Manufacturing Civic Identity?

Images have the power to reveal ignored realities or consequences of actions, such as the ‘Napalm Girl’ which revealed the effects of chemical warfare. It ultimately turned the tide of public opinion against the American war in Vietnam. This image revealed the kind of details that are an integral part of what war is about, but often whitewashed and camouflaged by patriotic imagery glorifying war instead. “Raising the Flag on Mount Suribachi” is clearly the later. The image shifts the conversation about the tragedy of the WW2 and its consequences that we still experience today, to one of glorification and American victory. The first image of soldiers, straining to plant an American flag, depict a uniformly clothed anonymous group of men. The photo, whose composition perfectly represents physical labour has been re-appropriated through jingoistic usage in the media to dominate the public perception of WW2 ever since. I would argue that it continues to be one of the iconic pictorial depictions of the ideology of American exceptionalism. I see the reenactment of this image at Ground Zero as again, triumph against external destructive forces. There is nothing wrong with the spirit of hope embodied in these images as such, but reproduction of an image in a context creates meaning and association. This meaning can used to manufacture memories of events. Similarly the “George Eastman Membership House Brochure” through its seemingly  innocuous depiction of a child as an education trope, reinforces the society’s assumptions about a model citizen being male and white. One must not forget the context this image inhabited, when black war veterans returned to their home country where they could not vote, and black identity itself was considered a deviation from the norm.


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