’Til You Drop

Camouflage Shopping Bag

Now on newsstands across NYC is the cover of this week’s Time Out New York, an events and listings rag. The camouflage shopping bag is intended to evoke martial metaphors: tactical tips for your bargain hunting strategy inside.

But it struck me as quite an elegant, visual link between War and The Market!

>  14 April 2006 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Workers of the World Play Ball

The International Institute of Social History in The Netherlands has a brief text, a few posters, and a couple of photos from the Labour Olympiads, an counterevent to the Olympics between World War I and II:

Labour Olympiad“In the twenties, the Olympic games got their counterpart within the labour movement. Labour Olympiads took place in Frankfurt, Vienna and Antwerp. Workers played soccer, practised gymnastics and ran for world peace instead of the national honour.

As a result of the struggle for the 8 hour working day, workers had time for sport. Already in the beginning of the 20th century workers participated in games with comrades in neighbouring countries. Massive labour sport unions were founded in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and France. They strove to educate workers both physically and spiritually.

The Labour Olympiads, organised by the Socialist Workers’ Sport International (SASI), fit well with these ideals. Against the normal Olympic games, marked as ‘a war between nations gained by sportive means’, stood the solidarity of comrades in sport. The labour sport unions disapproved of idols and records. At the labour games the anthem of the socialist international replaced the national anthem of the winning country. And only the red flag flew. Participation was more important than winning.”

See A Dozen Pictures of the Labour Olympiads.

>  15 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Four Questions for Anarchist Art

by Josh MacPhee
From Perspectives in Anarchist Theory, Fall 2005.

Places the U.S. Has Bombed Since World War TwoAnti-authoritarians have been extremely successful in using art and spectacle in recent years, whether to re-energize the protest movement in Seattle with both puppets and window smashing, or to fight dam construction in India with complex ceremonies and direct action theater. Historically, art has played an important role in revolutionary movements, and the Left has a long tradition of cultural resistance, particularly in the graphic arts. The graphics collective, Atelier Populaire played an integral role in the student-worker uprising in Paris in May 1968. Amilcar Cabral has written extensively on the central role of culture in the African liberation movements in the 60s and 70s.

Surprisingly most of this history seems lost to the Left itself, and we are far more likely to have a corporation mine our own visual history to create advertisements than to study and understand the history ourselves. Indeed, art and culture are rarely the focus of debate for anarchists and anti-authoritarians. As art has become increasingly rarefied in our society, and relegated to museums and expensive galleries, we have tended to spend decreasing amounts of time thinking about it. As a result, our definition of “Anarchist Art” is usually by default simply art created by an anarchist, whether it is a clip-art graphic, a heavy metal song, agit-prop street theater or an abstract painting.

Rather than being content with shallow, unconsidered or simply absent perspectives on art, I think it is extremely important that anarchists develop complex ideas about how art and culture operate in society, influence emotions and ideas, and are part of movements for social change.

Continue reading "Four Questions for Anarchist Art" »

>  12 February 2006 | LINK | Filed in ,

Up in Smoke

Back in November 2004, a portrait of a U.S. Marine in Iraq rapidly became an icon of weary, insouciant toughness and cool that so many love in their cinematic heros.

Patrick J. McDonnell wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

A smoke break creates icon of the war; now groupies seek out the weary Marine

“Miller is the young man whose gritty, war-hardened portrait, shot by Luis Sinco, a Los Angeles Times photographer, appeared Wednesday in more than 100 U.S. newspapers, including The Seattle Times. In the full-frame photo, taken after more than 12 hours of nearly nonstop deadly combat, Miller’s camouflage war paint is smudged. He sports a bloody nick on his nose. His helmet and chin strap frame a weary expression that seems to convey the timeless fatigue of battle. And there is the cigarette, of course, drooping from the right side of his mouth in a jaunty manner that Humphrey Bogart would have approved of. Wispy smoke drifts off to his left.

The image has quickly moved into the realm of the iconic.

NY Post MarineMore than 100 newspapers printed it, although it took the New York Post to sum it up in a front-page headline: ‘Marlboro Men Kick Butt in Fallujah.’ The fact that Miller’s name was not included in the caption material only seemed to enhance its punch....

The photo was taken on the afternoon after Charlie Company’s harrowing entry into Fallujah under intense enemy fire, in the cold and rain. Miller was on the roof of a home where he and his fellow First Platoon members had spent the day engaged in practically nonstop firefights, fending off snipers and attackers who rushed the building. No one had slept in more than 24 hours. All were physically and emotionally drained.”

See this previous post on Bag News Notes for further analysis of the Times article and photo.

See also Human Rights Watch‘s report on Charlie Company‘s earlier seige and occupation of Fallujah.

Today, however, we learn from Editor and Publisher that:

‘Marlboro Man’ in Iraq War Photo Suffers from PTSD

Back home, he got married in June, but on duty during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, Miller suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and was granted an honorable discharge from the Marines in November....

Miller went into therapy, but knows he is not alone. ‘A lot of guys have had way worse incidents from being in Iraq,’ he said. ‘And I guess it just -- it troubled me due to the fact that their incidents may have been more severe, and they weren’t suffering from the same things I was. I just didn’t understand how it could affect me so dramatically and not affect some of these guys. But a lot of them deal with different ways.

‘The more and more I talk to [other guys], the more I found out there were a lot of Marines that are going through same or similar emotions. It’s tough to deal with. Being in Iraq is something no one wants to talk about.’”

>  4 January 2006 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Class Action

Pro-Choice Billboard

Class Action bills itself as “The Art Collective for Community Action.”

From classactioncollective.org:

“Class Action creates visual messages to advocate social change. Our goal is to influence the way public issues are understood, and motivate audiences to participate in civic dialogue. We work as a collective, authoring, producing and publishing our ideas & initiating projects to illuminate attitudes and conditions overlooked in mainstream media.

Our work originates outside of the studio, with a perception of something taking place in the world. Often beginning with the newspaper or newscast, we define an issue, research it, and craft a message that can lead to some real-world action or change. We work in the spirit of the phrase, ‘pro bono publico’, meaning ‘for the public good’. We endeavor not only to communicate our own position but also to inspire others to become active.

As graphic designers, we have the power to lend authority to messages that would normally be seen on the fringes of society. Through design, we gain access to the official channels of communication & the organizations, institutions, leaders and media that have great sway over social values and priorities. What we place in these channels is an attempt to challenge, influence and provoke.”

Class Action started as just that, in 1992 at the Yale School of Art. Several designers have been associated with the collective since then.

Check their list of public projects. Among them:

My personal favorite is this surreptitious pamphlet challenging the AIGA’s commitment to public engagement:

“Washington DC, 2002: The American Institute of Graphic Arts National Conference ‘Voice!’ promises a radically new focus on serious public issues. Yet the AIGA design competitions criteria continue to emphasize form over content. The satirical pamphlet, written and designed to conform to the identity of the conference materials, challenges the AIGA to recognize the purpose and social value of design.”

From the pamphlet:

New Categories for 365: AIGA annual design competitions

The new competitions will reward design that best works toward:

  • Establishing justice
  • Insuring domestic tranquility
  • Providing for the common defense
  • Promoting the general welfare
  • Securing the blessings of liberty
  • Forming a more perfect union

By the end of voice we trust you will agree that these criteria and categories are what really matter.”

The common defense bit gets a bit murky in this perpetual “war on terror”, but I think the piece hits the right place at the right time. Within the context of the membership conference, it starts to move beyond public awareness into mobilization. Nice to see the Left seizing ‘American-ness,’ too.

I’ve argued here before about how the AIGA and competitions could be a force for change, so it’s nice to see AIGA members taking them to task, too — and nearly a month before I started this blog!

Here’s looking forward to more work — and to keeping the pressure on!

>  7 November 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , ,


Danish anti-war posters hit Iraq:

“On Friday, Iraqis started hanging over 1000 posters created by the artists in the most populous and important quarters of the capital, including the diplomatic Green Zone in the very heart of the city. Artist Claus Rohland, 50, explained to Aljazeera.net why he and fellow artist Jan Egesborg, 40, had got involved and what message they hoped to send to ordinary Iraqis.... ‘We as Danes are part of this so-called coalition and are taking part in this war. But Denmark is a very small country that has not been at war for many years. We need to question what we are doing and what is happening,’ Rohland said. ‘None of the warring parties — neither US-led forces nor Iraqi rebels — present a solution to this war. The ultimate solution needs to come from ordinary people. It may sound naive, but we would encourage people to keep faith in themselves that a final solution rests with them.’”


North Dakota has no plans to alter Sioux logo:

“The NCAA considers the logo and nickname ‘hostile and abusive,’ and has ordered the school to cover up all Fighting Sioux references for the NCAA playoffs. The arena, which operates separately from the school, is holding the West Regional hockey tournament in March. [Jody Hodgson, arena manager,] said there are no plans to alter any logos, which can be found on floors, walls, seats and railings. Eliminating them would be too expensive, he said.”


Electronics industry urges federal e-waste action:

“A nine-member panel appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on environment and hazardous materials expressed concern that the current trend of varied state and local laws targeting e-waste management would breed inefficiency, confusion and higher prices for consumers.... The best approach, [Renee St. Denis of Hewlett-Packard] said, is for federal lawmakers to create a system in which the manufacturers themselves set up recycling programs and bear the necessary costs.”


Deal for Public Toilets in New York City. Only 20 toilets, but it’s a start. The winning company will rebuild all city newsstands and bus shelters, too — and sell the ad space. Not sure how I feel about a private corporation owning all that public space — but then the NYC gov pays nothing. More on the the long history of trying to build public toilets in NYC here and here.


Alcaldía favorece proyecto de biogas. Nicaragua’s biggest garbage dump in the Barrio La Chureca in Managua could be used to create enough electricity to illuminate the nearby municipality of Ciudad Sandino. The joint U.S.-Nicaraguan company Conjuris says they can create four megawatts of electrical energy from the gases emitted by burning the garbage. The company is willing to invest US$5.25 million in the project in return for a twenty year contract.


It’s great to see graphic designers come together at displaceddesigner.com, the AIGA, and Design Observer to help other graphic designers affected by Hurricane Katrina. I’m all for community and solidarity. But then it’s really not the professional designers that are hurting the most, no?


Only one more month until the October 31 deadline to submit your radical graphics to Reproduce & Revolt. And it looks like Favianna has joined the project!

>  23 September 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , , , , ,


Anti-War Pieta

Download 36 Kb PDF

Eliot reminds me that I never did blog this. An image I sent in to the No RNC Poster Project one year ago. Feel free to download and distribute.

>  20 August 2005 | LINK | Filed in ,

Support Our Tropes, 2

Home Depot home page, July Fourth

It’s a funny thing to see all the flag waving conflated with the whole “support the troops” message today. I support the troops plenty, though not this stupid war. But then what exactly do the troops have to do with the fourth of July? I mean, today is Independence Day! The day we celebrate the American Revolution, when a plucky, unorganized group of armed radicals defeated the professional military of a foreign occupation. A victory for automony over empire! In Iraq, aren’t the U.S. troops a lot closer ye olde army of King George?

>  4 July 2005 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Memory Virus

From the IT director of a U.S. NGO that works on human rights:

Dresden“The latest Sober variant is one of a relatively new type of ‘propaganda spam,’ meant to spread political messages rather than sell a product or service. Circulation of the worm coincides with ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and examples of subject lines it sends include ‘Dresden 1945’ and ‘Du wirst zum Sklaven gemacht!!!’ (‘You are made slaves!!!’).

We are updating our spam filter.”

>  26 May 2005 | LINK | Filed in ,

American Graffiti

In January 1991, George Lakoff published Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf. He showed the discourse of war as ‘a panorama of metaphor,’ documenting, for instance, the state-as-person metaphor “engaging in social relations within a world community.” It’s health is economic health. It’s well-being is wealth. And its strength is military strength.

“War in this metaphor is a fight between two people, a form of hand-to-hand combat. Thus, the US sought to ‘push Iraq back out of Kuwait’ or ‘deal the enemy a heavy blow,’ or ‘deliver a knockout punch.’ A just war is thus a form of combat for the purpose of settling moral accounts....

The fairy tale has an asymmetry built into it. The hero is moral and courageous, while the villain is amoral and vicious. The hero is rational, but though the villain may be cunning and calculating, he cannot be reasoned with. Heroes thus cannot negotiate with villains; they must defeat them. The enemy-as-demon metaphor arises as a consequence of the fact that we understand what a just war is in terms of this fairy tale.

The most natural way to justify a war on moral grounds is to fit this fairy tale structure to a given situation. This is done by metaphorical definition, that is, by answering the questions: Who is the victim? Who is the villain? Who is the hero? What is the crime? What counts as victory? Each set of answers provides a different filled-out scenario.”

There is, of course, no room in these stories for the horror of war or the possibility of popular dissent.

In March 2003, on the eve of the second invasion, Lakoff published Metaphor and War, Again, charting again how the state-as-person continued to circulate. Added to this is the Rescue Scenario in which W. saves the Iraqi people and Saddam’s neighbors, whom he is “threatening.”

While Lakoff shows how metaphors help form conceptual frames that explain and justify military action, Yusuf Progler shows how these are rendered literal in blood and steel — inscribed onto the machinery itself.

From January 1999, Racist and degrading graffiti rooted in America's military culture:

During the last hours of ‘Operation Desert Fox,’ the murderous Anglo-American pre-Ramadan assault on the Muslim population of Iraq, the Associated Press broadcast a photograph of a US Navy missile ‘festooned with disparaging graffiti.’ Subsequent news reports mentioned one of the ‘several inscriptions’ scrawled on the missile: ‘Here’s a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg.’

Almost immediately, the offensive graffiti was strategically denounced by Pentagon officials as a ‘rare exception.’ In a statement released to the press, the Pentagon stressed that the graffiti ‘does not reflect American policy’ toward Muslims, adding that the US appreciates the ‘important contributions of Muslim-Americans to the US military.’ But despite the official denial, and though it received no further media attention, the incident is symptomatic of a long-standing legacy.

Aside from the reality that ‘American policy’ toward Muslims has included bombing and starving Iraq into oblivion, letting Bosnians be murdered and raped by Serbian fascists, supporting Israeli aggression in Palestine and Lebanon, destabilizing Iran, and attacking Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan, the graffiti incident is instructive in a number of ways. For one thing, it provides a rare glimpse into American military culture....

One need only look to earlier instances for verification. During ‘Desert Storm,’ the 1991 precursor to Desert Fox, reporters discovered the Anglo-American tradition of scribbling messages on bombs. Graffiti of that war ranged from adolescent silliness, such as ‘Hi Mom’ and ‘Say Cheese,’ to a range of witty puns like ‘Seasons Beatings,’ to virulently racist and sexist remarks like ‘Mrs. Saddam’s sex toy’ or ‘a suppository for Saddam.’ While British airmen are known to write messages like, ‘Dear Saddam, have a shitty day, love from the RAF,’ Americans tend to write more sexualized graffiti, with one reporter noting ‘the most identifiably American’ graffiti includes phrases like ‘bend over Saddam.’

Sometimes, US airmen write messages in their own blood. Since all of the weapons are blown to smithereens, and since the graffiti is in English, it seems obvious that the pearls of wrath and wisdom are intended for the artists themselves, almost like an inside joke, which is occasionally made public by news reports....

There’s no doubt that Chad Rickenberg, who painted a Ramadan greeting on a bomb destined to destroy Iraqis, had heard stories of similar acts committed by his predecessors in 1991, when another generation painted its degrading graffiti on bombs also destined to kill Iraqis. The oral tradition in the military passes on its rites of passage, which become badges of honor and belonging.

But such attitudes and practices toward Muslims did not emerge with the recent aggressions against Iraq and Iran. The first American military adventure against the Muslim world was initiated by then president Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. Those valiant exploits led to the formation of the American Navy and Marines, and the creation of a racist and phantasmagoric folklore about Muslim ‘barbarians’ and their ‘harems,’ the former to be killed and the latter to be raped. After a bit more practice on Indians and Africans, American soldiers massacred ‘Moro’ Muslims in the Philippines, America’s ‘Indian territory’ of the 1890s. Today, a century later, America’s Indian territory is Iraq. And the legacy marches on.

Indeed, this is made quite clear in this May 5, 2055 photo published on the Marine Corps own Web site. It is a photo of a U.S. tank in Iraq dubbed the ‘New Testament.’ Not only is it written across the barrel beneath the bowed head of the operator, it is highlighted in the caption:

“Haditha Dam, Al Anbar, Iraq - The ‘New Testament’ a tank with 4th Tank Co., 1st Tank battalion attached to 3/25 prepares to lead the way during a recent mission. Photo by: Cpl. Ken Melton.”

New Testament

Image via American Samizdat

See also: Bombing Iraq, on the functions of Iraqi graffiti.

>  25 May 2005 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

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