Tank Man of Tiananmen: enough said?
Tomorrow, June 5, marks the twentieth anniversary of one of the most famous images in recent memory. On this day in 1989, the Los Angeles Times was probably the first American newspaper to publish a photograph that continued (and still continues) to appear on countless TV screens and in publications around the world: that of an anonymous man who had stepped in front of a row of tanks near the embattled Tiananmen Square.
Four photographers captured this now-iconic moment, and in commemoration of its anniversary they reflect on the the encounter at the New York Times‘s Lens blog. Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, authors of No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, have also reflected—extensively—on the definitive image. In their chapter devoted to Tiananmen imagery, they reconsider its meaning, arguing that the photo can be seen as both a progressive celebration of human rights and as a societal vision limited by individualism. “The choice between the individual and the authoritarian state is any easy one,” they conclude, “but either way you get the empty street.”
In addition to their extensive discussion in No Caption Needed, Hariman and Lucaites also have discussed the matter on their blog of the same name, where they’ve posted about, among other things, a Chick-fil-A ad that parodied the Tank Man image.