October 25, 2007

Somebody Please, Put A Brain In My Bullet


I’d like your help with this … since I found this cover ambiguous — if not intentionally manipulative.

From the graphic and the (main) headline, the point seems to be that bullets (and maybe, war itself) is not the answer.  The intimation I got (reading top-to-bottom) is that higher expression, negotiation and consensus are the emerging implements of future conflict.  (This is based on the visual assumption that the bullets are morphing into pens.)

Reading the summary, and then the main article, however, I think I got it completely wrong — in part, because the headline misrepresents the written content.

Based on the text inside, the subhead (in red) is the more congruent one.  It is consistent with the magazine’s thesis that wars are inevitable — especially insurgent wars.  That being the case, an aggressor country not only needs all the bullets it can get, but a lot more intellectual firepower too, including more linguists, civil-affairs officers and engineers, and  tons more advisors to train and embed with proxies and local friendlies.

Looking back at the cover, therefore, the phrase “not bullets” seems completely misleading.  Who knows.  Maybe The Economist finessed the message to compel a newsstand buy from both the peaceniks and the warheads?

Regarding the photo-illustration specifically, whereas my first tendency was to read the bullets as morphing — in a more thoughtful and high-minded sense — into instruments of diplomacy, this is not what TE was going for at all.  In light of the text,  these are “poison pens”, representing the combination of tactical human resources and the customary steel to form a more all-piercing conquering agent.

(And then, what do you make of the choice of the fountain pen?  And what’s with the angle, and kinetics, of the belt?)

Finally, from a broader perspective, has the concept of peace been completely co-opted?  I mean, after seven years of “the war on everything,” is this cover primary evidence that people mostly have bullets for brains?

(photo-illustration: Eyevine.  October 25, 2007.  Economist.com)

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Michael Shaw
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