April 12, 2009


Maersk Crew.jpg

He’s a national hero at a time when our country really needs one. — Neighbor of Capt. Phillips on CBS News

I’ve got some questions about the Maersk hostage story, especially in regards to this photo.

What I’m wondering, in particular, is whether the story closed out with more of a Bush era, terror war, “us versus them,” jingoistic feel to it. In other words, with all the deep and less tractable problems the U.S. is weighed down with — such as the the brutal recession, the near-collapse of the banking system, and the FUBAR situation in Afghanistan — was the media, the public and the White House all too compelled to “go nationalistic” over this dramatic ending; play up an almost Hollywood association to pirates; seeing this as a symbolic victory; and heavily personalizing a problem that has proved mostly an international one — and one not so political, at that.

Or, is what we’re seeing in the photo above a brilliant inversion of the Cheney/Bush/Rove visual narrative in which, all of a sudden, a center-left America (the photo, beyond stars-and-stripes, promoting a more rainbow-looking coalition) can deliver the appropriate will, strength and resolve in the face of a threat (“Yes We Can, Mateys”) with the Democratic President scoring “conservative points” for approving a winning commando mission?

(image: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Image. caption: Crew members of the US merchant ship Maersk Alabama gather around a US flag while celebrating that the captain of their ship, Richard Phillips, which had been held captive by the pirates had been freed on April 12, 2009. Somali pirates tried to seize the ship early on April 8, while it was in the Indian Ocean about 500 kilometres (310 miles) off the Somali coast. CNN television, citing a senior US official, reported that three of the four pirates holding Phillips had been killed, and the fourth pirate was in custody.)

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Michael Shaw
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