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T H E I N T E R N AT I O N A L
JOURNAL
of THE IMAGE
Volume 1, Number 3
‘Emergent Structure’ in the Abu Ghraib Political
Cartoons of Emad Hajjaj in a News Context, or,
What do the Images of Abu Ghraib ‘Want from
Us’?*
Orayb A. Najjar
www.OnTheImage.com
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE IMAGE
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‘Emergent Structure’ in the Abu Ghraib Political
Cartoons of Emad Hajjaj in a News Context, or, What do
the Images of Abu Ghraib ‘Want from Us’?*
Orayb A. Najjar, Northern Illinois University, IL, USA
Abstract: The Torture scandal of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was exposed in 2004 when 60 Minutes
introduced the story by placing on its web site the photo of a hooded prisoner on a box. That particular
image, chosen by many cartoonists and scholars as the iconic image to represent torture, is the subject
of this study. I apply the theories of “conceptual blending” (Fauconnier and Turner, 2002) to the Abu
Ghraib cartoons of the hooded prisoner as well as to the cartoons that draw on that iconic image years
later. By tracing the cognitive and visual strategies political cartoonist Emad Hajjaj used to transform
that powerful icon into 24 cartoons between 2004-2010, I illustrate how the image continues to be
blended into new “emergent structures” that are applied to other news events. I suggest that, over
time, the Hajjaj cartoons changed from timely commentary on the mistreatment of prisoners, to icons
that encourage “a devotional reading” (Mitchell, 2006) of related and unrelated news events. Those
same images have also inspired political “culture jamming,” in which artists turned the iPod into iRaq,
and posted mock iRaq posters, extending the life and reach of the image.
Keywords: Political Cartoons, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Editorial Cartoons, Emad Hajjaj, Conceptual Integration, Blending, Emergent Structure, Visual Communication, Culture Jamming
* The concept of images wanting things from viewers is inspired by Mitchell, W. J. T.’s book title, What do pictures want?:
The lives and loves of images, 2005
Introduction
T
HE HUMAN RIGHTS scandal of the prison of Abu Ghraib began to unfold on
January 13, 2004, when Spc. Joseph Darby gave the Army’s Criminal Investigation
Command (CID) images of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated by American prison
guards. A June 6, 2004, CID investigation report includes the following summary
of the material: “A review of … a total of 1,325 images of suspected detainee abuse, 93
video files of suspected detainee abuse, 660 images of adult pornography, 546 images of
suspected dead Iraqi detainees, 29 images of soldiers in simulated sexual acts, 20 images of
a soldier with a Swastika drawn between his eyes, 37 images of military working dogs being
used in abuse of detainees and 125 images of questionable acts” (Benjamin, 2006). CBS’s
60 Minutes on April 28, 2004 broke the story with the photo of a hooded prisoner on a box
featured as the main visual on its web page.1
1
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4674645n&tag=mncol;lst;3
The International Journal of the Image
Volume 1, Number 3, 2011, http://ontheimage.com/journal/, ISSN 2152-7857
© Common Ground, Orayb A. Najjar, All Rights Reserved, Permissions:
[email protected]
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE IMAGE
Figure 1: U.S. Soldier Appears to be Checking his Camera Next to the Iraqi Man on the
Box2 Photo Found at http://apertura.hu/2008/osz/mitchell2
The British magazine, The Economist, in its May 6, 2004 issue featured the hooded Iraqi on
a box as its cover photo with the title, “Resign, Rumsfeld” (The Economist, 2004).3
Iraqi artist Salah Edine Sallat painted a mural in Baghdad with the hooded man on his
box standing next to the Statue of Liberty on her pedestal (Figure 2). “ThaT FRee DOM …
For Bosh,” says Mitchell (2005), “provides the verbal counterpoint to the visual image, activating the metaphoric transfer between the American icon of Liberty and the Iraqi icon of
abjection like the current flowing through a wire.”
2
Photo Found at http://apertura.hu/2008/osz/mitchell2
See cover at DemocrticUnderground.com
http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=103x49240
3
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ORAYB A. NAJJAR
Figure 2: May 27, 2004, Ali Jasim, REUTERS Photo
The hooded man also was featured in the first cartoon Emad Hajjaj drew on the subject
(Figure 5), and is the object of this study. According to his web site, the cartoonist, was born
in the West Bank in 1967, and grew up in the Wehdat Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman,
Jordan. He now works for Al Ghad newspaper (Amman, Jordan), and Al Quds Al Arabi
(London). Hajjaj’s cartoons are also available on www.cartoonweb.com and www.politicalcartoons.com, and his own web site www.mahjoob.com . In the first quarter of 2009, his
web site registered 14.4 million page views, and 1.4 million visitors. He has APS for iPhones,
iPads and iPods.
Why was this Particular Image Important?
There is a general agreement that out of all the Abu Ghraib photos, one emerged as iconic:
the hooded man on the box (Walsh, 2006). Sarah Boxer called the photograph “the icon of
the abuse” although it shows “no dogs, no dead, no leash, no face, no nakedness, no pileup,
no thumbs-up” (Boxer, 2004). W.J.T. Mitchell wondered why that image “had become …
possibly a historical marker” (Mitchell, 2004). He found the image powerful because, “despite
its context in scenes of horror and scandal, it has a curious modesty and dignity” (Mitchell,
2005a). Ray Morris observes that political cartoons portray groups, using individuals to
stand for groups, and using familiar, simple contrasts to stand for complex, competing powers
(Morris, 1993). It is not surprising, then, that the man has come to stand for the country of
Iraq in cartoons as well as in counter-culture posters discussed later in the study.
This study applies the theories of conceptual blending or conceptual integration to cartoons
whose subject matter is triggered by factual news events to determine how emergent structure
is achieved in a news context. After a theoretical discussion on blending and emergent
structure, I first review the literature that describes how different disciplines have used
blending, and then review blending studies on political cartoons. Finally, I use the work of
cartoonist Emad Hajjaj to illustrate how blending and emergent structure enable cartoons to
perform new and creative functions beyond the original purpose of commenting on daily
news.
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Research Questions
1.
2.
3.
4.
How is blending triggered and elaborated in cartoons to create emergent structure?
What function does blending perform in a news context?
How does “emergent structure” tell us what the images of Abu Ghraib by Emad Hajjaj
“want from us?”
When did the imagery of Abu Ghraib begin to trail off?
Research Methodology
Every single cartoon that appeared in the Arabic Archives of the cartoonist Emad Hajjaj for
the period of May 1, 2004 until December 31, 2010, was examined to identify the general
themes that emerged out of the 1,967 cartoons published during that period on local, Arab
and international topics.4 After isolating the cartoons on Iraq, three main themes were identified: Cartoons lamenting what Iraq has come to; cartoons that used the fallen statue of
Saddam Hussein to provide a running commentary on the new rulers of Iraq; and cartoons
of American soldiers mistreating Iraqis in various locales, for example, the killing by a U.S.
Marine of a wounded and unarmed Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque in 2004 (Sites, 2005), or the
rape of a teenager and the murder of 24 in Haditha on March 12, 2005 (Jervis, 2005). There
were cartoons on several photos of the various abuses of Abu Ghraib, but I narrowed down
that topic by focusing only on the 24 cartoons that employ the iconic image of the man on
the box. In the next segment, I describe blending and emergent structure and show how
Blending Theory has been applied in other disciplines.
Conceptual Framework
Conceptual Blending Theory (CBT) is a methodological framework developed to capture
and account for the creative aspect of the way human beings manipulate semantic content.
The theory primarily focuses on conceptual constructions made up of elements from two or
more input spaces (Kowalewski, n.d.). Fauconnier & Turner, (1994b; 1998) developed the
theory of conceptual integration to account for what happens when two or more concepts
are blended to form a new “emergent structure.” So conceptual blending operates over
mental spaces as inputs (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998, p. 1). Because elements in one mental
space often have counterparts in other spaces, an important component of mental space theory
involves establishing mappings between elements and relations in different spaces (Coulson
and Oakley, 2000). A mapping, or mental space connection, is the understanding that an
object or element in one space corresponds to an object or element in another space. In this
way, complex scenarios can be represented by a series of mental spaces and connections
between them (Coulson & Fauconnier, 1999). Below is an illustration of the four-space
model followed by an example of how that model works.
4
4
http://www.mahjoob.com/en/archives/index.php to find any cartoon; go by year, month and date.
ORAYB A. NAJJAR
Figure 3: The Four-space Model of Blending Theory
Source: Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier, “Conceptual Integration Networks, 1998,
http://www.humaniora.sdu.dk/~thewaywethink/encyclo.htm
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Figure 4: An Example of Blending is the Expression, “The Christian Taliban.” 6 Wizard of
Whimsy http://www.bushwatch.com/attackamericantaliban.htm
In this four-space model “The Christian Taliban” expression consists of two input spaces
structured by information from discrete cognitive domains (The Taliban on one side and the
American religious right on the other), and a generic space that contains structure common
to all spaces in the network (religion). In blending, structures from the two input spaces are
projected to a separate generic space. The blend inherits partial structure from the input
spaces (religion and extremism), and has emergent structure of its own (Fauconnier &
Turner, 1996, p. 113), in this case, the emergent structure posits that Christian extremists
look like Muslim extremists. The flexibility of this model rests on the fact that it carries
within it the potential “for emergence of new content, not available from either of the input
5
Source: Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier, “ Conceptual Integration Networks, 1998,
http://www.humaniora.sdu.dk/~thewaywethink/encyclo.htm
6
Wizard of Whimsy
http://www.bushwatch.com/attackamericantaliban.htm
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spaces. New juxtapositions, new frames, new features all arise when we combine elements
from distinct mental spaces.” In fact, when we see those “bits of emergent structure” we
know that we have blending (Grady, Oakley, & Coulson, 1999).
Fauconnier and Turner (1998) lay out five “optimality principles” of conceptual blending,
constraints under which blends work most effectively. These are: Integration between the
two spaces; Web: Tight connections and correspondence between the blend and the inputs;
Unpacking: the ease of reconstructing the inputs and the network of connections, given the
blend; and Topology: Elements in the blend should participate in the same sorts of relations
as their counterparts in the inputs. And finally, Good Reason: If an element appears in the
blend, it should have meaning (Grady, Oakley, & Coulson, 1999).
Literature Review
Even though Conceptual Blending Theory originated in the field of linguistics, it has been
successfully used to describe virtually all types of semiotic data (Kowalewski, n.d.). It has
been used to study language and grammar (Fauconnier & Turner, 1998), metaphor (Grady,
Oakley, Coulson, 1999), one-line jokes (Wu, 2000), humor (Coulson, 2005). Blending has
also been used in teaching cultural narratives (Howell, 2010), in the philosophical study of
character (Fenton, 2008), in the processing of emotions (Cánovas, 2010), and in song
(Zbikowski, 1997). Hiraga (1999) used it to explore poetic creativity. Robert (1998) employed
blending in the interpretation of mathematical proofs, Imaz and Benyon (2007) argued that
blending has become increasingly important in software engineering and human-computer
interaction. Tim Roher (2001) analyzed the metaphors of the Internet. Blending has also
been used to study political cartoons. That is not surprising, given that conceptual blending
is viewed as one of the central cognitive processes governing human thought and imagination
(Turner, 1996).
The Study of Political Cartoons
Political cartoons are a good source for the study of blending and emergent structure because
they persuade by “the purposeful condensation of sometimes complex meanings into a single
image” and are “bundles of judgments” that “show how things were, how they are and how
they may be” (Bostdorff, 1987, p. 44). Because editorial cartoons comment on factual events,
they provide a unique opportunity to study both the event trigger for the cartoon, the blending
that takes place in the cartoon, as well as how a political cartoon is extended to other events
over time to create a framework or a general narrative for the way the reader should view
the issue at hand.
Rhetoricians have suggested that cartoons may be viewed as visual arguments “which
constitute the species of visual persuasion in which the visual elements overlie, accentuate,
render vivid and immediate, and otherwise elevate in forcefulness a reason or set of reasons
offered for modifying a belief, an attitude or one’s conduct” (Blair, 2004, p. 50). Like other
editorial outlets, cartoons both reflect and influence trends in public thought. Bergen (2003)
finds that they “are thus a source ripe for cognitive linguistic analysis” because of their use
of “the same mechanisms that every day as well as political language do.” After identifying
several recurrent metaphors in pronouncements made after the September 11 attacks, Bergen
analyzed the role three cognitive mechanisms used to understand the cartoons: conceptual
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blending (Turner & Fauconnier, 2002), conceptual metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), and
cultural models (Holland & Quinn, 1987); (Bergen, 2003). Bergen, who compared the way
the various cognitive mechanisms are used in language and in cartoons, found that “the discovery of the use of common metaphors, blending strategies, or cultural models in language
and in editorial cartoons can serve to confirm the non-linguistic nature of these cognitive
mechanisms” (Bergen, 2003). In political communication, visual arguments have been used
by the state to demonize the enemy (Conners, 1998), and by social movements to demonize
the state. Kari Andén-Papadopoulos notes that cartoons do not always support dominant
views. In fact, she says, the Abu Ghraib images “were not in any simple way `spoken for’
or tamed by the dominant news frames.” Because of them, the previously banned “sight of
American troops in the role of sadistic torturers has become an integral part of our understanding of the Bush administration’s `war on terror’.” She also found that the proliferation
of those visuals in the wider culture, “where they, through various creative and counterframing practices, often have been transformed into sites of protest and opposition to the
very deeds they represent” (Andén-Papadopoulos, 2008). Edwards and Winkler (1997) note
that the photos of prisoner abuse raise questions about the rhetorical functions of wartime
visuals. They point out, however, that “the images of Abu Ghraib do not exist in a vacuum,
but participate in a hypertextual environment of remembered images regarding war, atrocity,
and other habituated aspects of bodily presentations” (pp. 10-11). Furthermore, such images
are viewed and discussed “in terms of their existence within a wider arena of visuals, both
as presented in print media, and as remediated in editorial cartoons.”
Edwards and Winkler (1997), who examined the rhetorical function of the 1945 photograph
of the flag raising at Iwo Jima as it was appropriated in a number of recent editorial cartoons,
argue that the parodied Iwo Jima image “operates as an instance of depictive rhetoric that
functions ideographically.” Hariman (2007) observes that “iconic images are an important
example of how modern public life depends on the appropriation and recirculation of images
across a wide range of media, arts, genres, topics, and audiences.” He also lists the number
of artifacts on which the Iwo Jima flag raising is found, including, “commemorative medals,
beer mugs, paperweights, fireworks, comic books, Christmas tree ornaments.” (Hariman,
2007a).7 The type of alterations performed by various groups, “throw key features of political experience into sharp relief. Iconic images are revealed as models of visual eloquence,
signposts for collective memory, means of persuasion across the political spectrum and a
crucial resource for critical reflection” (Hariman, 2007a).
And that is why oppositional groups find interrogating those valued images useful.
Analysis of Emad Hajjaj’s Cartoons
In the month of May 2004, shortly after the Abu Ghraib torture came to light, Hajjaj drew
six cartoons on Abu Ghraib. The iconic photo of the man on the box was the first cartoon
on the subject (Figure 5), and remained on the first page of Hajjaj’s web site from 20042008, suggesting that he considered it the most important cartoon. Below, I use blending
and emergent structure to analyze that particular cartoon. I also comment on some features
of other cartoons below.
7
Also, see tattoos of Iwo Jima, at, http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=IWo+Jima+tattoo&FORM=IGRE4
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Figure 5 (3 May 2004): “Tortured Iraq,” The First Cartoon Commentary on Abu Ghraib,
All the titles of the cartoons, if placed in quotation marks, were penned by cartoonist Emad Hajjaj
The setting in Figure 5 is the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where the Statue of Liberty curiously
finds itself. Here, conceptual integration is achieved by blending. The first mental space
originates from long-term memory (the schema of the State of Liberty and what it represents)
as an icon that stands for American ideals. The second mental space is the Iraqi prisoner,
representing “tortured Iraq.” The cross mapping between the different inputs that originate
from those main input spaces constructs the statue as the counterpart of the Iraqi prisoner
and the torture and imprisonment as the counterparts of liberty and freedom.
Input one, the flowing robe of Lady Liberty (worn by judges), is the counterpart of the
blanket worn by the prisoner, and is mapped over it. That mapping in the blend changes the
meaning of the robe. Instead of its standing for law and order, it becomes prison garb. Furthermore, the robe, whose clasp has a KKK cross, is now mapped against the input of
America’s past with slavery. The pointed hood input on the statue’s head is mapped against
its counterpart, the prisoner’s hood, reminding some researchers like Apel (2005) of KKK
lynching. But while the statue can see, the prisoner is sightless with no slits for his eyes; so
he is in the dark literally and figuratively. There is even some internal mapping that gets
projected within the same mental space: The torch of freedom in the mental space of Lady
Liberty’s better self is mapped on an electricity box with a lever that seemingly delivers an
electric shock. The emergent structure is tyranny, instead of freedom and enlightenment.
The tablet, which in the original statue is inscribed with the date of American independence
in input one, is mapped against what looks like a tablet with an inscription of the KKK. The
generic space has a box-like object in both statues. If America was standing on a pedestal
in the past, it no longer is. The pedestal on which we metaphorically place people of elevated
status is reduced in the emergent structure to a mere box similar to that of the Iraqi prisoner’s.
Size is also mapped from one space to another. The statue of liberty has shrunk from the
gigantic symbol of freedom to mere mortal size, as has its pedestal. The statue itself is
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showing some cracks and parts of it are crumbling in the cartoon, suggesting a crumbling
image.
The Lady’s foot, which is supposed to step forward, ready to lead people to freedom,
simply mimics the foot of the hooded prisoner as its counterpart in the mapping and is going
nowhere. The symbolism of the statue of liberty is hijacked and used to show how far the
torturers have gone from the ideals Lady Liberty, a.k.a. America, represents. According to
Apel (2005) the image, “resonates with allusions to the crucifixion, robed monks, the statue
of liberty, the Klan, the executioner, the mask of death” (p. 2). By blending images from
present-day inputs and past memories and images, the cartoon undermines the military’s
claim that it is invading Iraq to liberate Iraqi citizens “yearning to breathe free.”
In terms of the use of symbolism, the cartoonist continually draws on sacred American
symbols, only to dismantle them, creating a new emergent structure vision of America very
different from the image constructed in U.S. civics classes. Mitchell (2006) notes that “It is
not just the secular Liberty that is being ironically transferred to Iraq in this image, and not
just the initiation into the bizarre homophobic fantasies of the ‘brotherhood’ of the American
fraternity system (the Limbaugh scenario), or the routinized rapes of the American prison
system. It is, finally, the central devotional icon of Christianity that is being cloned in Iraq,
… with the staging of an Arab man as a Christ-like sacrifice” (p. 304). The outstretched
arms of the prisoner affirms that image.
The cartoon fulfills Fauconnier and Turner’s five “optimality principles” as described by
Grady, Oakley, Coulson (1999). There is integration between the two spaces, the connections
and correspondence between the blend and the inputs is tight both physically (shape of hoods,
type of robe/blanket), and ethically (freedom/tyranny); unpacking the blend is not difficult
because it is easy to reconstruct the inputs and the network of connections both within the
figures and between them (for example, there is a connection between the outstretched arm
that carries a torch and the outstretched hand that grasps the lever of the electric box). In
terms of the topology, which stipulates that elements in the blend should participate in the
same sorts of relations as their counterparts in the inputs, it is clear that they do. The box
matches the pedestal in shape and in that they both work as pedestals of sorts. Metaphorically,
the fear of falling has been transferred from the prisoner to Lady Liberty (parts of which are
crumbling). Freedom and tyranny have a relation to each other as opposites and so blending
them is legitimate. And finally, Good Reason: all elements in the blend have meaning that
is understood cross culturally (Grady, Oakley, & Coulson, 1999). The flexibility of this
model rests on the fact that it carries within it the potential “for emergence of new content,
not available from either of the input spaces. New juxtapositions, new frames, new features
all arise when we combine elements from distinct mental spaces.” In fact, when we see those
“bits of emergent structure” we know that we have blending (Grady, Oakley, & Coulson,
1999).
Below, I selectively analyze some features of other cartoons with the same image to show
how symbols that are familiar and sacred to popular culture (Iwo Jima) are reinterpreted to
shed light on what happened in Iraq.
The Abu Ghraib Prisoner goes to Iwo Jima
Figure 6 takes advantage of the iconic image of the photo of Iwo Jima and turns it into a
cartoon Hajjaj calls, “Iraqi Prisoners.” The cartoon uses the photo of U.S. Navy corpsmen
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by Joe Rosenthal as an input space source which, in its original form, denotes bravery,
heroism and the planting of the flag of freedom and victory.
Figure 6: “Iraqi Prisoners,” 6 May 2005 (In Black and White)
The artist then superimposes it on the Abu Gharib iconic figure of the prisoner. The American corpsmen, like the prisoner, have a hood reminiscent of the KKK (Apel 2005). Since
freedom and torture stand in opposition to one another, Emad Hajjaj takes America’s triumph
and pride and maps it onto its shame, using the slant of the flag pole as an input space to
match the slant of the pole that hoists the Iraqi prisoner who used to stand on a C-Ration
box. The new meaning that emerges metaphorically equates the old Iwo Jima flag [planted
in the name of freedom], with the new American flag, [the hooded Iraqi prisoner, tortured
in the name of Iraqi liberation]. Textually, the title the artist gave the cartoon in Figure 6
suggests that the American corpsmen are also prisoners in Iraq. The fact that Figure 6 is
drawn in black and white indicates what the political cartoonist feels on the subject of torture.
Three Flags and their Stars
Like other nations, America has constructed its own national identity by using cultural
symbols that have come to stand for the nation, one of them, the flag. So it is not surprising
that the flags of the USA and Iraq were targets for cartoonists.
Figure 7: “American Flag,” (11 May 2004)
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Figure 8: (19 November 2005)
Figure 9: “New Iraqi Flag,” (11 March 2006) (In Black and White)
Flags metaphorically stand for nations. In Figure 7, blending is achieved by using the
American flag as a mental space, and the simplified outline of the hooded prisoner of Abu
Ghraib as the other. The stars on the American flag input space are made to be the counterpart
of the hooded prisoner by mapping the figure of the prisoner on the stars. The generic space
has pointed shapes that look like stars as well as the hoods; elements common to the prisoner
and the stars. Because of this visual shape distortion, the blend in the emergent structure
results in a United States that stands for torture; after all, stars represent states in the original
flag. In Figure 8, the first mental space is the old Iraqi flag; the second mental space is the
tortured prisoner of Abu Ghraib. The flag in Figure 8 is drawn in the pan-Arab colors of
black, white, red, and green. The tortured outline of the man on a box morphs into the three
Iraqi stars. The title, “Torture in the New Iraq,” suggests that this is not the Iraq U.S. policymakers had promised. In Figure 9 the black and white color of the flag denotes mourning.
The three stars in Ba’athist Iraq (later removed) represented the three goals of the Ba’ath
Party ([Arab] Unity, Freedom and Socialism). Those stars now turn into figures of sorrow;
the mother with a dead baby, the cleric presumably with a dead martyr, and right in the
middle, the symbol of torture; a commentary on what happened to Iraq. Here, the input
spaces, in addition to shape, are the absence of color (mourning), and the three stars, representing something other than what they represented during Ba’athist rule.
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Figure 10: (December 9, 2005)
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated before her departure for Europe in December
2005 that “[t]he United States Government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees”
(Rice, 2005). The cartoon (Figure 10) was a response to her statement. Here, her cape is the
input space that, when projected against a wall, yields the shadow of Abu Ghraib. Our
knowledge of how shadows are projected on walls, (large when light shines on them), is one
input space. That knowledge is also used as a metaphoric input space to suggest “casting a
shadow of doubt.” The conceptual integration of the statement of denial and the shadow
result in a new formulation: “Condoleeza Rice is a big liar.”
The drawing of Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons in Denmark triggered a cartoon that maps
the old Abu Ghraib figure over a pen whose pointed tip is of a similar shape to the pointed
hood (Figure 11), resulting in a blend with a new emergent structure that suggests that the
American claim that it invaded Iraq only to free it, is not genuine, while the Danish claim
that the country was protecting freedom of expression when it refused to censor the Prophet
Muhammad cartoons is genuine.
Figure 11: “American Freedom of Expression” (20 February 2006)
The recruitment of the Danish cartoon issue through blending to comment on Iraq kept the
Abu Ghraib issue alive long after it ceased to be in the news. This suggests that the issue
was not yet exhausted in the cartoonist’s mind in 2006.
In this study, I also set out to find when the images of Abu Ghraib petered out. The last
image of the man on the box appeared in 2006, although other images of Abu Ghraib were
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published in March and June 2007. The last month of the Bush administration saw the introduction of a different iconic image: the shoe thrown at President Bush at a press conference
on December 15, 2008. The throw inspired Hajjaj cartoons four days in a row starting on
the 16th of December with the “shoe and awe” cartoon.8 The cartoons of Abu Ghraib did
not appear during President Obama’s presidency, suggesting that the image is exhausted,
perhaps by the president’s pledge to do something about the prison population from America’s
wars.
Blending as Political Culture Jamming
Harold suggests that “[t]hose who pirate and hijack owned material attempt to challenge our
tendency to treat cultural material as property” (Harold, 2007, p. 117). Although Harold was
writing about commercial speech in the public sphere, her analysis applies equally to political speech which challenges the static “branding” of nations and political ideas. Just as
products with trademarks may be mocked, diluting their brand, as owners of the brand claim
in court (Harold, 2007, p. 120), war protesters and some cartoonists dilute the official spin
on the conduct of soldiers at Abu Ghraib and open it up for discussion in a way official war
briefings from the field to eager reporters does not. Just as the magazine Adbusters jams “the
corporate image factory” with its parodies (Harold, 2007, p. 158), political cartoonists jam
the war PR factory with parodies that use blending as a cognitive device. The term culture
jamming was first used by cultural critic Mark Dery in 1991. Says Lasn, “We jammers are
a loose global network of artists, activists … We are … ethical investors” (Lasn,1999, p.
110). Jammers argue that people absorb “a surreal quantity of information” but find the
quality of information “even more disturbing.” Jammers argue that “Information diversity
is as critical to our long-term survival as biodiversity… When a handful of media megacorporations control not only the daily newspapers and TV airwaves but the magazine, book
publishing … industries … information and cultural diversity both plummet” (Lasn, 1999,
25, 26). Both Iraq wars were distinguished by daily war spin. Culture jamming, says Harold,
“multiplies the tools of intervention for contemporary media and consumer activists. It does
so by embracing the viral character of communication and culture” (Harold, 2007, 104).
Cartoonists start with old icons like Iwo Jima and rework them into new “emergent
structures” with oppositional content. Culture jammers start with an iconic image and turn
it into a political poster [e.g. Figure 12] (Bonner, 2004), a doll in an art exhibit (Martin,
2010), or an “insurgent T-Shirt” as a spoof in many colors.9 Corporations advertise. Culture
jammers subvertise. “A well-produced print ‘subvertisement’ mimics the look and feel of
the target ad, prompting the classic double take as viewers realize that what they’re seeing
is in fact the very opposite of what they expected” (Lasn, 1999, p. 131).
8
Also see, http://www.mahjoob.com/en/archives/browse.php?Y=2008&M=12&offset=12
iRaq (iPod) tee shirt spoof, Available from Redmolotov.com http://www.redmolotov.com/catalogue/tshirts/all/iraq.html
9
13
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE IMAGE
Figure 12: iRaq iPod Spoof Posters Showing up Around LA (Bonner, 2004)
The text reads, 10,000 Iraqis Killed, 773 U.S. Soldiers Dead. Videos of the man on the box
are also available with the caption, iRaq, Life is Random.10
Discussion
This study used the same visual (the hooded prisoner on box) to show that blending inputs
result in an emergent structure that may depend on similarity of shape, size, or concepts.
This emergent structure, however, may be triggered by relevant daily news events (e.g. the
release of photos of Abu Ghraib, or a statement made by Secretary of State, Condoleezza
Rice), or by a concept of freedom in an issue not directly related to Abu Ghraib torture (e.g.
the controversy over the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad). Those new blends open
up the closed commentary space and prolong the political shelf life of an event the mainstream
media consider exhausted, or want buried (Abu Ghraib torture). Cartoonists who continue
to use one image long after the event that first triggered it has passed suggest to us that the
image is not yet exhausted, and that it still “wants something from us,” or, in the words of
W.J.T. Mitchell,
A narrative reading of the Hooded Man provides a date and a proper name to the figure.
… A devotional reading is contemplative and empathic, …This is a ‘seeing as’ that
does not assume that the image is exhausted by its narrative reading but asks what it
means to live with the image and the world it depicts, to ask what it wants from us.
W.J.T. Mitchell (2006)
Just as culture jammers refuse to ignore ad products that impinge on the serenity of public
space, political jammers refuse to give up on a given topic they consider unresolved. Political
jammers use emergent structure to metaphorically open up space for discussion not available
because of media routines, practices, ideology, or exclusion of alternative points of view
when it really matters.
This study concludes that emergent structure that results from blending has an essential
function in the news cycle: keeping news alive in the world of the sound byte and Twitter,
where news has been constructed as a fleeting commodity that is constantly being overtaken
by new events. As such, conceptual integration creates emergent structure that is new, repet10
Available from, Break, http://www.break.com/usercontent/2009/1/ipod-spoof-iRaq-655101
14
ORAYB A. NAJJAR
itive and insistent because the cartoons still “want something from us.” At a minimum, they
want an “unhurried contemplation” of an event that is old news by the next day ( Mitchell,
2004). It is important to note, however, that the emergent structure may be read by different
people in different ways. Mitchell observes that while he likes Mieke Bal’s concept of “art
that thinks,” he cautions that he does not want “to begin with the assumption that it always
thinks like us” (Mitchell, 2006a). New events and actions “are made intelligible against the
background of culturally shared knowledge” (Hall, 1980), and so the reading of the cartoons
in Iraq and the Middle East and in different parts of the West may be quite different from
their reading by the military. Some Western readers saw colonialism writ large, some saw
gender and racial scenarios, some saw race and class, others saw a reenactment of the
American prison system. In the Middle East, some editors saw an American government
that has lost its way.
Political cartoons especially lend themselves to the creation of emergent structure. The
interview cartoonist Emad Hajjaj gave to Al-Jazeera on March 12, 2005 suggests that he
understands this creative process:
Cartoons … turn a certain situation into a caricature, and reinterpret it with new details,
which then take a whole new different meaning with the receiver. The easy frame of
the cartoon … makes it a mass medium, especially in the Arab world. It is the art of
moving the [political] street” (Mansour 2005, p. 3).
In the same program, Hajjaj suggests that a cartoonist must be a rebel by nature, “humor
does not bear to be polite. To be a real cartoonist, you have to step over red lines, you have
to argue the forbidden spaces or turn them into symbols if you cannot directly address them”
(Mansour 2005, p. 10). Cartoons, says Hajjaj, tell people openly what is whispered in political salons. “Like the electrician who fixes cut wire, you are dealing with dangerous things
… cartoons … only tell people what is already in their heads… but now it is out in the open
in a newspaper. This is where the danger of a cartoon lies, and here is where cartoons start
to become important” (Mansour 2005, p. 11). Besides, says Sarah Boxer (2004), “the hooded
figure in the photograph is on a pedestal. It is already an icon,” and the emerging structure
from blending shows us how flexible that icon is, and how much it tells us about the world
around us provided we do not treat the context in which the torture took place as a fleeting
news item.
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About the Author
Dr. Orayb A. Najjar
Orayb Aref Najjar is professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois
University, USA, where she teaches courses in digital photography, computer graphics, and
international communication. Her research interests include media law in the Middle East
and new media and digital communication laws and regulations. Her visual media research
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THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE IMAGE
concentrates on political cartoons. Her latest publications include, The Pathology of Media
Intervention in Iraq 2003-2008: The US attempt to restructure Iraqi media law and content,
in International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies, Volume 3, Issue 1, May 2009, pp.
27-52; Cartoons as a Site for the Construction of Palestinian Refugee Identity: An Exploratory
Study of Cartoonist Naji al-Ali. Journal of Communication Inquiry Vol. 31, Issue 3 (June
2007):255-285. Media Policy and Law in Egypt and Jordan: Continuities and Changes. In
Kai Hafez (Ed.). Arab Media: Power and Weakness. New York: Continuum, 2008. pp. 183196.
18
Editors
Phillip Kalantzis-Cope, The New School for Social Research, New York, USA.
Tamsyn Gilbert, The New School for Social Research, New York, USA.
Editorial Advisory Board
Tressa Berman, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, USA;
UTS-Sydney, Australia
Howard Besser, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, New York City, USA
Sean Cubit, The University on Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Owen Evans, Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, UK
Tamsyn Gilbert, The New School for Social Research, New York City, USA
Dina Iordanova, Provost, St Leonards College, University of St Andrews, Scotland
Douglas Kellner, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Phillip Kalantzis-Cope, The New School For Social Research, New York City, USA
Gunther Kress, Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK
Emanuel Levy, Professor/Author/Critic, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
Mario Minichiello, Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Birmingham, UK
Colin Rhodes, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Becky Smith, School of Theater, Film and Television, University of California, Los
Angeles, USA
Marianne Wagner-Simon, Director, Freies Museum Berlin, Germany
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