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December 8, 2004

Show of Support

bushlogo

It was if, for one day, the campaign was still on.

George Bush, the war President, had come to Camp Pendleton in California to rally the troops. The result, if you look over the major newspapers and wire services, were dramatic images of the president from the back, from the front and from above in a seemingly endless sea of soldiers.

If the cover message, however, was to honor our brave fighting men and women, there were enough details to suggest a broader agenda. For a White House enterprise that traffics in impressions at the expense of facts, I would argue that this day (like most days, but especially those in which the President, troops and news cameras happen to converge) was as much about Bush, and the growing discomfort over his troubled war.

During the campaign, one of the most popular criticisms of the president involved his record of appearing in more kinds of uniforms than any predecessor — veteran or otherwise. This time, Bush appeared in a quasi-official, light grey Eisenhower-style jacket with the suggestion of shoulder boards. On one breast was displayed a seal of the president. On the opposite was stitched the words “George W. Bush, Commander in Chief.”

Because of the pervasive way in which commercial products are now regularly imbedded in movies and television shows, people hardly seem to even notice it anymore. The AP image on the cover of today’s NYTimes, however reads as much like independent photojournalism as it does product placement. Notice, the Presidential logo is clearly visible not once, but twice, while, at the same time, the “competing product,” the Marine Corp logo, positioned along a railing, is about 80% obscured. Beyond the repetition, the elements on Bush’s jacket also seem slightly larger than usual — as if designed for better appearance in print and on television.

But what of the intent to honor the soldiers? When you draw heightened attention in one direction, it’s natural something else has to suffer. Of course, nobody would have complained if Bush had worn the customary suit, or even a darker version of this same jacket so he wouldn’t stand out from the honorees like a lighthouse beacon. However, against the high contrast, jacket-as-billboard and the podium also bearing “his” logo — the soldiers come off no better than wallpaper.

There were two different types of shots from this event. The first were pictures of Bush formally addressing the troops (such as the AP image I linked to above that made the cover of the NYTimes). And then, there were more informal pix of Bush among the troops.

The informal shots are also relevant in relation to the product placement idea.

bushtroops

Apparently, a lot of these the troops have still and video cameras. As a result, a majority of the informal shots show multiple soldiers around Bush stretching or angling to take his picture. Looking at these images produces a slightly strange effect. While they obviously show the troops “at ease,” the fact they all look alike and are known to typically operate under a strict regimented code of behavior makes it odd to see them going half bananas to get a picture of the president. If this was a USO show and it was an entertainer or a Hollywood celebrity in the middle of the crowd, it might seem more conventional. In this scene, though, it’s not as straightforward who’s here for whom, and why.

(On the other hand, maybe I’m just denying the reality of an increasingly commercialized culture, media and military. If so, then I guess nothing would be more appropriate in inspiring our idolizing troops then to turn them into photo extras and paparazzi.)

(image 1: AP Photo/Denis Poroy at NYTimes.com (article link))
(image 2: AP Photo/Denis Poroy at San Diego Union/Tribune Signonsandiego.com)

  • Karen

    Wow. The size of that presidential seal patch is astonishing. It’s almost as large as the one on the podium! I found myself reminded of the large, garish medals that the famed English admiral, Horatio Nelson–the Hero of Trafalgar!–was wont to wear. (http://www.nevis1.com/Lord_Nelson.jpg)
    Biographers claim that the size and shine of his decorations made him a natural target on shipboard, and that they might even have led to his death by gunshot.

    Just sayin’.

  • jr

    Ughhhhhhh.

  • Michael/BAGnews

    Karen,
    Your comment about Nelson is hysterical! And, I loved the link. It makes me wonder if there’s a more direct parallel with Bush, where his “badges of honor” have heightened his (at least, political) vulnerability.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/vicfitz82 Victor Fitzsimons

    I think you’ve said it before, but team Bush really knows how to manipulate media to sell their “product.” It’s almost eerie to think that photographers have no choice but to get photos like these on assignment.

  • http://blog.thought-mesh.net Annoying Old Guy

    You write

    If this was a USO show and it was an entertainer or a Hollywood celebrity in the middle of the crowd, it might seem more conventional.

    Hmmm. Is it possible that the troops actually like the President? That the picture taking is an honest expression of admiration, that the troops feel about the President the way normal people do about Hollywood celebrities? Maybe these soldiers with cameras are actually fans of the President. And if so, the picture might just be a good representation of the actual event.

    I know, I know, the troops are simply robots programmed by the Bush Propaganda Machine to perform these antics, aided by a Republican boot licking media.

    As you point out,

    If so, then I guess nothing would be more appropriate in inspiring our idolizing troops than to turn them into photo extras and paparazzi.

    Clearly it’s not possible for the troops have sufficient independent thought to want to take pictures on their own volition. It must be some external force. Otherwise, one might begin to think of them as adults capable of making their own choices.

    P.S. If you’ve ever wondered what the “red-state” people mean by the condescension of the self-selected progressive elite, the second half of your post is an archetypical example.

  • Hal

    Though I have never seen a photo aWol reminds of the dictator Paduk in Vladimir Nabokov novel “Bend Sinister.”
    One of Nabokov’s best novels which tells the story of a philosophy professor who will not back Paduk’s goverment. So the great leader Paduk has the professor’s son tortured and by mistake kills him.
    Sound familiar?

  • http://blog.thought-mesh.net Annoying Old Guy

    No, not really. I’m not aware of anyone tortured or killed on the orders of Andy Warhol (“aWol”).

  • Denis

    So if this is still relavant. I shot the both those photos and the whole product placement stuff is way off the mark. We as photojournalists go out of our way to eliminate clutter, logos included. The one on his jacket is just unavoidable. One point that your right about is the White House knows their PR stuff. Exc. light and well “crafted” photo op. I’m no fan of President Bush myself, but from much experience with the Marines they do seem to love the guy. Lastly, one big point about the main photo is–the Marines look much less than happy about what Bush is saying. Not a complete rah-rah photo. Time will tell.
    Denis

  • Denis

    So if this is still relavant. I shot the both those photos and the whole product placement stuff is way off the mark. We as photojournalists go out of our way to eliminate clutter, logos included. The one on his jacket is just unavoidable. One point that your right about is the White House knows their PR stuff. Exc. light and well “crafted” photo op. I’m no fan of President Bush myself, but from much experience with the Marines they do seem to love the guy. Lastly, one big point about the main photo is–the Marines look much less than happy about what Bush is saying. Not a complete rah-rah photo. Time will tell.
    Denis

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