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October 22, 2007

Getting Pinked

Laura-Breast-Cancer

The First Lady’s aides said there was no link between her visit next week and a planned Middle East peace conference this year organized by her husband’s administration. But McBride added: “Certainly the timing is probably very good.”  –  AFP Trip Preview. 11/23/07.

This shot — documenting Laura Bush’s (drum roll please!) Breast Cancer Tour of the Persian Gulf — was featured in yesterday’s NYT main slide show.

Regarding the visual-cultural dynamics here, No Caption Needed has done a number of posts on the burqa as framed within overtly Western trappings (examples here and here).  As they handle that dimension far better than I, I gladly defer.  I do, however, have a few thoughts about the editorial dynamics here, as well as the domestic and foreign policy gamesmanship of the photo op.

From an editorial standpoint, I think the photo takes certain advantage by virtue of a tight reading.  I say that because, if you didn’t know anything else about Mrs. Bush’s sit down at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center in Dubai, you would never know there were six other women on this banquette, and that the ribboned woman to Laura’s left, breast cancer survivor Nabweia Hussein al-Zaabi, was the only one whose face was completely obscured.

So, to that extent, this colorful image made the “Best Of” list yesterday for its star power, color contrast, and cultural exoticism.  Put one more checkpoint in the “politics as fashion” column.

But that’s the “soft politics.”  The harder side involves what this pic glosses over, which is the use of women’s issues and breast cancer as a cover to send Laura Bush out on a Persian Gulf propaganda mission. 


Honestly, I don’t have a sense of how this tour, and scenes like this, are translating in the region.  To a larger extent, however, I believe this show has a domestic agenda, running interference around the loss of Iraq, and the Bush and Cheney Iran/World War III hysteria.

In that regard, the image is a classic piece of Rovian cotton candy ready to feed to anyone disinclined toward a more culturally-sensitive or culturally-adjusted understanding of what’s underneath.

Next to Laura, the face of this Administration, Mrs. Hussein al-Zaabi is an abstract, de-individualized representation of Islam, a stage prop symbolic of how the Cheney/Bush mindset refuses to honor (let alone, make out) the unique people, states and identities in the region.  Sitting next to a perfect lady, Hussein al-Zaabi offers the quality the Administration likes most to see in its regional allies, which is barely an outline.

Notable, along those lines, is the one Occidental marker of individuality here — the ribbon.  In light of the noise lately about the conservative-issue lapel pin, the fact Hussein al-Zaabi sports such an object well known to the breast cancer community, but as akin (from a distance) to the widely-identified “Support Our Troops” ribbon gives still another reading of her — and, by association, the region — as an Administration client.

And finally, how about that PINK!

Keyed more to Laura and the propaganda mission, it seems to evoke an apolitical, pre-adolescent, syrupy, 1950’s brand femininity.  Married to the Administration’s demolition of Iraq (with the attendant implications for all Iraqi girls, women and mothers) and Cheney/Bush’s refusal to seriously or competently engage in diplomacy with anybody in the region, this shot — from a strategically-time, supposedly girl-powered Middle East power trip, speaks to a candy store distraction from the imperial doings at hand.

(image:  Karim Sahib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. October 22, 2007.  Abu Dhabi.  nytimes.com. linked image: Kamran Jebreili/Reuters/UAE-Pool.  via YahooNews)

  • Anonymous

    Color me culturally insensate, but it also indicates to me that our society’s equal opp woman is represented by Laura. The Dubai shroud exhibits a nondescript thing that we assume is a human only on the basis of one visible hand.
    Are they truly united by a pink ribbon? That’s a pretty fragile thread.
    I would refuse to sit for a photo op of the person depersonalized here. It is imperative that they meet and communicate and share the content of their hearts and minds, but the photo suggests the smiling woman is approving the repression of religious dictate upon her fellow human. She might as well be sitting with a woman in a prison jumpsuit, giving a thumbs-up salute.

  • Mona

    I would cover myself up (just like the burqah lady) if I had to have my photo taken next to Laura Bush or her husband! Laura strikes me as “unreal” – the plastered hair, the make-up, the insencere “smile” (if one can call it that). When Karen Hughes made her ME tour a couple of years back she met up with women doctors in Saudi Arabia who worked a hospital specialized in women health care! With US health care so unaffordable in the US, Laura Bush should be ashamed! There are many levels of hypocrisy, and this is one of them.

  • wmcq

    Don’t forget the relentless irony of the stem cell free Global War On Cancer.

  • tina

    A black woman-shaped hole in the universe.
    A robotic Laura and a woman in a Burqa. Who is more dehumanized? Who knows?

  • http://www.sherrychandler.com Bluegrass Poet

    Laura is all pulled together in an excessively “ladylike” pose — knees and ankles tight together — but also as though she wants to keep well out of contact with anybody else. No contaminating human contact, please.
    Though maybe she just thinks wearing trousers is offensive enough and so doesn’t want to use any body language to suggest that she’s comfortable wearing trousers.

  • tina

    Laura may as well be in a burqa for all we ever see of her true self. Her face always looks like the Joker in the Batman movie. Her body and posture are stiff and closed off. She would probably be more comfortable in a burqa, and we’d know just as much about her “real” face.

  • Gasho

    Does this really count as having ones’ picture taken with someone?
    I don’t agree that this is a Rove shot because, while I think Rove has a broken moral compass, I also think he’s extremely smart. This picture backfires in every possible way:
    – a warm, connecting picture between two women, this is NOT
    __ an attempt at establishing a ‘bond’ between these two fails, but the attempt is there. This doesn’t support the MORE WAR agenda
    – how’s that “spreading freedom” thing going?
    – the ribbon pin looks absurd on a burkha, and makes her look that much more like a faceless, bodyless, oppressed, propagandized prop. And how right the first commenter was [no name], that Laura is stuck giving her approval to the whole scene.

  • garyb50

    If I was there shooting there’s no doubt in my mind I’d frame that exact shot. It’s just so gut level visually compelling.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sravana/ sravana

    Good call, Bluegrass Poet.
    Why in heaven’s name was she wearing PANTS? (not to mention, *skin tight* pants). What a way to offend.

  • Anonymous

    This image has been photoshopped. Look at the light on her hands, and the fabric on her arms, lap and knees. No light on her shoulders or head. Just black.
    I flew back from London last year. The woman in the seat in front of us was wearing full black hijab. Gorgeous fabric, gorgeous eyes, gorgeous walk. Absolute poise. Most beautiful woman on the plane. Period.
    When my grandmother was young proper women did not go out without some head covering. The country was full of ex-slaves. There were bounties on indians in California. She didn’t get the vote until she was in her forties.
    We need a reality check, I think.

  • Cactus

    I notice Laura isn’t wearing a pink ribbon on her prissy little self. I also notice her pants are too short for the dance.
    Call me a cranky old f^rt, but when Mrs. W is on a state visit and/or official business, to a Muslim country, she should wear a dress or suit of appropriate length and conservative color. To wear a pantsuit with flood-pants is insulting to the host country. Does she shop at Target? I was a feminist before the first issue of MS. magazine and I still have that first issue, but even Christine Amanpour wears a scarf when she visits those countries, FGS. I think it’s called d-i-p-l-o-m-a-c-y.
    Actually, I don’t have a problem with the pink ribbon symbol for breast cancer, although some other ’causes’ have overdone it. The pink wall and bench, however, is a bit over the top. Do you suppose we could chalk it up to exuberance at meeting the first bimbo of the USA?
    I just read Bluegrass Poet’s post….”No contaminating human contact, please. “…very perceptive.

  • Cactus

    Actually, it just occurred to me that on a previous post one item of information came out about people sitting on a bench/sofa type furniture. They are not supposed to touch. I thought that was just male/female, but perhaps it refers to all humans. Can someone enlighten?

  • paulo

    What about the pants-suit? I know that Laura has a propensity (an unfortunate propensity) for them but what does it say about her own insecurity as she sits next to a woman who so strongly holds to her religious and cultural beliefs and in her own womanhood that she is completely covered.
    Yet Laura the occidental ambassador wears that mushy sort of garment instead of a “normal” western skirt.
    Which of the two is the more womanly?
    Also The woman seems rather deliberately to poke her right hand (the only bit of flesh evident) out from her sleeve. She is wearing a ring – is it a wedding ring? I have no clue. But Laura OTOH appears to be equally deliberately covering her left hand where presumably her own wedding ring is.

  • Ab

    Classic.
    Bush has the look of an individual who is manic.
    The woman in the khandoura, to all those who have never been to the middle east, especially Dubai, need to refraing from the talk of “oppression”. Take a trip to that country and you will see women wearing what they like.
    Some of the young local girls wear the most up to date fashions, barely covered by a thin wrap around silk khandoura, probably more sensuous and revealing than not wearing one.
    I do feel sorry for bush, i am sure she is doped up, i know i would be if i had to have anything to do with her husband.

  • Blake Incarnate

    The worst of both worlds…

  • tonythetigersays

    i’s, ‘kumbaya’, dorothy/darlin’

  • PTate in MN

    I’m late, late, late to this thread.
    Women in burkas creep me out. It seems to me that they have chosen to be negative space in the midst of a vivid world, and if I take the time to reflect on my response, I realize that I am offended. It is rudeness, it seems to me.
    The post on the “No Caption Needed” site proposed that democracy needs public visibility to establish trust, equality, identity, so the choice to cover oneself completely in a black sack defies that public identity (whether self chosen or imposed by the patriarchy). This suggests to me that my discomfort, my sense of offense, arises from a deep level of cultural difference.
    I am struck that Laura Bush and Mrs. Hussein al-Zaabi are very in-tune. They have their arms in the same position. I imagine that the experience of being the woman inside that black sack would be quite different from the experience that Laura Bush has interacting with her. Our perception as distant observers (shut out by the burka) is even more excluded.
    Western cultures are based on “individuality”–clearly Islam is not. It seems to me that that the BAG is speaking from this Western cultural set (using words like “de-individualized” and “unique”) when he comments that Mrs. Hussein al-Zaabi is “an abstract, de-individualized representation of Islam, a stage prop symbolic of how the Cheney/Bush mindset refuses to honor (let alone, make out) the unique people, states and identities in the region.”
    It is also ironic that Cheney/Bush may be refusing to honor the unique identities of the region because they have a colonial mentality–the ME is only important because it provides us oil. Who cares about who they are! And when Bushco speechifies about importing “democracy” to the ME, they are celebrating the imposition of a Western cultural model that includes the expectation of public visibility on a culture that does not share that expectation. Bush supporters will observe this black blob and feel what we are doing in the ME is very justified.

  • Anonymous

    This photograph is fake.
    Search niqab, burka, hijab. You will not find an image like this. It is a joke, or much worse.

  • lowly grunt

    MY EYES, MY EYES!!!
    Man, that is pink! I’m more offended by that than anything else.
    It reminds me of a line by Sally Field’s character M’Linn in “Steel Magnolias”about the shade of pink her daughter Shelby chose for her wedding:
    “…the inside of that church looks like it has been hosed down in Pepto Bismal.”
    Tone it down some, people!

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