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American exceptionalism and the “war on global warming”

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John Louis Lucaites, author of No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy has posted an apropos commentary about the Earth Day themed cover image on today’s Time Magazine to his No Caption Needed blog. Detailing a photoshopped version of Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of WWII troops on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi raising a giant conifer in place of the flag, Lucaites makes the image an occasion to deliver some interesting commentary on the history of the original photograph’s appropriation and the particularly fetishistic way that the Time Magazine editors have chosen to use it today. Lucaites writes:

By most accounts Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi is the most reproduced photograph of all time—ever!…
Such reproductions have occurred not just in traditional print media, but on stamps (twice), commemorative plates, woodcuts, silk screens, coins, key chains, cigarette lighters, matchbook covers, beer steins, lunchboxes, hats, t-shirts, ties, calendars, comic books, credit cards, trading cards, post cards, and human skin, and in advertisements for everything from car insurance to condoms and strip joints.…
All of this is to say that on the face of things there is nothing particularly noteworthy about Time‘s appropriation of the image this week to frame and promote its “green” agenda in a special issue on the “War on Global Warming,” … but my interest here is in mapping out how the particular appropriation of the original photograph coaches an attitude that seems to rely on tired and clichéd conceptions of American exceptionalism. Put simply, it is not just an appeal to be “green” (although it is that), but it also functions to translate the meaning of being “green” into a symbolic register that both defines environmentalism in terms of U.S. nationalism—”green is the new red, white, and blue”—and, more, makes something of an imperialistic fetish out of it.

Read the rest of Lucaites piece on the No Caption Needed blog, or read an excerpt from Lucaite’s book.