We Have the Facts, But They Have Both the Poetry and the Magazine Covers

By David North on November 26, 2011

Those of us of the not-too-much-immigration persuasion have long had the facts on our side of the debate, but not the poetry.

Our careful analyses of the impact of immigration on the labor market, for example, are routinely overshadowed by their treasured stories of immigrant successes (Irving Berlin and Albert Einstein) and their pictorial images, (the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island).

It has turned out, in the last week or so, that we also do not have the magazine cover artists on our side, nor, significantly, the editors who choose those covers.

Both the November 28 issue of The New Yorker and the November 19-25 issue of The Economist carry skillful, eye-catching cover drawings dealing with immigration. I find both of them charming, while conveying the wrong message. Here they are:



Of the two, the New Yorker's cover is the easiest to grasp. It shows five Puritans, all garbed in 17th century black and white, scurrying through a 21st century security fence in a desert marked with cactuses. The title is "Promised Land" and it was done by Christoph Niemann, a cover artist whose work I do not recall seeing before.

The more nuanced Economist cover shows four efficient penguins – also dressed in black and white – arriving at a jungle shore aboard a little iceberg (nice touch!) working with a cell phone and a couple of laptops, obviously organizing everything in sight, while four pairs of big-eyes, presumably belonging to an impressed indigenous population, watch their arrival from behind tropical vegetation. The trees and bushes are depicted in Henri Rousseau-like lushness and detail.

The headline over and through the cover art proclaims "The magic of diasporas: How migrant business networks are reshaping the world." The Economist routinely does not identify its cover artists.

We obviously are supposed to identify with both the Puritans and the penguins, and are expected to think little of the out-of-sight fence builders.

What I find interesting – and presumably a total co-incidence – is that these two covers showed up in the same week, and both favorably and cleverly depicted a migratory pattern that, when you think about it, is several hundred years out of date.

In both covers, we have migrants arriving from colder climates into tropical climes. The current migrations of people are usually from warm or hot places to cool ones, and the diasporas the magazine enthuses about (in an article as well as on the cover) are those of migrants from the tropics.

Is there somewhere a hidden James Thurber or Herblock who thinks like we do, but has not yet wielded his or her pen for our cause? If so, please come forward!