October 31, 2005
One Picture Is Worth A Thousand Lashes
If might sound like a throughly ignorant question, but a lot of people have been wondering why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew world-wide attention last week for saying that Israel "must be wiped off the map." The statement was delivered in a keynote speech to a so-called “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran attended by 4,000 hardline students.
As explained in the NYT, these types of comments are regularly issued by Iranian leaders and are promptly ignored. The fact that these weren’t, however, genuinely shocked and surprised the Iraqi President and his radical supporters. In Iran, it seems, there is a long history of the separation of rhetoric and policy.
If this distinction has long been taken for granted, however, what made last week so different?
I leave it to others to tease out all the political factors. Still,
there are so many to consider, such as the immediate sensitivity of
Iran’s relationship to Iraq; the ongoing brouhaha over Iran’s "good
nuke/bad nuke" dance; the political and propaganda role Iran currently
plays on the neocon’s Risk board; the tension between Ahmadinejad and
the ruling clerics (who are taking steps to curb presidential
authority); and the heat between MA and Hashemi Rafsanjani, who heads
something called the Expediency Council which has been quietly
acquiring more power to govern Iran’s diplomatic activity.
For The BAG’s purposes, however, I think there is still another factor in this firestorm having to do with "visual
rhetoric." Specifically, I’ve been wondering whether Ahmadinejad’s
words would have seemed as big if the news images that accompanied them
weren’t as stunning.
In the "old days," pols only emphasized the visuals around election time. That, however, was before the campaign became a perpetual adjunct of governance.
When the Bush administration first appeared on the scene, their
capacity for "preparing the surface" and employing visual props was
truly groundbreaking. (It wouldn’t surprise me if, years from now, the
Bush is primarily remembered for "the branded background.")
What really surprises me, however, is how far and fast the
craft has passed them by. If you look at the visual impact of
Ahmadinejad’s presentation, I believe the closest comparison is not
Bush/Rove so much as this other guy who runs his campaign out of
So my advice to the Iranian President is this: If you want to
maintain that healthy separation between policy and rhetoric, the main
issue is not whether or not to advocate the total annihilation of other
countries and religions.
The main thing to avoid is the creation of massive 3-D representations
of countries falling through hour glasses like their time is up. And
certainly, you should avoid depicting those countries either as falling
bombs, or as fragile eggs about to crack open by virtue of your own
(image 1: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/File. Tehran,
Iran. October 26, 2005. Via YahooNews. image 2: Larry Downing/Reuters.
Washington. October 6, 2005. Via YahooNews. image 3: Lawrence
Jackson/A.P. Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005. Washington. Via YahooNews. image
4: Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images. San Jose, California. October
2005. Via YahooNews.)
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