Here are two provocative images I’ve recently seen that relate to the ten year anniversary of 9/11:
This one was found via Facebook—shared by a friend of a friend:
The text reads: “Flight 93 Born Hero’s; Gave their Lives to Save Lives; Life is a Precious Gift; Save God’s UnBorn Hero’s; AmericA Must End the Terror of Abortion”
The following image was found at Jesus Needs New PR:
The text here reads: “The Name of the Lord is a Strong Tower; the Righteous Run into It and are Safe; We Trust in God.”
These images have a great deal of icons and symbolism compressed into them. The first includes the US flag, Jesus, a plane, God, America, the language of “heroes,” a pro-life sentiment, and an anti-terrorist sentiment. The second compresses the US flag, God, America, the twin towers, a Bible verse, and an “In God We Trust” Christian-American sentiment.
It would be easy to criticize these images (and their accompanying text) for their errors and incoherence. For the first image, why is “heroes” misspelled? What do flight 93 heroes have to do with abortion rights? Why is the last “A” in “AmericA” capitalized? Why is that plane apparently made out of cheese? Is “terrorism” really the same as the “terror of abortion”? For the second image, why pair that Bible verse with that image? God will protect those who run into his tower: isn’t that ironic? Those towers fell, and the people in them died—in fact, most people were trying to run out of those towers. Why do we “trust in God” when he didn’t prevent this even from happening?
But to read these images like this misses their power. These images “work” not through their literal message, but through the emotions they incite. And the incitement of emotions—in sympathetic viewers—depends little if at all on the literal message of the text or the theoretical contradictions between the images and the text.
A sympathetic reader could see the first image and think: Hell yeah, I’m pro-life! Hell yeah, I’m against terrorism! And if you’re pro-choice you’re on the same side as terrorists. Of course I’ve written that as a sentence, but let me make it clear—the cognitive effect of these images is not propositional.
It is significant that these images “work” precisely because they are not propositional. Upon reflection, the propositional content clearly isn’t coherent. Rather, these images are functioning as flags. Flags aren’t propositions—they demarcate territory. And sympathetic readers can tell you are in the wrong territory if you “miss the point” by drawing attention to the propositional content.
I love “Flags aren’t propositions–they demarcate territory.” That seems exactly right, and a very useful way to look at a good many other political messages as well– the verbal ones, I mean. Thanks!