« Ludie as in Ludlow, we think | Main | Pay heed to the sound of the shofarrrrrrrrrrr! »

Judging a Cover by its, well

Your Humble Blogger happened to look this morning at the cover of my Perfect Non-Reader’s school agenda. This is a spiral-bound day-planner in which homework assignments and special events are written; it travels to school and back every day and must be signed by a parent (or guardian, I suppose) each day. They are half-customized for the school; there is a window in the cover that exposes the page with the school’s name, but the content is generic and the days do not match our district’s calendar exactly. I had noticed that the cover was some sort of Academy of Great People thing, but I hadn’t actually looked at it to identify the people.

The cover is on-line, so follow along at home, Gentle Reader. I would like to know who you find easy to identify, who you were able to get after a minute or two of thinking, and how many you just give up on. [That link is a bit hinky, due to some cookie-juggling, I believe. If it didn’t take you to the right picture, try again—the second time was the charm on two different computers.]

There are nineteen people on the cover. Thirteen men and six women. I was able to quickly identify eight of the thirteen men. Of the five I could not identify, two were mostly covered by a sticker, so you could call it eight out of eleven or 73%, based on the breakfast table persual. Or you could take into account that after looking at the image on-line, I am convinced I would not have been able to identify either Cesar Chavez (who appears to be carrying an iBook) or Sir John A. MacDonald, had they not been so covered. I also, after some discussion with my Best Reader, made a guess at Wolfgang Mozart which turned out to be correct. Of the remaining two, I pretty much fail at cultural literacy for not knowing who Terry Fox was (my Best Reader knew who he was but couldn’t remember his name), and no amount of consultation identified Alexander Graham Bell (or the object he was holding). So I’ll call that missing four out of the thirteen; around a 70% success rate.

Of the six women, however, I was only able to identify two immediately. And those were Mother Teresa and Diana, the late Princess of Wales. My Perfect Non-Reader know Helen Keller (because her eyes were closed, which signified blindness); that passed me by. My Best Reader and I both suspected that the African-American in the back was Maya Angelou, but neither of us was willing to put down a wager on it. As for the slender Rosa Parks or the grinning Anne Frank, well, perhaps I should have recognized them, but they certainly don’t look enough like my idea of them to ring the proverbial.

And it’s not quite a digression, but—Princess Diana? Seriously? If we absolutely must have a British Royal, how about Victoria? I’d rather have Mrs. Pankhurst, of course, I do understand that they can’t customize the covers for crazy people who believe in, you know, feminism, and we’re supposed to recognize Maya Angelou and like it. No Sojourner Truth, no Margaret Sanger, no Emma Goldman. I get that. I don’t like it, but I get it. Also, no Joan of Arc, no Sarah Bernhardt, no Florence Nightingale, no Molly Pitcher, no Queen Liliuokalani, no Sally Ride, no Golda Meir, no Barbara Jordan, no Madame Walker, no Billie Jean King, no Babe Didrikson Zaharias, no Marie Curie, no Mary Travers (rest in peace), no Mary Cassatt. No. Plenty of room for Dodgers, but only six women, and one of those is a fucking princess.

But what I was really wondering was whether that percentage gap—I recognized half the women and something better than two-thirds of the men—is due to my own cultural illiteracy (GIS tells me that the image is taken from recent covers of her Diary; the cover of mine must not have had that image) or due to crappy artistry. And if it is crappy artistry, is this an illustration (pardon the pun) of the institutional problems with the patriarchy: because our generation doesn’t internalize those images when we are kids, even our quality control on crappy notebook covers is slanted against women? Despite the whole thing being a deliberate attempt at celebrating diversity and whatnot. It’s an illustration anyway in its clumsy choices (although an argument could certainly be made that the choices of beardies are clumsy, and there’s that inexplicable Dodger business, but still, on the whole, Newton-Einstein-King-Lincoln-Gandhi-Shakespeare, you know?) but what I want to know is whether the illustration is an illustration, or whether that’s just YHB.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Easy: MLK, Newton, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Gandhi, Anne Frank (I've seen the cover in question a lot during the week in school when kids come looking for that book at our reference desk), Einstein, Lincoln, Shakespeare

Harder: Columbus, Newton, Robinson but got immediately after going away to get a cup of tea and sitting down to look again.

Wrong: I guessed that Helen Keller was Marie Curie. Oops! It's extra funny when I see your list of women who they didn't put on the cover.

Didn't get at all: the four guys in the middle and back. I can't see them well enough to tell what they look like. Maya Angelou. Rosa Parks. I kept thinking that I recognized Rosa Parks, but couldn't bring her name to mind.

I think it's partly crappy artistry. But I also don't think I've seen that many pictures of Maya Angelou. Read her books, yes; seen pictures, no.

I haven't seen adult pictures of Helen Keller. That doesn't look much like Rosa Parks.

My percentages are about the same as yours on the recognition.

It's hard to say if the percentage gotten wrong would have been the same had the actual numbers of men and women been exactly even.

(And with such a small number of people on the front, it would have been easy to put an balanced mix in. Dammit.)

Um--the link to the picture leads me to a page where I have to tell them what school and city you are talking about. And I don't know that, so I can't see the picture... ::sniff, sob::

Oh wait, it was just the LJ feed that wasn't working; it works from here. Ok, I tried not to read what y'all had to say but I did see that Helen Keller was the one with her eyes closed, so let's see how I do beyond that:

Willing to bet (guess?) these are them:
Columbus, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou?, Lincoln, Einstein, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Newton?, Darwin?, Poe?, Carl Sagan?

Not sure:
Black woman in lower right--Harriet Tubman? Sojourner Truth?
White man in wig next to Gandhi--Mozart? Locke? Disraeli?
Blonde woman facing Mother Teresa--you said it was Princess Di, but I would never have guessed that.
Black baseball player--I want to say somebody Robinson but don't know off the top of my head.
Runner missing a leg--I know the story, can't place the name.

(Ok, how'd I do?)

That was fun!!

apparently the guy I thought was Carl Sagan was Cesar Chavez. Without a beret like on all the posters, I'd never recognize him. ;)

Why in heaven's name should I know who Sir John A. MacDonald is? (I think that's who I thought was Poe, but Poe is always pictured with a moustache.)

I think the one I thought was Darwin you said was Alexander G. Bell. But i have no clue what he's holding.

I'm batting less than y'all are, that's for sure. But seriously, caricatures are always hard.

The problem may or may not be cultural illiteracy as quite the reverse: How many folks with a wig like Shakespeare's have you seen or could you call to mind who might be on this picture? One--Shakespeare. Ditto for Gandhi (how many other guys in that get-up have you ever run across?), Anne Frank, Newton, and Mother Teresa. There are lots of folks who wore those wigs, small girls with brown hair, 17th century guys who've held apples in their hands, and there's an entire order of nuns who dress like Mother Teresa. But you can "identify" the picture because you can only name one with that set of characteristics who would be famous. (Show Gandhi as he was dressed when a lawyer in Oxford and you'd never recognize him.) The ones I guessed at, I went with the style of their clothing to think who might be famous from that time period.

But how many famous women went to college in the modern era? OODLES. How many famous black women can you name who might have worn a fairly plain dress that was fashionable from the 1890s onwards? Probably a good handful once you get going. There's nothing identifying in those particular caricatures (unless you've seen the photo of Maya Angelou with that pink thingie in the hair). So it's not a question of recognizing them, it's actually a sign that there are just too darned many who might fit that bill.

The sad part is that everyone can recognize MLK because "How many famous black guys are shown giving speeches?" :(

Just to add to that last—the Perfect Non-Reader identified that figure as Barack Obama. She was certain of it.


to V: Ha hahah! Excellent. :)

Comments are closed for this entry. Usually if I close comments for an entry it's because that entry gets a disproportionate amount of spam. If you want to contact me about this entry, feel free to send me email.