On the Promise of Big Ships, Aircraft and a Pumped-Up Budget When All that Was Needed was a Hand: On the Humanist Pathos-Formula of the Savior

 Fig. 1   Digital image circulated online in an April 23 2015 internet article from Business Insider.  This photograph of the Italian Financial Police rescue unit "sav[ing] migrants at sea" by motioning that they halt, was captioned "an Italian Financial Police rescue unit approaches an inflatable dinghy crowded with migrants off the Libyan coast." Image source: Alessandro de Meo / ANSA via AP.

Fig. 2    Headline from the Associated Press article circulated online in Business Insider on April 23, 2015.

 Fig. 3  Compare the gestures in the ANSA via AP photograph above (2015) with the gestures in Michelangelo Buonarroti's The Creation of Adam (c. 1511 - 1512) from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  As is the case in the scene captured by the Italian photo-journalist, a single hand extends from a mass of bodies on the right in Michelangelo's fresco.  In the fresco, this extended hand is typically said to be the hand of god; in the photograph, it is not possible to see who specifically the hand belongs to and thus, it also appears to be the hand of a powerful entity, a critical mass or abstraction, in this case, the anonymous migrant. Meanwhile, the hand extending from the left in the fresco is palm-down and limp, whereas the hands extending from the left in the photograph are palm-down and stiff.  The figure in the left section of the fresco composition, as captured in reproduction, is said to be the biblical personage Adam, the first man;  the biblical first man as portrayed in the fresco is nude and represented with a pale complexion. The figures to the left of the photograph are covered from head to toe in mostly white protective gear that is comprised of full-body suits, gloves and visors.  The gloves are blue. As in the fresco, the bodies to the right are represented with darker complexions, clothed and draped in colorful garments.

 Fig. 4  The costumes worn by the figures to the left of the photograph -- protective plastics comprised of full-body suits, gloves and visors -- cause a third association: the hospital scene in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) directed by Steven Spielberg.  In this scene, the characters Elliot and E.T., who had developed a connection and had both become ill, have been captured and quarantined for observation by United States government agents; Elliot reaches out to E.T. whose dark complexion has paled because he is near death.  Elliot's extended hand has all five fingers outstretched, like the hand extending from behind the figures on the right of the Italian photo-journalist's ANSA via AP photograph circulated online in April 2015.  Unlike the hand in the photograph, Elliot's hand is facing palm-down and the figure towards which his hand is extended is completely unresponsive.  It could be said that Elliot's gesture is a combination of the gestures in the ANSA via AP photograph and the Michelangelo fresco: it could be said Elliot's gesture of the infra-human child in alien empathy is a gesture that memorializes the space between the so-called post-contemporary and the so-called late early-modern.

Fig. 5  On the promise of a rejiggered child's speech synthesizer, an antiquated sound device and an empty coffee canE.T's "E.T. phone home" post-surrealist "communciator," or as beautiful as the deliberately staged meeting of a Speak & Spell toy, a portable record player, a circular saw blade, an umbrella, tin foil, electrical wire and a coffee can on the carpeted floor of a suburban home in 1980s California.


Sources: Raf Casert and Lorne Cook, "EU Leaders are promising big ships, aircraft and a pumped-up budget to save migrants at sea." Business Insider. April 23, 2015; Stills from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982); E.T.'s Communicator from film E.T. taken at Universal Studios, Hollywood by Wikipedia user Mattingly23.