July 23, 2005
When a city is being terrorized and suspected bombers are at large, the last thing anybody needs is a semiotic analysis of a sweatshirt. I’m sure to a Londoner, just the thought could be perceived as insensitive.
Still, if you believe as strongly as I do in the power of news images not only to shape attitudes, politics and emotions, but to also provide greater understanding of the events and people they depict, I believe it is worthwhile to delicately touch on a visual confusion about this closed circuit image of the Oval Street station bombing suspect released Friday by London police.
In most of the news accounts I have seen this morning, the text on this shirt has typically been reported (
; Guardian : NY Daily News ) as reading Chicago Tribune "New York." On closer inspection, however, it actually reads: "New You." In either case, the implications are ironic. For example, "New York" could be seen to reference 9/11 as inspiration. (In fact, the NYT ran an AP story filed yesterday afternoon with the following first line: One of the four London bombing suspects shown in closed-circuit TV photos distributed Friday by police wore a dark shirt bearing the name of a past target of terrorism — New York.)
"New York" could be thought to foreshadow Gotham as a new target of transit terror — especially since the look of this passageway is so generic.
(Not to discount the media’s tendency toward over personalization,
NY Newsday actually ran a story — –claiming the sweatshirt as local and possibly even purchased at the World Trade Center.)
Reading Into Bomb Suspect’s ‘New York’ Shirt
Of greater relevance, however, is how the actual text (
"New You") might offer some small insight into the psychology of the bombers themselves. In picking out this particular sweatshirt (as a purchase and/or his choice of attire this day), was this young man hoping to reinvent himself — and do so specifically through this act? Or, does it imply a profoundly brash and narcissistic message directed at all of us that we could be transformed through the actions of a few young men? ( And, isn’t he right?)
(Big credit: Bob K.)
(image 1: nynewsday.com. 7/23/05. front page image. image 2: guardian.co.uk)
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