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January 6, 2007

Looking More Rosie Today

Nancy-Rosie

Settle in (or should I say, buckle up), because we’re likely to spend a good bit of time over the next couple of Congressional years talking about, debating and also defending pictures of the new Majority Speaker.

As I said yesterday, I think the MSM has a visual agenda to make Nancy Pelosi look weak, vague, soft, ineffectual and/or not ready for prime time.  (As just one more example, notice how the NYT visually juxtaposed Pelosi and the supposedly discredited Republican leadership on December 23rd in this “one week to go before the new Congress” preview.)

That said, I understand and appreciate why my criticism of yesterday’s NYT lead image (commemorating Ms. Pelosi’s opening day as Speaker) caused so such debate among the readership.  I think the largest problem with my “Opening Shots” post, as several readers pointed out, is that I take the media to task for showcasing an image (of Pelosi at the podium surrounded by children) that Ms. Pelosi encouraged, and might have been perfectly happy with.

Certainly it’s possible yesterday’s lead image will — six years, two years, maybe even six months from now — come to stand for and articulate a paradigmatic shift that took place in American politics.  Hopefully (as some readers already believe), this image will symbolize a Speaker and a Congress that moved away from war mongering and empire building in favor of real social, domestic, emotional and physical protection of the home front.

However, I feel  the Democrats, and Ms. Pelosi, have got to be very savvy (in a way they have, frankly, been miserable at) in visually framing and reinforcing their agenda. 

I couldn’t be more supportive of Ms. Pelosi’s intentions yesterday.  Still, if politics is “TV with the sound off” (as Karl Rove drove home), I still wonder about the clarity and effectiveness of yesterday’s picture.  We can argue all we want about what it should mean, or how it reads to us, as died-in-the-wool progressives, but, unfortunately, that’s not how visual politics works.

As still another reader indicated, the Republicans got away with all those shots of George or Laura Bush surrounded by children as a way of blunting criticism, pushing the “compassionate conservatism” mumbo-jumbo (its crazy, but it works, as both proposed direction and political misdirection), and the simple softening of hard edges.  In yesterday’s case, however, where was the context?

If there was some kind of pre-announced theme of family or community to have weaved the picture with, that would have been one thing.  Short of that, however, I wonder if there wasn’t another way to express the theme of family and children without potentially turning a great visual opportunity into a refrigerator snapshot of an open house, or, worse, providing at least the potential for the MSM to reinforce the existing Pelosi/Democratic amateurism and immaturity meme.

That’s why I like the above image better.  This shot appeared today as a curious “drop in” in the left margin of a NYT article about the new “earmark” legislation.  Although the lead photo featured a group of Republican senators responding to the Democratic majority, the side caption defined the offset image as a button worn by a Pelosi supporter at a Friday pre-opening session open house for lawmakers and staff.

Framing Pelosi as Rosie the Riveter (again, from a political standpoint) seems a much stronger way to go.  As it emphasizes in the Wikipedia write-up, the character became a cultural icon not just as a symbol of feminism, but for changing the norms of society.  With the potential of Pelosi and the Democrats to change the norms of Congress and Government, no wonder the button drew the attention of the camera.

In terms of Rosie analogies, Norman Rockwell’s version is a much bolder one.

In the Rockwell painting, the muscularity; the flag (here a rebuttal to the Repubs exploitation of it);  the tool (just like the boys have);  the printed name (so as not to be so self-confident, you forget who you are);  the sandwich (goodbye, K Street dining);  the work ethic (now that Congress is supposedly meeting five times a week);  the halo (for high ideals and good intentions — works better than the children, I think); the lipstick, curls and painted nails (everything the boys don’t have); the buttons (activism, activism, activism) demonstrate just how powerful symbolism can be.

… By the way, I didn’t even mention Rosie’s feet stepping on the copy of Mein Kampf.  Now, I’m not one to liken Bush to Hitler, but the strength of this woman to, almost casually, stamp out the doctrine of the despot, is certainly not lost in our current setting.

Maybe the last thing yesterday’s discussion also revealed is a gender split.  Perhaps, as a male, it’s more important to me that Nancy project more strength.  Perhaps, as we move away from the “brute force” model of government, there is simply a lot more ambiguity to deal with between hard and soft, and between male and female.

Anyway, as I said above, I’m sure we’re going to have a lot more opportunity to talk about it.

(hat tip: mark)

(image: Jamie Rose for The New York Times. Washington. January 6, 2007. nyt.com)

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  • tina

    There’s actually something I really don’t like about this visual. I like the Rosie poster but mostly for its expression, tight lipped and fiery eyed. Nancy Pelosi’s professional wide smile and chipper expression replacing this famous face make the pin look like Rosie the Stepford Wife. At first glance, it looks like Rosie decided to join the Prozac nation. In that sense, it does a disservice to Pelosi as well.
    I don’t think appropriating this famous icon has quite worked in this case. Besides what I wrote above, I can’t put my finger on why.

  • Pilgrim

    Joe Scarborough voiced sincere admiration of the Pelosi/children visuals, said he wished Republicans would have thought of doing it. It was pretty splendid, in my opinion.

  • itwasntme

    I like that it was on the front page, but agree with Tina that it is a poorly done graphic. I agree also with BAG that images like this can be used to great effect for the change in leadership in the house/senate. If we are “at war,” as the administration keeps saying, and dems/progs could revise the image/meme into something like: “Democrats go to work; Republicans go shopping”, and hit The Chimp with his own stupid words. Or how about Dems go to work, repubs go clubbing, for Jenna and not-Jenna’s next tabloid exploit. BAG is right that we have to get serious about pointing out dems strengths and seriousness vs. repub abuses/frivolities. But who has the guts to do it in MSM? Reporters are now owned by big businesses who have purchased the government. Got to be bloggers, I guess, and the individual posters until it hits MSM.

  • lower_case A

    I won’t be adding this pic to my Rosie the Riveter paraphernalia. That would muddy my water.
    I’ll give Pelosi a chance, but I don’t care much for what I’ve seen from her, before or after the last election. I still say she should be more politically savvy by now. Actually, a position of leadership should require it.

  • http://molly.douthett.net lowly grunt

    I love the picture of Pelosi surrounded by children.
    It says to me, a mother, that FINALLY we have congressional leaders who are going to take the family and its needs seriously.
    Who better to champion for American families than a women who has children and grandchildren?
    This picture of Pelosi as Rosie is okay, too, but I think she will score most points when she reminds the public that SHE KNOWS WHAT THEY NEED. Surrounding herself with children is brilliant. Who is tougher, anyway? A woman doing a man’s job well or a woman doing the job of women through millenia – taking the side of the children against forces that would make their lives hell?
    You know what they say about getting between a mother bear and her cubs… GR!

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    So where do I get one of those buttons? That’s way too cool.
    And I agree – I think the male perspective is to not respect how hard women work – Nancy’s point with the kids is that yes, we are wives, mothers and grandmothers – and we can kick your ass, too. I think that’s something the MSM doesn’t yet understand – but they will.

  • PTate in MN

    The media are in love with Hillary Clinton and loathe Nancy, and it is interesting to consider why. So let’s talk race, class , gender for just little: Race: Nancy Pelosi is Italian-American, not WASP. Have any news stories mentioned that? Italian-American’s don’t seem all that ethnic anymore, but that’s just a sign of how times have changed. Flashback to 1970: the headlines would have been that an Italian-American was the new speaker of the house, and, oh, yeah, she’s a woman. Class: She is the daughter and sister of politicians, and, because of her husband’s investments, one of the wealthiest persons in Congress. Gender: Female, heterosexual. She didn’t have a high-status paid career outside the home. She appears to have had a happy heterosexual marriage and is devoted to her children. She wears pearls and cares about her appearance.
    Conclusion: Nancy Pelosi has not played the game by the rules laid down by modern liberal feminism. Her life story fits an older model–that of wealthy married women (WASP & ethnic) whose “careers” combined managing households and volunteer good works in their community. Papa is the breadwinner and defender of the home, Mama tends to the web of social relationships the sustain the family. This particular role is despised by modern feminists (even though they pay lip-service to “choice”): It is viewed as elitist and patronizing, overly-dependent on males and not enough about paychecks, female empowerment and individual accomplishment.
    Feminism in the 70s & 80s struggled with identity: Could you be a feminist AND happily married? Could you have children, lots of children? Could you be “fulfilled” without a high-status job? Somewhere along the line, feminism was corrupted. Feminist leaders lost interest in working class or in ethnic America. Whtie males were the enemy. And heterosexuality was implicitly not possible–all relationships with men were fundamentally contaminated, unhealthy: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” was a popular slogan.
    Hillary Clinton is a poster child for the modern feminist movement. Her career, policies and style embodies their values and vision. She’s a WASP from a middle class background. She’s smart! She went to law school, held a high status job, was involved in policy as first lady. Married, yes, but to a bounder-we can pity her for having to put up with his infidelities. She restricted her fertility. The rumors that she is actually a lesbian are not coincidence. Those rumors establish her autonomy: She is not just Bill Clinton’s wife and baby maker! The media and liberals love her because she is the fulfillment of the 70s paradigm that still influences so much reporting and liberal thinking. She’s a tough, smart, sexless cookie.
    The media don’t have a narrative for Nancy Pelosi, a woman with power in her own right, who also embraces relationships with husbands and her children. The feminist narrative of “women with power” can’t accept the concept of happy relationships with husband and children. The conservative narrative which so flatters Laura Bush or Condi Rice–women as proxies for the powerful Male–can’t accept the concept of independent power. Thus, the media try to make sense of Pelosi by defaulting into dated images of Pelosi as “grandma” or “school-marm.”
    So I love, love, love Pelosi as Rosie-the-Riveter, however, badly the specific execution. Rosie the Riveter is a strong, powerful woman who has men in her life. She reminds us of the working class and white ethnic America. She reminds us of patriotism and the need to defend our families. It is a brilliant transfiguration.

  • ummabdulla
  • http://imtalkinghere.typepad.com Victoria

    Yay-rah, let this conversation unfurl!
    Two comments:
    RE: “Perhaps, as we move away from the ‘brute force’ model of government, there is simply a lot more ambiguity to deal with between hard and soft, and between male and female.”
    Hard and SOFT…male and female? Be careful there! I take your point, but are hard and soft genuinely apt opposites when it comes to male and female? Tell me this, in any important arguments you have witnessed between men and women, would you describe the women as coming on all soft? Did it feel soft to the men? — Those children represented long-sighted broad concern versus short-sighted self interest.
    RE: “she should be more politically savvy by now. Actually, a position of leadership should require it.”
    In the Bay Area, where people have watched Pelosi closely for decades, her reputation has always been that of an extremely savvy and tough tactician, well-schooled in SF’s political world. As reported on the NewsHour this week, she’s respected for being able to keep track of the whole field, while others get caught up on small points. Here’s a section from today’s SF Chronicle editorial:
    “As a rank-and-file member and more recently as Democratic leader, Pelosi has proved adept at building alliances with a charm undergirded by the toughness and shrewdness of a veteran who has navigated the shark-infested political waters of San Francisco. It has often been said that it is no coincidence that San Francisco politicians such as Willie Brown and John Burton became such domineering and effective leaders in Sacramento. The reason Phil Burton fell one vote short of becoming House majority leader in 1976 had nothing to do with questions about his ability to lead. If anything, there were concerns about the master tactician becoming too powerful with the levers of leadership.”
    Yes, she should be fascinating to watch, but we’ll also have to track our own projections and lose some of the old, meaningless language.

  • http://bagnewsnotes.typepad.com/bagnews/2006/11/going_begging.html#comments Blake Incarnate

    Ummmuh…. You are so provocative with your analysis.
    I will be thinking about what you just wrote for the next two years. Amazing. I don’t know if these hyperlinks work, like the one I just posted here, but there is a photo of Bill Clinton with his finger in Cheneys chest at Hillary’s swearing in.
    What in God’s name is going on there?
    http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/01/04/us/20060105_CONGRESS_SLIDESHOW_8.html
    ~

  • http://bagnewsnotes.typepad.com/bagnews/2006/11/going_begging.html#comments Blake Incarnate

    I hope Pelosi is as strong and capable as you all claim and expect.
    It was an interesting turn of events when she nominated Renaldo Keyes for Intel Chair and he stumbled on the Sunni/Shiite thing not to mention the public support of Murtha who is a one trick pony and way out of the mainstream with the Cut and Run label he pinned on all of us.
    Pelosi is giving me the showgurl, Marilyn Monroe feeling, yes poised, yes articulate,…. but all hat and no cattle.
    What has she DONE for me lately, or ever??? Where is the photo that shows her really pissed off, and ready to kick some Bush @ss.. No more pin-up photo ops – photogenic though you are, I want to see a cat and dog fight with fur and claws and teeth.

  • Cactus

    I LOVE that pin……I want one. I think it’s a brilliant melding of the image from the 1940’s of working class women doing what had to be done when men weren’t there, with Pelosi’s image…..a woman who is doing a job (repub) men have neglected. The Rockwell image may be more attractive and inclusive of significant elements, but the image recalled on the button was the one popular in the 40’s.
    I wish I could think as fast and clearly as PTate……..usually. This time I disagree a bit with the analogy: The fish/bicycle phenomenon was clever & popular but only briefly. That wing of the movement was always a minority but they got a lot of press because that is exactly what the MSM guys (mostly men) feared and had the most ‘fun’ with. Neanderthals like Rush & O’Really still excoriate “feminazis” as dykes and man haters (but of course, these two aren’t women haters???). It also serves to distance many more conservative women and working women from the movement. Much more boring to discuss struggles in the workplace and equal pay and acceptance into unions (when they still existed).
    Perhaps the MSM wrote off Pelosi during her career path because they saw no real possibility for advancement there and just assumed that the repubs would be in power until the rapture. Now they are caught up short and need to define her in platitudes. All this, mind you, in addition to the usual MSM sexism and conservatism.

  • granny

    If one word could describe Ms Pelosi it would be “savvy”.
    As another older woman who didn’t become a professional until after raising children (six in my case), all I can say is “Watch OUT!”
    And, by the way, I recommend to young women that they have their children first. Afterwards you will be tough as nails physically but have a tender heart. Plus, after raising all those children and educating them, you won’t be able to retire!

  • ummabdulla

    I like the Rosie the Riveter button, but I just want to note that there’s a difference between saying that a woman can do the job AS A WOMAN, and saying that a woman can do the job only if she acts like a man. The Normal Rockwell picture is of a woman who temporarily stood in for a man in a man’s job – but when the man came back, she went back home.
    Cactus: “That wing of the movement was always a minority but they got a lot of press because that is exactly what the MSM guys (mostly men) feared and had the most ‘fun’ with.”
    I was an active member of NOW in the 1980s. I was younger and single, but my local chapter (in Northern Virginia) was made up of mostly married white women, most of them mothers, many of them stay-at-home mothers. I also used to go and work at the national office in D.C., and it was a very different atmosphere. The women there were more radical and many were lesbian. So while I agree with you to a point, I also think that the more radical woman were stafing the national office and were more available to the national media.

  • readytoblowagasket

    The BAG said: “That’s why I like the above image better.”
    If the New York Times had used this artificial image of Nancy Pelosi’s Photoshopped face on Rosie the Riveter’s cartoon body rolling up her sleeves to reveal her Popeye muscles as the *lead photo* on the *front page,* THEN I would KNOW the Times was waging a visual vendetta against her. While the photo of a political button may be a compelling editorial option for a blog, it is *not* a compelling image for the front page of a newspaper. Better to make Pelosi look “weak, vague, soft, ineffectual and/or not ready for prime time” than like a butch clown. I think Nancy looks creepy as Rosie.
    Not to mention there’s all sorts of historical baggage that accompanies Rosie.

  • Casey

    Why don’t we talk for awhile about the primitive and archaic ways that men are seemingly hardwired to confuse their dicks with their weapons (or perhaps, their political anxieties with their dicks … )
    How can it be that the prevailing, macho, we’ll fuck them before they can fuck us approach to world piece is considered safer for humanity than talking? How is it possible that Hillary, who must spend a lot of private time attempting to manifest a metaphorical dick of her own so that she can be president, is on the right track?
    How much more death and destruction will have to go down before the men who run this joint figure out that maybe the methods used since the stone age might be outmoded?
    The problems we face in this world are nearly all dick- related in my opinion. Speaker Pelosi has illustrated in that photograph that there is a world out here that is not connected to nor dependent upon the ugly, war mongering, imperialistic and ultimately futile machinations of the old guard, “we’re right and they’re wrong so kill them” approach to leadership.
    The world is too small and too fragile to continue in the old ways.

  • tina

    However Pelosi got where she is, I’m glad; although I am generally not in favor of women using their men’s prestige/resources as leverage, we take what we can get (I’m a Hillary fan in this respect). Now if only Cheney would hurry along with that last heart attack and Bush would go back to beer and pretzles, we might all have a chance…..

  • PTate in MN

    by the way, I forgot to mention how much I like the Norman Rockwell cover of Rosie. I love the red curls and fresh face–put that young woman in a frock, and she would be be as cute as could be, ready to Lindy Hop and Jitterbug the night away. Even with her man-arms she is still feminine.
    I think I have under appreciated Norman Rockwell’s work.

  • Dale

    The Pelosi/Rosie image is interesting, but did anyone take note of whose lapel it is appended to? The image, from my point of view, seems to work as a male validation of Pelosi, a framing “thumbs up” that imposes a masculine seal of approval on Pelosi’s accomplishment.
    The whole field of representation of politics is so charged with an iconography that benefits men and puts women at a disadvantage. I’ve already seen written somewhere that Pelosi wearing pearls is seen as an image of “nurturing femininity,” presumably in contrast to some machismo she could have projected with some kind of go-to-hell power suit. What if she just wanted to look nice that day? Would any man have to labor so strenuously over what tie to wear, lest they project an insufficient or excessive amount of masculinity?
    the BAG is right that this is going to be an interesting — and possibly dismaying — couple of years here, as Pelosi is put under the microscope by the MSM again and again.

  • lower_case A

    Victoria: My comment about “political savvy” was directed at Pelosi’s stage-set-with-children, holding that gavel in the air like a hammer. I found it in poor taste (I don’t want any crazed looking person anywhere near my children while waving a hammer around), and would much prefer to see her prove herself through tough action within her job as a legislator. Thus far, I haven’t seen much.
    As for her reputation in the Bay area, while I don’t reside there these days, I know some folks who do. I haven’t heard Pelosi described that way by any of them, and she has a national podium that I can use to judge her effectiveness for myself!
    By the way (just in case it matters to anyone), Pelosi and I share the same gender, and we are both mothers.

  • history

    The “We Can Do It!” image is a curious choice for Pelosi, since back in 1943 it most likely represented anti-labor sentiments, not to mention the objectification of women at Westinghouse (the image’s producer during WWII). I doubt she would approve if she knew more of its history.

  • margaret koscielny

    Like I said the other day, Bag, you can’t take Pelosi as a woman. You want to turn her into “one of the boys.”

  • Linda

    Oh, please, where can I buy that button?! Inspired even if details could be improved.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/rosietheriveter/ Jamie

    That is a pretty funny image to me. I will leave my politics out of it and just say it is an amusing image.

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