September 15, 2008

Wall Street Pictures So Stealth, They Haven't Even Scored A Lipstick Analogy

Lehman Window

Finally this morning, the NYT started putting some visuals to the otherwise invisible Wall Street meltdown and ongoing financial market chicanery.

The front page offered up shots of the Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America CEOs.  (They were not publicity shots either.  In each case, the rich white guys looked to actually be answering somebody’s questions — or testifying even(!) Then, on page A20, we were shown tourists outside Merrill Lynch (the subject of a stealth weekend fire sale) shooting pictures of their bull sculpture in lower Manhattan. (The ” load of bull” association here being almost self-evident.)

(click for full size)

WolfubsPandit CitiFinally, and most suggestively, p. A21 offered up a series of telephoto shots of unsuspecting U.S. mega-bankers, mostly getting in and out of their shiny luxury cars, once again executing that “putting out the fire step-to” under the cover of Sunday.

…But then, isn’t that the beauty of the corporate state, and the accounting and finance game, that everything is so depersonalized and abstracted that the average Joe, or Joe newsperson, either can’t understand it or can’t access it?  (Inset, by the way, is Robert Wolf, chairman for the Americas at UBS arriving Sunday at the Federal Reserve, and Vikram Pandit, chief of Citigroup.)

Forced to actually acknowledge something financial of real national significance happened this weekend, George Bush, our C.E.O. President, tipped his hand this morning when he said the government “was working to minimize” the goings on.  I mean, this crisis is so under the political radar, it hasn’t even scored its own lipstick analogy.

Merrill Escape

I’m particularly admiring of the NYT shot, on-line this morning, of the shadow man in the window of the s Square Lehman Brothers building.  Besides the telling anonymity, the fact the building skin is grayed out — which would otherwise be hysterically drawing attention to itself with its digital special effects — is appropriate to the theme of liquidation.

And then, I also appreciate the creativity of my friend, Mario Tama, who caught this shot outside the Merrill Lynch headquarters.  The sense here, with the suit a blur, is the faceless exec simultaneously representing a moving target, and also someone making a run for it.

I applaud The Times for trying to put a pictorial face and some element of intrigue and surreptitiousness into what is otherwise made to seem like “none of our business” or “never you mind.”  As I tweeted last night, this whole stealthy, slow-motion mortgage and now banking train wreck — much of which, we’ve been told assuredly, in the margins, we’ll be paying for — is not going to go anywhere media-wise and probably won’t bisect the presidential campaign (at least, not in any meaningful or enduring way) unless and until there are identifiable public faces attached to this crisis as heros and villains.

(image 1:  Mark Lennihan/Associated Press.  New York.  image 2 & 3:  Jin Lee/Bloomberg News via Lehman Files for Bankruptcy; Merrill to Be Sold. image 4: Mario Tama/Getty. New York, 2008)

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Michael Shaw
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