July 9, 2005

Uncle Sam George


Two questions:  First, does The New Yorker imitate life or does life imitate The New Yorker?  Second, how much does the personality of a leader come to represent (or supersede) the image of the country he leads?

TNY produced a cover — dated July 4th and titled "Party of One" — showing Uncle Sam celebrating his birthday alone at a party table set for for leaders of the world.  The obvious reference was not just to America’s Independence Day, but also the "stand-alone" policies of George Bush as highlighted by his conflict with issues on the agenda at the (then impending) G-8 summit. 

At the same time, the birthday image turned out to be more literal than one would have supposed.  I wasn’t aware of it (and I’m not sure whether the illustrator was either) but Dubya’s birthday happens to fall on July 6th.  Stopping in Denmark on his way to the summit, the Queen presented Bush a patriotic-looking cake to mark that occasion.


Seeing these two images within days of each other, I was interested in how concretely the world connects Bush’s polarizing agenda with the American people, and how synonymous George has actually become to Uncle Sam.  Obviously, this identification occurs, to greater or lesser degree, with all U.S. presidents.  However, given Bush’s rampant adventurism and radicalism and political isolationism and contempt for dialogue and put-downs of Europe, along with all the talk of mandates and capital to spend, I wonder how much we’ve literally turned into the United States of George

(Certainly, al Qaeda isn’t suffering any distinction.)

Of course, the New Yorker cover does a fine job illustrating what Bush is doing to an identity that belongs not to him but to us.  (I say: more power not just to body language and empty chairs, but also to subtle elements such as red phallic balloons; blue pig-like balloons; wayward eyebrows; and hats pitched slightly forward implying cowboy brims.)  (And no, the "lone star" and the southern-style bow tie and goatee are just traditional to Uncle Sam.)

The way these two images seem to merge (with reds never more red, and blues never more blue) only emphasizes how much a single birthday boy has taken America hostage, and has come to personify a set of values that I cannot recognize. 

(image 1: "Party of One" by Barry Blitt. July 4, 2005. Cover.  The New Yorker Magazine. image 2: Claus Fisker/AFP/SCANPIX. Fredensborg, Denmark.  July 6, 2005 in YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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