‘I Got a Barbie in the Foreground’

The first episode of the fifth season of The Wire, David Simon’s exploration of America’s failing urban institutions, introduces viewers to the newsroom of The Baltimore Sun. Amidst some haggling over what tone to take in a story about race relations on campus and a brief lecture on the meaning of the word “evacuate,” the saintly editor Gus Haynes goes on a diatribe against clichéd pathos in sad-story photos: ”I got a Barbie in the foreground,” he says. ”Every fire photo he brings in there’s got to be some burnt doll somewhere in the debris!” (The transcript contains, as Wire transcripts are wont to do, some strong language.)

I don’t know whether this is an inside reference to that episode or just a case of art foreshadowing reality, but presumably Gus would not have approved of this AP photo from today’s tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash, now being featured in the front-page slideshow at The Washington Post’s site:

To be clear—while Gus is worried that his photographer may be faking the doll pics, I’m not suggesting that happened in this case; it’s just the impulse to reach for a specific visual vocabulary that’s the same.

Meanwhile, a gallery of other photos from the crash is here, and the story is here.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.