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July 1, 2005

Your Turn Again: De Scent of Politics


So, Arianna Huffington got bent out of shape because David Gergen, rather than criticizing Bush’s Fort Bragg speech for exploiting 9/11, instead praised Bush’s political savvy for dusting off the tactic.

If Arianna wants to take it on, the issue goes way beyond Gergen.  Because, sad as it might be, American politics has almost ceased to be about policy.  Instead, it’s now a parlor game about tactics and strategy.  Or, it’s about personality and style.  (And really, how could Arianna make a beef about “style over substance” without mentioning that the person covering the speech and interviewing Gergen was Paula Zahn — a walking “case study” for Huffington’s argument — a so-called commentator whose personality is one half-part The News Hour combined with two-parts Entertainment Tonight.)

Taking this terrible trend to it’s illogical conclusion, the NYT ran a feature (The Sweet Smell of Celebrity – link) on the front page of the Style section yesterday concerning the potential of celebrity branding to provide a boost to the perfume industry.  Except, to illustrate the article (which primarily dealt with fragrances named for entertainment personalities), the accompanying illustrations somehow featured stars of the Bush administration. 

If political governance is now hardly distinguishable from a campaign, and the front page continues to lose distinction from the Style section (or Entertainment — or Sports, for that matter), these illustrations couldn’t be more appropriate.  Because, in the Bush-Zahn universe, who needs Britney when you’ve got Condi?  And what good is Brad when you can get Rummy?

Because the analytical skills of the BAG community keeps rising, I’ve decided to try the seminar format once again.  (This time, I’ll join you in the conversation.)  In this case, I was fascinated by illustrator Matt Collins’ conception of the Condi fragrance.  I was intrigued by the box; the colors; that exclamation point; the particular emphasis on the olfactory sense.

So, here are a few questions I offer you (unless you prefer your own) :  What is the Condi scent?  What’s with that bottle?  (And how much is she one container versus the other, or both?)

(Whether for reference, comparison or just a broader sweep of the product line, I also offer you access to a whiff of Greenspan and the vapor of Rumsfeld.)

Of course, I don’t mind if a few noses get out of joint.

(Revised: 7/1/05 7:47am PST)

(illustration(s): Matt Collins in The New York Times.  June 30, 2005.)

  • rogie

    Condi is a commodity that is being sold wrapped in American symbols. She doesn’t seem to happy about it though. If the bottle is Condi, her shoulders are slumped she seems to be walking away (to the left of the box) while glancing irritatedly back over her left shoulder.
    She’s outside the box as well. Could indicate that the illustrator sees a revolt against the Bush White House sales job that has forced Republicans to be so lock-step obedient in their flag wearing patriotism/jingoism.
    Condi’s also walking towards her shadow. Are there hard times ahead for the GOP marketing machine?

  • BudDogma

    I’m not sure what to make of this but the whole things smells a little fishy if you ask me.
    Sorry but I couldn’t resist.
    Now to get a little serious.
    Hey since we are now in the land of fantasy with these criminals errrrr I mean bushco why not treat them like celebs.
    Focus on their ever so fabulous personalities so we don’t have to think about how we are getting screwed.

  • pebird

    Desperation smells like catpiss. (credit: Al Swearengen of Deadwood)

  • Diane

    Why is she shaped like a candlestick? Have I missed something?
    I think Condi would smell like soap – and toothpaste (that’s what the box looks like), because she’s a GOOD girl.

  • Nate

    I concur with the others that this is clearly all about packaging:
    In the cartoon we have a thin little bottle – almost a pipette – in a great big box. The whole point is that there’s packaging, but little inside. Rather, Condi is there to be seen.
    So, consequently, I would suggest that there is no scent, but rather that the bottle is empty. Not in the sense that Condi lacks personal substance, but in the sense that she doesn’t present much of substance to the public other than her image.
    Really, Condi is the emporer’s new parfume, much like the war on terror is the emporers’s new foreign policy.

  • Leigh

    The whole illustration doesn’t seem to fit. The style of the drawing, packaging, bottle, and hair-do screems 1950’s. Yet, in the 1950’s, in her home state, Condi might have trouble just voting, forget about being secretary of state.
    All of that makes the illustration seem fake and contrived.

  • dancinfool

    All hair, no head. So to me, Condi spray perfume smells like canned air..

  • Salam Adil

    The box out of place – as if the Artist has been forced to add it to give the illustration something interesting. There is nothing in there. Just a hairstyle with nothing inside.
    I’ve been COND! I want my money back.

  • BudDogma

    One spray of Cond! and every black woman will become an Aunt Tomita just like Condi. The massa bushman will be pleased!!!!!!

  • bg

    Kinda hard to just say Cond! Um, perhaps too much focus on the hair? Maybe we can style it? One thing she is known for: stylin’.
    Of course, this is all art. This is the NYT, after announcing they are looking for “balance” and will be shopping for some more conservative “bias.” But maybe that bias does not yet extend to the art department.
    So OF COURSE the artist was making a statement. Pretty much, the only thing swellin’ is her head, um, hair. And there is that all american smell too. Smellin swell. When you wear COND! will people know you’ve been screwin’? Or just been screwed? I think maybe they cum up with this idea just imaginin’ Baghdad.

  • Kell

    The “bottle” looks more like a door stop than a bottle. Maybe a bathroom door? Hmmm, the smell of the crap that the Bushies keep givin’ us? All American BS!

  • elendil

    Greenspan Scent’s and Rummy Scent’s bottles represent what they do (money-bag and tank, respectively), but it’s difficult to come up with an item that represents the role of Secretary of State. I think that’s the only reason the bottle is in her likeness. However, within the set of representations of Rice, that’s an interesting choice.
    The thing that struck me was the surrealism. The slim, elegant, and precise metallic bottle is juxtaposed with hair. Hair is usually organic and free-flowing, but this hair is like Condi’s real hair — stiff and boofy. Usually surrealists put hair on things that don’t have hair to invoke horror. There’s something about things with hair and no face that’s scary. But often surrealism walks a line between being unsettling and being ridiculous. Because of the boofyness of the hair, enhanced by the skinnyness of the bottle, whatever unsettling quality it had, it’s mixed with ridicule.
    Again, the choice of hair on bottle is probably driven by necessity. There’s few other things about Rice that are trademark, and would translate well to a bottle design. I’ve always thought that hair of hers was interesting. She’s taming her hair into a caricature of a Western news-reporters hair-do, with great effort and presumably a lot of chemicals. Why is she so strict and tense? Why can’t she just be herself? Would we accept a Secretary of State with an afro? Whatever symbolism there is in her rigid hair, it’s translated and enhanced in this context.

  • 4Fold

    What’s that smell? Can ya smell it? It’s the sickly sweet smell of mendacity. It’s mendacity, Brick, mendacity. (Tennesee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) The terminally lonely Condi is depicted as an empty signifier, like a chess piece, something to moved around around the board to attempt to freshen the air. Like Colin Powell, she knows she is being used but, again like Colin, she is a moral coward. Her image here is cold and asexual, the earlier message noted surrealistic, hair on metal. But in truth many more men than would admit it wonder every time they see her in a “news” item if she is getting layed regularly, and by whom. I bet that this is especially true in foreign meetings with ministers, etc. In Egypt or Pakistan or even France more than half the men in the room will be wondering about her sex life instead of thinking hard about Osama or whatever. Again, What’s that smell?

  • The BAG

    Is this a chess piece or a candle stick …or something else? Is it really that hard to depict the function of Secretary of State? Or, does the problem have more to do with defining who Condi really is? (Which, in my mind, is no wonder.) As compared to Rummy and Greenspan, the allusion seems to be that she really IS more a product than a character.
    Because the right edge of the base breaks the plane of the box top, does that mean she’s barely out of the box? In regard to her political life, in general, OR her role at State, shouldn’t she be well out and away by now?
    The proximity of the box AND the fact the opening is so dark and foreboding (like a dark tunnel), seems to raise the question of where she’s come from, what she’s left behind or even what she’s made of.
    The fact the copy refers to a “smell” rather than a “scent” or “fragrance” is probably just an unsophisticated move on the part of the illustrator (in making a rhyme). Still, it comes off as a slight. Also, she seems too hard-edged in real life to justify the cute-treatment — including rhyme or jingle.
    I also found the color contrast strange — and maybe telling. The box is red, white and blue. The Condi figure is black and gold. Some “show me the money?” allusion here? Does the big black hair and the dark shading on the “body” reference her color? If the box colors pull for patriotism (maybe I’m just thinking 4th of July?), wouldn’t you expect the Condi bottle to also pick up the theme somehow? If not, then why not put her in a more consistent or classier box?
    I like the “big head” idea also. Maybe the taut neck and the lower segment of the bottle reflect some severity?
    I guess, if the suggestion is that she might truly have some fragrance to her, she has an aversion to the possibility.

  • cj

    I wonder if the box/figure contrast has anything to do with the Secretary of State’s role as promoter of America, diplomacy, communication, etc. (i.e., all that is representative of America’s traditional role in the world). The COND! reference seems to me to allude to the fact that the world is offered a faux diplomat. I think back on Colin Powell’s tenure and how I actually thought he (and American diplomacy) had some measure of legitimacy–at least in the very beginning. Now with Rice, the office of Secretary of State is completely co-opted–a fox guarding the henhouse, so to speak. Afterall, she is one of the intellectual allies of the Iraq hawks. Box also represents wrapping oneself in the colors of the flag–unquestioning patriotism. I think the COND! label is an allusion to the White House attempts to make nationalistic fervor the litmus test of patriotism. Consider this: Do you go with the patriotic colors, or the cynical text? That is brilliant!
    The figurine represents, on the other hand, the actuality. Rice is all hair little substance and that substance (considering its slightly bent/stoop shouldered demeanor seems weak, ineffectual, uninspired, perhaps even burdened (guilt, pressure, impossibility of the task???). It also forces you to look at the hair (see the personality–intelligent, stylish, black woman in a position of power–rather than the actual things she says, does and represents to the rest of the world). As to the color of the figurine: Black and gold. Maybe a reference to Ms. Rice, but maybe its an allusion to the “real” US policy goals–OIL. Black hair could represent oil gushing from an Iraqi oil rig (also might explain the long thin shape of the figurine) and the gold, well it represents the gold (money, wealth) being made (or at least hoping to be made) by US oil interests, Haliburton, and the rest of the White House cronies, friends, policy lobbyists……. just a thought

  • George Myers

    I was watching the end of “Romeo and Juliet” in the Greenhouse Lounge in the West Point Clarion in Newburgh, NY and thought that the bottle of “COND!” looked a little like the one Romeo bought, with which he poisons himself, and Juliette blows her brains out with a .45 pistol (they’re over 100 years old now?) perhaps the reference is to our “love” between rival “gangs” (precocious Little Lord Flaunteroy’s “Dimmycats and Republicrats” was it?) that needs to be watched, i.e., how come both Powell’s (Colin from “Banana Kelly” here in the Bronx where we’re from, and so’s the Capitol Dome) are gone this time? Hmmmm…wild rice and pheasants…

  • neco

    Perhaps I’ve been staring at the candlestick/bottle too long, but I think I can make out one squinting eye (the other is covered by her hair flop) and a frown. Which seems like her usual expression. And for all the bottle’s sleek lines and small size it doesn’t strike me as feminine in the least. The box is perplexing as well. So antiseptic, like the container for toothpaste or foot creams. If this is a perfume it’s a cheap one you buy at a drugstore, a poor substitute for the real thing. I’m not sure what her scent would be, but it would definitely be very strong. The more potent the smell the smaller the bottle.
    I think there’s a visual joke with the Condi one I’m just not getting becasue Rummy’s and Greenspan’s are quite amsuing. I especially like the rolled up cash as a topper for Greenspan’s. The fact that Rummy doesn’t even come out of his tank/box is in keeping with his defensive personality.

  • Agnes BF

    The Condi thing is unappealing, shows no taste at all. (Who said that lack of taste is worse than bad taste?)
    First, the box looks like a box for medication or toothpaste, nothing to evoke the glamour of perfumes. Then, the word “smell” means body odour to me, not scent. The bottle is not sleek: it’s simply puny, dwarfed by the hairdo/stopper; what’s worse, the slouch and stoop of the silhouette signal fatigue and boredom for me, reminding me of a schoolmistress with an ugly hairdo at the end of a bad day.
    A warring amazon motif or a sophisticated musical theme (Condi is an accomplished almost-concert-pianist) would have been more appropriate, but it is definitely NOT my job to improve on her image.

  • Suzendvb

    This looks like a classic case of marketing – paying attention to the hair and not to the fact that the skinny bottle doesn’t have much in it. Seems like an appropriate picture – all hair and no contents. Hair is symbolic of thoughts – pretty stiff, huh? No matter how good it might smell, it just can’t be worth the price. It isn’t natural, or balanced in any way and that stinks.

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