Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Execution on the 15th of May, 2007

Over a month ago (May 15th to be exact), I put my finishing touches on a little essay and sent it off to an online contest recommended by Anne Kroeker (a fellow Blogger and terrific writer). The point of the contest is to find unique “convergences” or unlikely pairing of images. And I use the term “contest” only because that’s how the McSweeney’s website identifies it; as far as I can tell, there is no prize to be won other than seeing your name in print somewhere other than your own blog and the chance to have Lawrence Weschler, an author I greatly admire(d), read your writing and post his own response to it. But being an attention junkie, I took the challenge seriously and spent several hours composing my little essay. Then I mailed it off to the contest and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I received not so much as a “thanks for your interest but you suck” in reply (and really it’s not like they’d even have to waste a stamp on me or anything). If it weren’t for the fact that May was the Month of No Brain for me, I would have sent a few follow-up emails, but that’s hard to do without a computer so I just waited some more.

Anyway, here’s my essay. I’ll continue the story after you’ve had a chance to read it.

Ready, aim . . .
by Julie Q.


When I encountered this photo in a book about the Spanish Civil War, I immediately thought of another Spanish firing squad: the one from Goya’s Execution of the Madrilenos on May 3, 1808.


It was the soldiers’ legs that first caught my eye – the way they create a row of receding triangles in both images. Along with the synchronized legs, the obscured faces of the executioners and the perfectly horizontal line of the guns aligned together as a single weapon leave an impression of machinelike efficiency. And isn’t that the aim (pardon the pun) of a firing squad? Like other forms of execution – the guillotine, the electric chair, the lethal injection – the firing squad was meant to eliminate individual culpability and dehumanize the process. But also in both scenes, the precision of the squad merely accentuates the humanity of their target. We are bound to sympathize with the man in white as he awaits his fate.

Another striking similarity is the way both images record a torturous moment that has already occurred and at the same time has yet to occur. Both capture the pregnant pause before the execution. As witnesses after the fact we are keenly aware that the shots will be fired / have been fired, but we can do nothing to intervene.

The man in the white shirt shows up again during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 (seen here in the famous photo taken by Jeff Widener). The four faceless executioners have been upgraded to tanks; their absurd show of force against the lone figure strikes me as overkill in the literal sense of the word. Of course “tank man” (as he was later dubbed) walked away intact, but it’s the loaded moment here that we remember.


Okay, so maybe it’s not a Pulitzer prize winner or even a Convergence Pseudo-contest winner, but I thought it was interesting enough to waste a day composing it.

Today, thinking I should finally send a follow-up email asking if they liked it or not, I checked the Convergences Contest website and found THIS.

Holy crap. What do you think? Have I been done a serious injustice or it just the most profound coincidence in the history of the internet?

19 comments:

Kimberly said...

Okay, that is just the weest bit suspicious.

And yours was way better anyway.

Radioactive Jam said...

We-ell... it *was* a "convergences" contest, right? So this sort of thing seems almost inevitable.

love.boxes said...

Very, VERY suspect! It's too strange that the subject is the same... the legs thing... several of the pictures.. I think you've probably been ripped off.

Mary-LUE said...

Oh Gosh, who's to say? I think sometimes that things that seem like startling coincidences are often just that. It is uncanny, though. But how would that person have gotten your essay to copy? It couldn't hurt to contact McSweeney's though and question the similarities.

Your eye and your insight are, as usual, amazing (written with just a wisp of envy.)

bubandpie said...

I'm assuming it's the commentary, and not the submitted photos, that you're concerned about? Because writer-fellow-whassisname WOULD have access to your essay, and there seem to be an awful lot of ideas that have migrated from yours to his.

Julie Q. said...

Yeah, see it's Weschler's commentary (and additional photos) that make me wonder. He's the one who reads the submissions and then comments on them, so if he did receive my email, he would have seen my ideas and choices of images. It's the inclusion of the Tianamen Square one that made my jaw drop. I came up with that connection months ago (and have been using it in my class when I show Goya's painting) and thought it was a completely original comparison. I suppose chances are good that I'm not as original a thinker as I imagine myself to be, but still, it's such a crazy coincidence that I mailed in the idea and then it finds its way into his commentary that same month. Hmmmm.

Em said...

I'm shocked... there is no doubt in my mind that you've had your idea stolen.

Gill said...

Good grief! That is way too much of a coincidence!

Klutzmom said...

Hmmmmm. Seems a little too coincidental for me. Although I got a kick out of Radioactive jam's comment.

I like your essay much better.

Luisa Perkins said...

Highly suspect. I'm shocked. Can you contact them to protest? My husband is a copyright lawyer; I'm going to get his opinion.

Yours WAS better; the other was full of polysyllabic latinate folderol. Yours was concise and visionary.

Keep us posted.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I would be might suspicious and in all honestly I would also be a little irked.

Ann Kroeker said...

Oh, man, I am so sorry I ever pointed you to that site, now that the story has ended up thusly.

I'm mad, too.

Geo said...

Got. To. Be. Kidding.

athena said...

holy crap is right. i think you've been robbed girl. it's called highway robbery via internet. keep up the good work. love your writing.

Goslyn said...

Jules, that sucks. You've totally been ripped off. I'm so sorry for you.

Bah. How completely rude and ridiculous.

Scribbit said...

And there's irony for Mr. Weschler's viewing pleasure. An essay stolen at gun point from an unsuspecting victim.

Makes you wonder what those judges are running over there, they had to have seen both and noticed the similarities.

So much for imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

Annette Lyon said...

That's a holy crap piece of injustice! But their version goes on an intellectual high horse. The whole thing is laughable. My 4-year-old saw me reading it and even asked me why my mouth was hanging open.

Jenna said...

Holy crap is right! I LOVED your insightful writing though. Totally unfair. I vote you win.

SusieJ said...

That makes me sad -- all of your hard work.