Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Images Come to America...

The last week or two, I've been seeing this image with a quote (mis-) attributed to Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

My initial reaction was, "Yikes! This is scarily accurate."

And then... I thought the photo was a little too good to be true, did some research, and came to the conclusion that A) while the woman in this photo looks like the former governor of Alaska, it's probably not her, B) a lot of things come to America wrapped in the flag and waving a cross, and C) the Sinclair Lewis quote is misattributed. (Here's someone else's research )

I told some friends, and for the most part the reaction was, "Aw shucks." But then someone wrote words to the effect (the original discussion has been zapped into the virtual ether) that even if it wasn't a real photograph, it still spoke a truth and that "even if Sinclair Lewis didn't say it, he should have." (The quoted part is what I remember; I'm tempted to imply a tone, but tone is so difficult with electronic, text-only media.) Possibly they meant, "Even if he didn't say it, I wish he had." But then there were a couple of follow-ups along the lines of, "Yeah; it should be true."

Whoa. He should have said it? That's like saying, "Well, even if it isn't true, it should be." (Insert image of John trying to figure out which logical fallacy the previous argument is at .)

The whole exchange bothered me, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it (and I was having difficulty turning away from Was this someone's idea of Truth equals Beauty, Beauty equals Truth? Or was this line of reasoning some sort of sympathetic magic: it's true because I say it is?

And then I started thinking about this old New Yorker cover.

I mean, there are some folks on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me who might argue that this image from a cover of The New Yorker speaks a truth, and they would like it to be true because... well... it should be.


Are we talking historical truth , or mythic truth ? Because, you know, I've been here before when it comes to people insisting to me that a image is a record of a historical truth (and that I shouldn't doubt it), when all it really is an image that speaks with the power of myth to their needs, either for personal validation or to fulfill a political agenda.

Here it is:
Yep. "The Sorceror." Ooops, I mean, "The Lord of the Animals (humanity's first depicted deity)." Ooops, I mean "The Shaman." Ooops, no, that's definitely Cernunnos, -- wait a minute! This drawing isn't the same as what's on the cave of the at Trois-Frères! But, hey, even if it isn't true, that mean ol' Christian Church probably would have repressed it if it was!

Yes, I just made that last sentence up; nobody has actually said that to me. And even if they haven't, they probably should.

My point is -- yes, images speak to us and can resonate with us; but so do optical illusions. And satire is fun (I love satire); but it is only a first step toward truth.
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