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May 23, 2005

Prayer for the Kangaroos

Santorumcover

This is a “class A” example of how the media is getting steamrollered by the right.

Yesterday, the NYT Magazine did a cover story on Rick Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate and the institution’s resident wild-eyed evangelical.  So how did the Times approach the task of profiling this pit bull?

Primarily, by making him a better man.

It’s not that the article failed to mention Santorum’s aggressive personality, his disdain for constitutional tenets that hinder the take-over of all social and educational functions by organized religion, or his proselytizing of Senators and Congressmen.  It’s that these attributes were couched as minor blemishes in comparison to how passionate and supposedly authentic Santorum is. 

It’s one thing to base a story on the thesis that “the Boss” — as he’s called — has a rationale for his beliefs.  It’s another thing to seed the article with images attributing thoughtfulness, earnestness and piety to a man whose fundamental principal is to “crush opponents” in the name of “total victory.” 

(By the way, maybe it’s not outside the norm, but how often does a NYTimes Magazine political profile earn four separate images?)

Anyway, let’s look at the pictures.

Personally, I don’t buy the prayerful gesture and the choirboy look.  But I can’t tell how much my skepticism is due to previous observations of Santorum or the fact the camera itself is having its doubts.  Besides the hands and the look, the other strange element here is the tie.  It is yellow with blue kangaroos.  Is the tie the tip off that the rest of the picture is not to be trusted?  (And, who dresses this guy?)

The other interesting thing about the cover are the titles. 

At the bottom of the cover, there is a phrase that really establishes identity — if you happened to be Bill Clinton.  The Senator From a Place Called Faith is a direct derivation on the Clinton line: The Man From Hope.  Clinton, however, was a politician with a natural and long standing bond with religion and faith.  Like Bush, Santorum’s evangelism occurred later, and as a sudden swing — in this case, through the influence of his wife.  In Clinton’s case, the metaphor makes sense because Hope was a real place.  For Santorum, though, faith seems more like an agenda.

The sub-head, The Coming of Rick Santorum, of course, compares the Senator with Christ himself.  (And I thought the Clinton comparison was a stretch!)

Inside, this is the photo that leads the article.

Santorumbeliever

It’s titled: “The Believer.”  (The copy entering at the left is the end of the question: Has he found a way to turn blue states red?)

(Is that like turning water to wine?)

If the cover is a little suspect in tone, this multi-page spread is not.  Here, the NYTimes might as well be the Washington Times.  Santorum the thinker?  C’mon!  Even this article (patronizing as it is) acknowledges the Senator as someone who shoots from the hip, is highly impatient and is not a good listener.

If you wanted to create an aura around this guy, I’m sure there are ways to do it.  But not this way.  Could you imagine shooting Bush in such a pose?  It would be ridiculous.  Everyone knows Bush is an action man.  But, in many ways, Santorum is a Bush clone.  Both distain reflection.  Both are impulsive.  Both don’t care to read.  And for both, it’s their way or the highway.  So what’s there to think about?

This third shot is especially strange, and perhaps the most revealing.

Santorumdesk-1

It’s labeled: “The Senator’s personal effects in his office, including his bible.”  Here’s some of what I’m thinking:  Is this guy so weak a subject that they had to set up a prop table?  Why can’t we identify anything else but the bible?  Just how telling is it that the bible obscures both the flag and the map of America?

  This fourth picture is a bit of a curveball. 

Santorumphotoshoot

Could this be a punch line?  Does this image, depicting the set up of the cover shot, emphasize that all these pictures are as contrived?  Notice, by the way, that the attention in this shot is mostly going to that flippant tie. 

Santorumtie

Maybe the Times followed the overly sappy cover with “The Thinker”  to push the earnestness to the level of the ridiculous.  Following that, they set up the “personal effects” table to suggest this guy is just three books, a hat, and an eagle short of any substance at all.  Then, they just finished him off by exposing Santorum as a two-bit actor with a penchant for kangaroos.

My analysis might belong in the realm of fantasy.  Either way though, I think the Times got played.  If the aim was to take a closer look at Santorum, they ended up glorifying him when a more critical analysis was due.  And, if they were trying to reveal him as a hypocrite, they erred badly on the side of subtlety.  Just like the NYT Magazine allowed DeLay buddy and GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pose as a victim a couple weeks ago (Crying Shame- link), I would say they also made Santorum look more like a saint than an acting saint.

Going back to the cover, however, I would say the tie really is the one true element here.  To the extent — as one unnamed Senator was quoted — Santorum has a “general distain for everybody,” this silly and not-quite-appropriate tie is a rebellious FU.  In the way nothing else in these photos actually fit, the tie matches Rick Santorum’s lust for mockery.  In fact, after the Republican’s hop over the Democrats this week and undo the filibuster, maybe Rick’s next mission should be to propose this tie as mandatory Senate wear.

(Article link)

(images: David Burnett for the New York Times Magazine. May 22, 2005)

  • PTate in MN

    Oh, I HOPED you would take up these images!!! Thank you! The Repubs must have a “secure the faithful” initiative going right now–there have been all these photo-ops of the nastiest guys in America at prayer, their hands clasped with the light shining on their faces. Today’s addition (on the front page of the NYTimes) is Laura Bush, so respectful and fof (full of faith) at the Wailing Wall. Among the lunatic right-wing, of course, the assault on the judiciary is a crusade, and that must be the meme evoked. These men and women are doing God’s work to save our nation from, from…those damned activist judges.
    My first reaction, seeing the pic of Santorum, was wtf?!?? The NYT has been co-opted. But I missed the kangeroo, and you’re right–that is the one thing that feels real, and it does put the whole melody off-key. Does it hint at the kangeroo court that the Republicans are trying to establish?
    Unfortunately, I believe the audience for all this posturing are not subtle enough thinkers to get the mockery of them and their values communicated in these pics. They will see the surface and not the deceit. They will respond, “Oh, Rick Santorum, what a good man!”

  • Kitty

    I don’t think the Times got played, I think they know what they’re doing in photos like these: giving the religious right exactly what it wants every once in a while. It’s protection against the label of “liberal media” (misguided, because no matter what they do, reporting facts will still get them the label every time). The Times thinks they can say, “But look at our beautiful pix of Santorum, you can’t say we bash him every time.”
    I think the behind-the-camera shot is there to draw attention to the tie as a piece of flair: he’s not severe, he’s fun.

  • http://bluegirlredstate.typepad.com/ blue girl

    Thanks for this photo analysis. All day yesterday, I was trying to put into words what that cover photo meant.
    With all the talk in the blogosphere about this article, no one is talking about their baby that died and how he and his wife handled that situation.
    Although the author said it truly represented the “cultural divide” — I’m just still blown away by the outrageousness of that particular story.

  • poop ruiz

    “(misguided, because no matter what they do, reporting facts will still get them the label every time)”
    That’s why they’re getting played. You can “know what you’re doing”, but if that means you’re wasting precious energy trying to mollify people who will always see you as the enemy- that’s called getting played.

  • Asta

    First word that came to mind….Smarmy.
    When I saw the photo of his “desk items” I thought, He’s come up with a few sex toys out of the Ace Hardware catalogue! That thingy with the spokes could be a lot of fun — just ask Jeff Gannon.
    And you know, deep down, without anyone having to tell you, that his tie matches his jammies. Because that’s just the kind of guy he is. A good guy. A momma’s boy.

  • Picky Speller

    First of all: Learn to spell. “Distain” for the “tenants” of…
    And I haven’t even gotten past the first few lines…

  • The BAG

    Thanks for the spelling support. Sorry it offended that much.

  • Gary

    Nevermind the tie; too bad we can’t see the pattern on the senator’s boxer shorts.

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    I thought the desk things looked like sex toys, too!

  • Kitty

    Poop Ruiz, I see what you mean. I had understood being played to mean the mark doesn’t know he is being played.

  • Cindy

    I can’t get over the 2nd picture. It looks exactly like a famous one of Bobby Kennedy. Makes me kinda sick…….

  • …now I try to be amused

    Unfortunately, I believe the audience for all this posturing are not subtle enough thinkers to get the mockery of them and their values communicated in these pics. They will see the surface and not the deceit. They will respond, “Oh, Rick Santorum, what a good man!”
    It reminds me of Goya’s portraits of the Spanish royal family.

  • Alex

    I thought of the Goya paintings too; subtle mockery.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_054.jpg

  • http://zencomix.blogspot.com/ zencomix

    In the cover shot, his right palm is covering his left fist. In martial arts, this is a challenge to fight to an opponent.

  • Deep Dark

    You missed something, The Tie is Santorum’s noose, it represents justice, it is a kangaroo court.

  • Matthew

    The light shining on his face (cover photo) creates an image of a man who has “been saved”, but the look in his eyes betrays a sense of glee and delight at the thought of watching from above while his enemies are tormented. Those are not the eyes of a saint – they are the eyes of a snake.

  • Dick

    You may be interested in the new definition of “santorum” provided by columnist Dan Savage: “The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” (http://www.spreadingsantorum.com/) Here you can see the term properly used in The Village Voice: http://tinyurl.com/dlwsu

  • steve

    In the main pic he looks a bit like Bill Hicks. Is it sacreligeous to say that?

  • DK

    Perhaps the sub title ,The Coming of Rick Santorum, is a clever reference to thepopular Dan Savage campaign to redefine the term Santorum

  • Anne

    Can you say, “Haigography,” boys and girls? I knew you could.

  • http://sbgypsy.blogspot.com SB_Gypsy


    I can’t get over the 2nd picture. It looks exactly like a famous one of Bobby Kennedy. Makes me kinda sick…….

    Cindy, that was my first impression – a Kennedy ripoff!!!

  • yuk yuk

    That cover pic, he’s clearly cracking his knuckles (a la classic movie mobster) and in combination with that grin, well you better pay up, buddy, or he won’t be responsible for any damages….

  • Mr. Dart

    I started to read this but in the second sentence you identified the senator as an “evangelical.” If you don’t know that Sen. Santorum is no such thing but, in fact, is a Roman Catholic why would I read another sentence?

  • Sam

    Mr. Dart, there’s nothing contradictory about calling a Roman Catholic “evangelical”. Santorum embraces an evangelical spirit in his personal faith. Also, TIME Magazine identified Santorum as one the 25 most influential evangelicals in America with the likes of James Dobson and Billy Graham. Evangelicalism is not restricted to Protestantism.

  • Sam

    Mr. Dart, there’s nothing contradictory about calling a Roman Catholic “evangelical”. Santorum embraces an evangelical spirit in his personal faith. Also, TIME Magazine identified Santorum as one the 25 most influential evangelicals in America with the likes of James Dobson and Billy Graham. Evangelicalism is not restricted to Protestantism.

  • hey diddle diddle

    Mr. Dart
    As the word “evangelical” is not capitalized here, I would presume the author is referring to Santorum’s tendencies to evangelize, not his particular religious sect.
    just my $.02

  • hey diddle diddle

    woah looks like crazy making with the comment posting…

  • Peter from Canberra

    He’s got the Aussie vote with that tie!

  • Hypatia

    Hmm.
    In the first picture, Santorum’s eyes actually look as if he is uncomfortable being the main focus of the camera lens … he looks elsewhere (As opposed to eyeing the camera) and he looks as if he is afraid the image will reveal something about him. His smile has the same quality; it is strained and yet he is trying to force his mouth to relax. Even his hands are clutched just a bit too tightly. Even though one could believe it is religious fervor, the eyes and mouth say something different. My guess would be that Santorum is trying to appear spiritual, when the reality is that he is not.
    In the second shot, Santorum’s hand covers his mouth. He does not want his emotions known, or his thoughts known, and he will not say anything he considers to be too revealing. Again, his eyes are cast elsewhere, downward, which shows a propensity to absorbing information through auditory means and internal visualization. Secretive fella. There is a similar picture from the seventies that shows Richard Nixon in this particular pose & silhouette. They are strikingly similar. There is another from the sixties that shows JFK this way as well, but it is a much less secretive, and more thoughtful pose.
    The third picture, Santorum’s personal effects, are definitely staged. Their placement is not casual. There is no easy or warm familiarity of usage indicated. The arrangement of items indicates a lack of spontaneity; the largest item must be on the bottom, preceded by the smaller and then the smallest. Provided he arranged this table of props himself, the eagle statue facing outward would be indicative of a subconscious desire to escape his very controlled inner urges.
    In the fourth picture, where Santorum is getting groomed and prepped, his sucking in of the lips indicate that he is either apprehensive about the photo shoot, or that he has a large sense of body space and does not not like being touched. His hands rest in a protective cupped position near his groin area. He could a.) think the person preparing him might be homosexual and Santorum might be homophobic, or b.) might have subconscious attraction to the person prepping him, or c.) (And really, I am NOT trying to be controversial) he may have been molested by a male in his childhood.
    On the kangaroo tie: that was added as a part of the setup. Yellow indicates a sunny disposition, blue trustworthiness. He either perceives himself as possessing a playful streak and believes he can be a regular, fun guy … or he isn’t and wants you to think he is. Seeing how secretive he is and adding in the information from all the other photos, I would say he is probably about as fun as food poisoning.

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