July 26, 2005

Osama Jumps The Turnstile



Once again, fear and loss spells more media bank.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Osama bin Ladin’s mug.  Just give us two subway bombings in two weeks, however, and suddenly — despite a middle to high grade case of trauma still hovering over London — there he is in a dual role. 

First, he’s the ghost of the transit system staring mockingly at the heavily armed, yet oblivious transit officer.  At the same time, Osama hangs directly over these unsuspecting passengers — as if they had already been convinced to go quietly. 

Oh, and he’s also a Madison Avenue pitchman!   

I found this image running in two places at the beginning of the week — in a Boston Globe article, and Newsweek’s slide show on the terror threat.  In Newsweek’s case, neither bin Laden or al Qaeda was mentioned in the caption.  He just shows up like a subliminal suggestion.

Newsweek couples this image (which leads off their "show") with
photos of police on alert at public locations around the world.  The
spots include Spain’s Atocha station (check out the officer yawning,
and the two cops in front who seem to be touching hands); Red Square;
the British Embassy in Berlin (nobody’s getting near that
place); the NY Stock Exchange (Baghdad burning!  Oil stocks hits new
highs!).  For a quick case study in media overkill, however, you can’t
beat the shot of the Sheriff deputy and the bomb sniffing dog down on
all fours in the train station at the highly targeted train station in
Santa Ana, California.   

So, what’s the most insensitive thing about running this image right
now (not to mention, these subway ads– assuming the photo is

With enough commuters (and cops) riding subways these days thinking
they see Osama’s minions all around them, why do they/we need to see
this?  Doesn’t the photo play directly to the kind of anxiety that led
to the killing of the Brazilian electrician by British police in the
underground the other day?

And, while I’m rolling, how does one deconstruct the ad poster
itself?  (BTW, if any of you can supply links to this image or related
ads in the series, please post them in the comments.  Believe me, I’ve
looked.)  From other ads I’ve seen before, I believe this is a campaign
for TIME Magazine.
(If I’m wrong, I apologize in advance.)  The series takes a famous
person, and superimposes a series of red rectangles over the face, each
with the TIME title at the top.  At the bottom left corner of the ad is the phrase: "Know Why."      

So, what is the implication (especially in this context)?  Is it that bin Laden has gotten so large, he’s too big for TIME?  Or, is the point that he’s behind so many incidents lately, they might as well put him on the cover every week?

(image: Chip Somodevilla /Getty Images.  Boston.com)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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