The ‘Medley’ of Media Power – February 6, 1891 (Page 5)
“Black and White: A Medley” is the first illustration within the journal’s debut issue, signaling its importance. But the image’s emblematic clout comes from its reproduction on the cover page of the collected half-year volumes of Black and White. (Volume 1, the focus of this study, binds issues from February 6 to June 27, 1891). Perhaps because of this significance, the image is disappointingly dull: its all-encompassing conservatism is predictable, insipidly typifying the journal’s monochromatic mainstream politics. In the blandly colonial, racial, and sexist imagery of this quintessential image, one can already see the spectacle of otherness and the (self) celebration of convention.
At the center are two white women in black and white dresses (which ironically echoes Crane’s “Commune” (1)). Though they likely symbolize the heavenly muses, their obvious prettiness and heightened sensual pose (both touch themselves) panders to the male gaze. The rest of the image has similarly conventional iconography. Around the central figures are pairs of contrasting animals (black and white bears, swans, sheep and mice), yet one elephant stands oddly alone: its Indian riders evoke the illustrations that adorn Robert Louis Stevenson’s colonial diaries for Black and White . Elsewhere the image of smiling black and white babies conforms to the mainstream imagination by giving the black child a freakishly elongated stomach and enormous white lips (further accentuated by his finger-to-mouth pose).