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Dec. 17: Dylann Roof’s selfie


Dylann Roof, convicted last Thursday in the murder of nine black parishioners who welcomed him to a prayer service at a Charleston, S.C., church in June, 2015, “. . . confessed—calmly, clinically, occasionally chortling—to killing nine people who he acknowledged could not have been more innocent.” (New York Times, 12/10/16)    

This blog is about art, and art is the selection of information for an expressive purpose. Roof’s selfie, below, is a font of information both about what he wanted to express, and also about what was going on in his head.

He wanted menace, clearly. Fearsome Dylann, like the ISIS fighters here: Scary weapons. Pitiless expressions. Conquest. Massacres. Beheadings.

By its formal ineptitude, however, his selfie conveys something very different than he intended. Attitude rather than resolution, but above all, muddle.

The center of his intended message is his face, and then the hand holding the pistol. But the face is almost lost in the clutter of puffy hair and sunglasses. The sunglasses might have conveyed an intimidating distance if he’d kept his head up, but he also wanted to fix us with his menacing scowl. Couldn’t choose. 

0 for 1.

The pistol is smooth and dangerous, his finger on the trigger. But his pale, bare legs and knobby knees–the biggest, brightest shapes in the pic–overwhelm his hand, while the pistol itself almost disappears into the shadows behind it and the tray of happy little flowers in front. 

0 for 2.

Then there is the Confederate flag on its little white dowel–too big to be simply a symbol, too small to be impressive–dangled off at an odd, half-lit angle, and muddled by those bright, shiny pots behind.

And those pots to his right and left–after his legs, the brightest and most coherent objects in the scene–were they there, and he just didn’t notice them, or did he pose them as visual buttresses? More distraction, either way. 

And that lovely suburban grass. Not the bracing environs that characterize your typical fearsome warrior.

So, while utterly inept, it is, ironically, the truthful image of a wacko. A murderous wacko.