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THE BACKGROUND

In one of modern politics’ most outrageous adoptions of Doublespeak, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – in 2004 – renamed the California Department of Corrections the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.* You can see videos – here and here and here – of the press conference announcing not only a change in name, but a supposed change in the management philosophy of the CDCr.

At that time, legal challenges were being made over the adequacy of healthcare. Following the 2004 criticisms and despite the 2004 promises, consistent constitutional healthcare was not provided to the prison population of California.

The CDCr failed to deliver on both medical care and meaningful rehabilitation. To prove the emptiness of the rhetoric we can look to John Gramlich’s report for the PEW Center’s Stateline last month. Gramlich made the point, that shortly after Schwarzenegger’s rebranding the “administration cut funding for prison rehabilitation programs by about 40 percent.”

THE PUSHBACK

It’s just as well for you and I, a diligent group of California citizens have for 17 years challenged the claim on the CDC acronym and since 2004 reclaimed entirely the discarded California Department of Corrections name. The CDC works to put right misleading messages, empty words and muddy communication.

Founded in 1994, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) describes itself as “a private correctional facility that protects the public through the secure management, discipline, and rehabilitation of California’s advertising.

Above is the CDC’s latest correction of fact and assault on complacency. From their website:

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has unveiled a new campaign of bus shelter ads to celebrate America’s assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Released prior to July 4th, a total of ten ads in MUNI bus shelters throughout San Francisco were apprehended, rehabilitated and discharged without incident. The ten liberated ads represent each year in the long decade spanning the declaration of the War on Terror by President Bush and the eventual demise of al-Qaeda’s elusive leader.

Joining in celebration with millions of US civilians after the demise of bin Laden, the red, white and blue advertisements not only pay patriotic tribute to our country, but also celebrate the unsung history of American assassinations.

The rehabilitated advertisements are currently at liberty and seem to have successfully readjusted to public life. However, these ads will remain under surveillance by department staff to prevent recidivism and any potential lapse into prior criminal behavior.

You gotta love direct action. View more works here.

* You may have noticed I always refer to the Golden State’s prison system as CDCr; using a lowercase “r” is an simple text-based slight but it makes the point.

(Via the ever-wonderful Just Seeds Blog.)

Well, well, well. All sorts of commentary on the importance of photographs surrounding the assassination of Osama bin Laden and President Obama’s announcement in the East Room with reenactment of his speech for the still cameras.

From the White House Situation Room (now with added memes) and Reuters’ bloody gallery (WARNING: Graphic images of corpses) to whether we deserve or need to see bin Laden’s bullet-riddled head. Then there’s Senator Scott Brown’s faux-pas over a hoax photograph. Not to mention the reported different versions of the actual event.

For all the best articles click on the links over on Raw File Blog’s twitter feed, where I’ve been compiling them all day.

There’s still one photo – to be precise its caption – that is bothering me. And it’s this one:

White House photographer, Pete Souza, captioned the image thus: “President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011.”

Except everywhere I’ve seen it used, the inference is that the White House team are watching a live feed of the raid on bin Laden’s compound.

They might be, but I want a SOURCE.

It seems to me this image may have been interpreted as one thing at an early stage and because it the narrative tied to the body language is so seductive, no-one has chosen to question it.

I think the reading of the image is massively altered depending on whether you think they’re watching murders in progress or whether they are, for example, waiting nervously for the screen to boot up.

Ryan Singel for Wired.com’s Epicenter blog went as far to say the White House “officials watching what one presumes is the livestream of the Navy Seal raid on Osama’s hideout in Pakistan.

For all the hullabaloo about this image, no-one is actually sure about what is on THAT screen.

So, does anyone have a solid source saying that they are viewing a live feed of the operation?

Screen-grab from ABC newsreel footage, as featured in the Guardian‘s front-page slide show.

Osama bin Laden wasn’t in mountain caves. He was in a mansion in Abbottabad, a major Pakistan city two hours north of the country’s capitol, Islamabad. Bin Laden had been there for more than six months.

Part evil-lair, part self-imposed prison, part luxury – the mansion is a major part of the story and questions about “who protected Osama bin Laden over the past decade” will no doubt follow.

There’s a few things going on here, so let’s start with the most simple. “You made you bed, now you must lie in it die in it.” Anyone? No? (To be clear, I don’t know if this was OBL’s bed, or even if he was killed in this room).

Nonetheless, the blood on the floor tells us this bedroom is a site of ambush; the bed is an object of a stormed house. Yet, this image is not distinguishable in any meaningful way from all the other images of house raids in America’s 21st century wars.

THE VISUAL CULTURE OF BEDS

Contemporary concerns have been about sex (the discarded condoms of Tracey Emin’s My Bed proved her as honest as she is crass) and violence (or maybe Rauschenberg was just about disorder?)

Historically, the image of the bed has been co-opted for highly political purposes. And interestingly, the bed played a central role in the dissemination of images of Arabic regions round Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Artists under patronage painted aristocracies, noble beasts, mythologies, and Christian narratives. The boudoir was rarely mentioned; acts of the bedroom hidden. For titillation, commissioned artists were sent abroad. Orientalist Art has little to do with the distant lands it “depicts” but most to do with the obsessions of artists and patrons with harems and the sexual behaviours of people of colour.*

Without wanting to over-simplify, Orientalist Art is – at both conscious and subconscious levels – the projection of suppressed sexual desire upon an “Other” group. The subject has little or no means to correct the misrepresentations. Furthermore, any corrections by the subject would disrupt the self-serving narratives of the distant audience.

Centuries of visual manipulations and stubborn visual usury between the West and the rest, with the bed as the visual anchor to the lazy indifference, are wrapped up in the unorthodox war photograph above. If the image does indeed depict the bed of Osama bin Laden (the personification of cultural antagonism, violent opposition, the most distant of “Others”) then, I at least, identify some irony therein.

“The Siesta,” by Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928), oil on canvas, 11 ¼ by 17 inches, 1878, private collection, courtesy of the Spanierman Gallery, New York

One final thing. A bed is a place of rest, a grave is a final resting place. Western allies worried any grave would become an extremists’ pilgrimage site, so Osama bin Laden’s body was buried at sea. But have they avoided the problem? Might this Abbottabad mansion and this bedroom not become places of pilgrimage?

*Orientalist Art tends to refer to North Africa, but includes South Spain and the Middle East. The fetishisation of women of colour was also foisted upon Native people in North America and across the British colonies of the Southern Hemisphere.

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