The Eyes Have It

time magazine coverTime Magazine paying homage to the global protester of 2011 as the person of the year is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is an unexpected honor for occupiers in this country to be singled out for attention this Holiday Season — without the use of pepper spray to highlight their importance, not to mention discourage what they do best: protest. On the other hand, perhaps the iconic image crafted by Shephard Fairey has embedded within it a less flattering slant.

Look in the eyes of the Fairey protester.

Set aside any debates about artistic merit; just take in what is gazing back at you, as if you picked up the magazine in a dental office and now have it lying on your lap. Don’t think about it: Look and flip it over, then say any words that come to mind. Chances are Jihadi will be the first one, or terrorist, or guerilla or intifada. It isn’t the combination of knit cap and bandana alone that produces this sort of association in most people; it is the addition to the mix of the eyes rendered in placard black and white with fiery red, all the detailing Photoshopped-out with extreme contrast.

Shephard Fairey's rendition.

Now look at the reality, the photograph of Sarah M, taken by LA Weekly freelance photographer Ted Soqui either at the City Hall encampment of Occupy LA or at a protest held on November 17th at Bank of America Plaza.  Since the subject wishes to remain anonymous, I’m not printing Sarah’s last name, nor do I need to provide the full image to make this point: These are the eyes of a human being.

Not even a fear obsessed, War On Terror, Fox News addict could see any menace in these eyes. Even if the same context is provided – the knit cap and 99% bandana — the eyes still win you over. In the Soqui photo you have an image that says far more about the true heart and soul of the Occupy movement than the cover of Time Magazine.

Had the editors decided to use his photograph instead, then they would have had a problem on their hands: a far too attractive image for the Occupy movement.

sarah's eyes

Sarah M's human eyes

Fairey provided Time with the perfect solution: a cover that could be interpreted as heroic while stoking the viewer’s unease at the same time. And so, the hip outlaw graphic street artist with cred (for generating the iconic image of the Obama ’08 campaign) has delivered to his client, arguably a key member of the one percent, precisely the image required to undermine with praise: a stylized portrait with the subject’s all important eyes peering over the top edge of a rebel bandana with something of the fanatic about them.

She may be the person of the year and the image may be strong, too, iconographic and guaranteed to stimulate a new clothing line, but I doubt the rest of the 99% are interested in meeting her in person now. At best, they may admire her conviction and her courage from afar, but let the Global Protester take the pepper spray. Is there not something about her eyes that justifies it?

And how many of the 99% will be turning off the tube to risk going down to Zuccotti Park to hang out with her?

Which is a shame, because all they will find is someone just like Sarah all over the country, wherever there is an OWS gathering. Time Magazine has played its image manipulation card well: Lurking under the bandana of the Person of the Year is Public Enemy Number One: The Occupy Wall Street Protester. Fear Her. Let us kettle her and arrest her. She is “The Other.”

So, take look one more time at the truth: It’s just Sarah.

Steve Fine

Published by the LA Progressive on December 21, 2011
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About Steve Fine

Writer, photographer and SF Valley peace activist, Steve Fine has been known to play guitar, too. "I didn't pitch a tent at City Hall, nor was I there every day, but in October I spearheaded an Occupy LA march to the Bank of America Plaza in downtown Los Angeles and have taken part in other OLA events."