Most people are familiar with this picture:
Che2.jpg
And this famous picture of the napalmed girl in Vietnam:
napalmgirl.png
A burning child is certainly not a pleasant thing to contemplate (neither is a romanticized murderer), and I remember that the picture caused great distress when it first appeared in print.
But was it an indictment of the Vietnam War any more than a photograph of Che validated his actions and beliefs? The near-religious frenzy that both photographs inspired and continue to inspire is remarkable, and as a logical person I’ve never quite been able to understand it.
Certainly, the napalm girl photo depicts an awful scene. But does it make America an evil country? To many people, the picture is not only conclusive proof that the Vietnam War was wrong, it’s conclusive proof of the Ugly America (discussed in this essay by Norman Podhoretz). And beyond that, it’s conclusive proof that all war is evil.
But why stop there? Isn’t it also proof that flammable substances are evil? Forest fires? How many children have burned to death because of human use of fire, and flammable substances?
I submit that logic has nothing to do with it. Pictures reach people on an emotional level, and because the emotions tend to override logic, they are thus seen as “persuasive” by those I might as well call the persuader classes. Instead of presenting arguments, they like to resort to arguments which are not arguments at all, but pictures. I don’t know what to call this, but “imageism” seems about right.
Michael Moore is one of the masters of imageism. He and the people who think like him know that if you show Bush swinging a golf club and then a truckload of dead Iraqi children, there are people who will make the “connection.” That there is no connection at all means nothing, because these people are not thinking; they are emoting and then they are imagining themselves to be thinking. Not only that, they’ll make permanent irrational “associations” which they will always remember. The next time they see a well-dressed man swing a golf club, the thoughts of “murdered Iraqi children” will leap into their mammalian brains, and a series of negative and irrational thoughts will follow. I remember that when I sat as a Berkeley Police Review Commissioner, the people who hated the cops were clearly dominated by 1960s images of the Birmingham police turning dogs and hoses on demonstrators, and the Chicago Police Department beating on “peaceful” McCarthy protesters in 1968.
I’m sure that a picture of Condoleeza Rice shopping for shoes juxtaposed with a picture of Katrina flood victims would be similarly “persuasive.”
I do not mean to suggest that this phenomenon is limited to the left wing. As we’re all familiar with the tactic of waving giant images of aborted fetuses, I’ll offer another example.
Here’s a recent example from the right, maintaining that the following image of the globe which is being placed on North Carolina drivers licenses —
NC4 (2).jpg
Is so similar to this image —
SPP.gif
That it constitutes proof (at least, so says WorldNetDaily) of a conspiracy to dissolve the United States into the “American Union” and thus, eliminate United States sovereignty.
Without getting into whether certain people would favor such a plan to dissolve the U.S. (clearly some would), I think the idea that the use of a globe on a drivers license proves its implementation is a bit of a stretch. But it’s an example of the power images have over people — as well as the power that people inclined towards magical thinking imagine they have.
FWIW, an image of the globe has appeared on a United States coin at least once — on the reverse side of the Columbian half dollar — and the nation managed to survive.
Columbhalf.jpg
One of the reasons I love the Internet is that by making so many images available, it reduces the traditional hold they’ve had over human thinking. The irrational ability of images to influence thought is one of my pet peeves, and I suspect that it was behind the Biblical prohibition on graven images. In my view, the more images are restricted, the more power they have over people — the huge uproar over the Muhammad cartoons being a good example. The people who freaked out and engaged in rioting proved that they are prisoners of imageism, and their extreme intolerance resulted from the prohibition on images, in much the same way their extreme intolerance of sexuality and alcohol (and even pigs) results from similar prohibitions.
Unfortunately, the copyright people are unwittingly assisting the power of the cult of imageism by attempting to control and limit the distribution, proliferation — and even parody — of images.
Back to the juxtaposition of Condoleeza Rice shopping for shoes with a picture of Katrina flood victims. Funny that I’d mention that, but I started this essay a few weeks ago and then today’s news served up another reminder that Condoleeza Rice is especially hated by the believers in imageism. That’s because they are so preoccupied with appearances that they elevate them above substance, and they hate her with a special passion for the unforgiveable crime of being conservative while black. This is considered an affront to all that is holy in leftist imageism because it violates the central tenet that black people cannot be conservative.
Accordingly, she must be “exposed” as evil — by the use of imageism! I saw a perfect example as a thumbnail on today’s Drudge Report, and then found the photo here — titled “CODE PINK – Putting Reality in Condi Rice’s Face“:
pinkriceblood.jpg
That this “reality” is seen as a damning indictment of Rice is shown in the explanatory comment:

This is my favorite photo of the last 7 years.

I would almost say the same thing but for very different reasons. While I can’t say it’s my favorite photo of the last seven years, as an illustration of the mindset I’m talking about, it goes a long way. What the woman with the “blood” and her supporters forget is not everyone who looks at it is going to see the picture the same way. No matter what their mindset, though, few people will be persuaded by it. That’s because fortunately, the Internet has made people much more cynical about manipulation by images than they used to be.
My reaction to the photograph is that it shows a logical and reasonable woman doing her best to remain calm in the face of an illogical, irrational, and highly emotional attack. On a sociological level, there’s a contrast between a black woman who worked incredibly hard to achieve success and her shabby looking tormentor with the manic expression on her face. I wasn’t there, but it inclines me to empathize with Condi Rice, as I put up with a lot of abuse when I was on the Berkeley Police Review Commission, and I’m not fond of leftist intimidation tactics. (So, to the extent that the picture endears Secretary Rice to me, I’d say it has backfired. Hmmm…. Should I send a check to Code Pink?)
Condi’s a real pro, and I don’t think she’s any more likely to be persuaded by Code Pink activists with “bloody” hands than Operation Rescue activists with pictures of dead fetuses. Or pictures of dead Iraqi children….. Clubbed demonstrators in Chicago….. Clubbed baby seals in Canada.
Or even…. golf balls clubbed by Bush.
I wish I could same for everyone else.
UPDATE: Rave reviews from the left to the picture of the protestor with the bloody hands, one “Desiree Farooz.”

To me, Desiree Farooz’s expression is beautiful/pure righteous confrontation.

And

I say it’s a TIME COVER !!!

And

Wow, what a photo!!! Think she’s pissed? C’mon Condi, tell us how you really feel, you crazed loonie!!
Ya’ll just know she wanted to throw down on that lady!!!

And

I guess it’s time for lunch. Hmm, I wonder how your blood would taste, lady.
What a cold hearted mean bitch! Did you hear her greet someone in the background sound with her fake irritating voice? these people have no soul.

And

What a great picture. “Every Picture Tells a Story” and this one certainly does.
Welcome to the real world, Miss Mushroom Cloud!
May you dwell in a parched land, endlessly ponder your own wickeness and choke on your tears of regret.

And here’s one I can agree with:

I’ve added it to my collection. It’s a picture that will come in handy for ’08.

Yes, it will indeed.
UPDATE: From Glenn Reynolds, a good question:

….would anti-abortion protesters in “Operation Rescue” t-shirts be allowed up-close to wave bloody hands at Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Somehow, I doubt it.

I doubt it too (although I think Condi Rice would do a better job of not being intimidated by the fringe than Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) It’s not as if this Desiree Farooz isn’t well know. As to “Code Pink,” they’re so notorious and ubiquitous that the White House is complained that “Congress is run by Code Pink.”