Sunday, March 30, 2008

Is the Vogue cover racist?

If you haven't already heard, there's a bit of a controversy brewing over the latest cover of Vogue with LeBron James and Giselle Bundchen on it. Take a look for yourself.

The speculation is that the cover is invoking King Kong and therefore suggesting that LeBron James--and hence the black man--is a big brutish gorilla.

Clearly the resemblance is haunting. Almost too much to be explained away by mere coincidence. However, King Kong isn't the only cultural icon to employ the Gorilla kidnapping helpless beauty meme. For example, this Emmanuel Frémiet sculpture is obviously not King Kong.

So there are two other possibilities for the cover (I will go ahead and dismiss the explanation that the concept was completely original and the gorilla reference is just imagined by us). One is that the Vogue cover didn't copy the King Kong poster but was invoking the gorilla reference, and the the other is that the cover copied some other gorilla artwork. Given the fact that the Vogue photographer Annie Leibovitz has a history of 'artful borrowing', I think it's safe to say that the cover was in fact a copy of either the King Kong poster or something else.

For years a certain photographer has been calling us up to complain about Annie Leibovitz' penchant for recreating famous photographs and passing them off as original compositions. We usually chalked up the accusations to jealousy, and thought nothing more.

Now comes new evidence that our original source was right. Women's Wear Daily reported last week on the Vanity Fair photographer's "artful borrowing." WWD reporter Jeff Bercovici wrote that "a spokeswoman for the magazine acknowledged Wednesday that the cover photo of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Al Gore, shot by Annie Leibovitz, was 'inspired' by 'Ballet Society,' a 1948 portrait by Irving Penn of George Balanchine and three collaborators."

This seems to confirm that the Vogue cover is a copy. The question now becomes "Is it a copy of the King Kong poster?" While the resemblance is eerie, there seem to be too many inconsistencies for someone of Leibovitz' talent. So it shouldn't have been a big surprise when an old WWI recruiting poster surfaced.

If you compare that poster to the Vogue cover, it should be patently obvious where the inspiration came from. This leaves us with several questions.

Is the cover a copy of the "Mad Brute" WWI poster?
I think that clearly it is.

Is it racist?
Here I'm not too sure. In the original poster, the gorilla represents Germany in general, and Kaiser Wilhelm in particular (and you can't get much whiter than that). But that only raises the question of why compare LeBron James to the German war machine? It could just be that the mad brutes represent professional jocks. But would Leibovitz and Vogue have made a similar cover with a white athlete like Tom Brady? I'm guessing probably not, but I can see such a layout actually working (and without the surrounding controversy). Of course it doesn't help that the gorilla imagery always seems to involve a white girl. Perhaps a print of a gorilla kidnapping a young black beauty would remove the racial connotation. But a photographer who likes to copy classic artwork is an unlikely candidate to set that precedent.

But what really jumped out at me about this whole affair was that the old WWI poster (as well as the Frémiet sculpture) depicted a bare breasted woman. Such an image would be considered indecent today. As I've talked about before, one of the great sins of the religification of American society has been the demonization of the human body. News Flash: Female breasts aren't evil and seeing them won't psychologically mar children!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Star halfway across the Universe goes BOOM!

Have you ever seen a massive supernova in action. On March 19th, Pi-of-the-Sky did.

2008.03.19 "Pi of the Sky" telescope detected the brightest ever optical outburst from a distant universe. The explosion happened 7.5 billion light years from the Earth, halfway across the visible Universe. The telescope is only 71 mm in diameter.

Just in case you missed it, here's the movie.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Illinois: part of a balanced breakfast

It seems that pareidolia madness has struck Ebay once again. I guess I had become so accustomed to seeing such ridiculously stupid demand for nouveau religious relics such as the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich or the recent Jesus cheetoh, that I was actually a bit surprised to see a small bit of secular pareidolia fetch such a steep price. That's right, behold the Illinois Corn Flake which just sold for $1,350.00 on Ebay!

I admit, that rather pales in comparison to the $28,000.00 that the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich sold for. So maybe there is something to this religious devotion making people crazy spenders after all.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Albert!

Today is Albert Einstein's 129th birthday. It is also pi day. Therefore the two events are simultaneous. Or are they?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Road Trip

Molly, who shot to internet geek semi-stardom with her uke covers of Jonathan Coulton's Tom Cruise Crazy and Mr. Fancy Pants (as well as the Britney Spears classic Toxic) has just released a new original song about astronaut gone mental case Lisa Nowak.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Food fight!

How many battles and ethnic dishes can you identify?

(via Radula)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

This is why I love The Onion!

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

In Allah We Trust

I've never been much of a crusader for the popular atheist causes of removing the Under God from the pledge of allegiance or the In God We Trust from the currency. I've always thought (and still do) that there are more important fights out there. It's not that I'm fond of the phrase Under God, but I see children pledging an oath of allegiance to a national symbol as a proto-fascist imposition that has no place in country supposedly founded upon the principle of personal liberty. Ron Rosenbaum put it quite well.
The pledge is a kind of forced confession of orthodoxy. No, not water-boarding, but coercion nonetheless. Especially for peer-group-pressured school kids. Even if they have the right to opt out. In past school-prayer cases, the court has resisted the idea that the state should be implicated in even the social coercion or propagation of religion.

Busybody school boards and bombastic anthem peddlers at ball games should let people find their way to allegiance in their own fashion rather than making "allegiance" an implement of state power used to extract oaths.

I say dump the entire pledge!

Now, In God We Trust never really offended me before. It was one of those things that I always just took for granted but didn't fret about because it didn't really impact my life. I might roll my eyes when I caught sight of it on a bill, but I wouldn't get upset.

Words themselves don't have any intrinsic offensiveness to them. It is when those words represent something that we find deeply repulsive--such as certain human behaviors--that the words take on their offensive character. And so it is that I have begun to find In God We Trust on my currency increasingly distasteful. The blame falls squarely on the fundamentalist offensive (did you like that double entendre?) to relabel the United States as a "Christian Nation." Many of these misinformed marionettes like to defend their claim with "It even says 'In God We Trust' on the money!" Never mind the sheer ludicrousness of that argument; I've come to realize that those four words serve no useful purpose other than as a rallying point for the fundagelical zombies. And so I'm beginning to agree with those people who already do find those words offensive.

Until recently, I had no concise way of conveying to a Christian why that would or even should be offensive to me. Then yesterday I read this post by VJACK that began thus:
How do you suppose American Christians would feel about using currency on which "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is the greatest) was printed?

Wow! That says it all. Without much hesitation, that line inspired Todd Sayre to create this little photoshoped beauty.

How would Christians feel if their money looked like that? Pretty offended would be my guess. Yet from my perspective, there's no difference: both statements are equally silly and neither belongs on legal tender. And yes, I am aware that the "God" from In God We Trust need not necessarily refer to the Christian God (try telling that to a fundamentalist), but as an atheist I find all gods to be as invalid as Allah is to Christians. So the analogy is a good one.