their bullets killing Afghans.
And this, the current cover of Vogue. For the moment, words fail me. They do not, however, fail the Vogue editors, who justified it this way.
The Shape Issue celebrates athleticism from start to finish. LeBron is on the cover with Gisele because he is a basketball star and he was photographed in that spirit. We think LeBron and Gisele look amazing together on the cover.
What has this to do with Afghanistan, or with SOG? Glad you asked. Afghan society, like most others, relies on physical characteristics to differentiate the castes. There, it’s the shape of one’s face. Here, it’s the color of one’s skin.
So, is this picture racist? To begin, I considered the counter-charge, that anyone offended by the picture is guilty of racism. I think that does not answer the charge, but turns it on its head. I’d be happy to hear another view.
Next, Vogue could surely have found a white athlete, suitably muscular, and a black model, suitably curvaceous. But simply reversing the colors also produces a highly-charged and — to me — disturbing image.
The basic problem with the picture, therefore, is not racism but sexism. Primitive violent (yes, violent) man grabbing cultivated submissive (or eager?) woman. Racism as well, but secondary.
Perhaps this is merely an excessively-cute take-off on the King Kong myth. On the other hand, tell me, if you can, whether this picture would resonate the same way if there were not currently an intense, sometimes bitter, once in a while nasty, political contest under way, featuring a black man and a blonde woman.