Monday, 17 January 2011

The Time Travelling Despot

Reading an article this weekend on the people’s uprising in Tunisia (Gang violence taints celebration of Tunisia’a Jasmine Revolution, The Observer 16/1/2011) I am struck by an intriguing image.

“In central Tunis people began ripping down the ubiquitous portraits of Ben Ali [the ousted leader] that have adorned public buildings and roundabouts for years. ‘I called him Tarzan’ said a printer watching two men pull down an awning of the Tunisian despot. As the first picture came down another one was revealed behind it and another after that. But the older Ben Ali got the younger he looked in each portrait, revealing the vanity of a man who liked to be filmed in soft focus and have his wrinkles airbrushed.”

Firstly, there is the idea of a physical journey back in time, of peeling through literal layers of history, the newer images on the top gradually revealing older and older images underneath. But there is also a reversal going on here. As the subject grew older his vanity grew equally larger and technology was utilised to make him have the appearance of looking younger as the images move forward in time. So with these images we have time seemingly moving in two opposing directions simultaneously, both backwards and forwards.

This raises obvious questions of authenticity suggesting the newer images to be less authentic than the older ones. This apparently retrograde use of technology highlights very strongly a concern of contemporary technology and culture, particularly within the realm of the rich and powerful, common not only among political leaders but also among celebrities – a futile desire to remain forever young which goes against the inevitable truth of the aging process and of course eventually death. This is nothing more than a vainglorious mans unobtainable desire for immortality.

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