Saturday, October 20, 2012

Don't think twice (it's all right)

Ever since I came across this apparently innocent, 'off-duty' pic of our PM, I've been thinking about the issues it raises. You have to be of a certain age to connect it with the original album cover, but it's quite clearly a visual quote from Dylan's Freewheelin' cover which was released some 49 years ago. Visual quotes have become quite a theme in contemporary visual art and, of course, cinema too - Woody Allen is probably the leading exponent of this, but my personal favourite is Luis Bunuel's 'Last Supper' scene in Viridiana. (I'm not sure, by the way, whether to describe this as quote, parody or remix, but like citation, imitation and plagiarism in the written form, it's a phenomenon that is certainly worthy of academic scrutiny). But all this aside, what exactly is going on here? According to the Guardian newspaper, the photograph has been carefully set up by Tory party publicists as an explicit attempt to capture our leader in casual mode. That's the point at which all this becomes very subtle. So, assuming this is true - and there's no reason to doubt it - we have to begin questioning even the most seemingly innocent media image, that is to question its level of authenticity. The 'loving couple' in Dylanesque embrace may have just 'popped out for a curry' but the artifice suggests an attempt to create more....but more what? More of a sixties type counter-culture figure, surely not! Or is it trying to tap into something deeper, like a subliminal tilt at youthful romance by riffing off an iconic image deeply lodged in the memories of mature voters? If this is the case, then we might quite rightly recoil at an intention to subtley massage our political opinions. Actually, having said that, I'm not completely convinced  that is likely to alter my own attitudes to Cameron or to sway my anti-coalition political leanings, but maybe that's a different point. OK, well there's just one other avenue that opens up, and it's one that gives more positive credit to the photographer - a more innocent view. How clever, and how ironic to draw this visual parallel. All told, then, the image raises all sorts of questions; but of course the answer is blowing in the wind!

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