October 11, 2007
Your Turn: '08 Uncoverage
Because it's Friday, and because I haven't been leaving much room for the readership lately, I'm turning this entirely over to you. (Regular lurkers, here's your chance.)
Without delving into the image at all, I just wanted to make a pitch for its legitimacy as characterological commentary. Because RADAR is operating beyond the political fringe, they have — and have grabbed — the license to wildly mess with, exaggerate and contradict public identities as well as underlying personality.
Considering the Washington realm is every bit as concerned with packaging, surface, sexual and gender politics, seduction and entertainment as the entertainment world is, I say bring it on.
Of course, playing off the original VF Ford/Knightley/Johansson cover means that, as an analogy, some things will hit and others will miss, often badly. Still, I think there is excellent mining to do here. I'm both interested in your take on the candidates alone, as well as the dynamics (or lack of such) between them.
(And then, in light of this cover, isn't it funny how Hillary just told Olbermann: "It's kind of nice to have all these men obsessed with you.")
To get started, Rachel Sklar at HuffPo zero's in on Obama's treatment:
Obama … comes off worst, smooth and feminine and clearly not part of the conspiratorial whispering going on quite literally over his head. Sort of not something that emphasizes his raw strength as a candidate — a message that targets one of his weak spots. Whether or not that was intentional, that's an element Radar captured surprisingly effectively.
(image: Radar Magazine by way of Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair. November 2007)
— UPDATE 9:45 AM PST —-
Reading through the initial comments, I realize I did a disservice to the analysis, and the community, by making this cover strictly about character. The fact is, this cover is mostly relevant — which I strongly believe it is — from the standpoint of politics.
The following blurb from the Photo District News blog picks up on the racism/sexism here, but more astutely, it sniffs out the admittedly harder-to-focus on political/right-wing element. It reads:
What does it mean that Giuliani the only white male of the bunch is wearing more clothes than his female and black counterparts? Do Hillary and Obama's lack of clothing suggest they're more vulnerable than Rudy? Or are they just vulnerable in the suddenly seductive adulterer's presence?
I'm wondering if the dismissive reaction to this cover, from FOX to the NYT (and even here, too — perhaps the only place on the web which places visual-political semiotics above all else) has to do with the kind of ugly truth that only surfaces out of crude or crass humor.
At the "top level," what is most troublesome here it how simple bad taste turns us against this content — obscuring how hate and gender stereotyping are the ultimate weapons when politicians ply them. With that point in mind, what actual information does our distaste or revulsion get in the way of here?
The PDN comment (they look at pictures constantly; they pick up on these thing) is smart to focus all of its attention, in each of its three different sentences, on Giuliani.
The key "data" (which makes this cover "worthwhile" to discuss at all) involves the type of dirty, insidious right-wing memes that the Rovians use everyday — many of which are foreshadowed here and will be flying everywhere if Rudy beomes the GOP nominee. (We saw an early trial-balloon a few weeks ago, by the way, when a Giuliani web video tried to take an early bite out of Hillary, testing both the "unpatriotic" and "flip-flopping" memes. And then, also note the exposure The New York Times gives to the predatory Giuliani when an attack in that form, in a more garden-variety form of crass.)
Here's what I think PDN is really getting at:
If you thought that Team Giuliani would primarily base its campaign on paranoia and hate of "them over there," think again. What RADAR breaks to us, I believe, is the way in which Rudy's infidelity and philandering will be characterologically packaged and reframed into a praiseworthy (nation-protecting) form of aggressiveness.
To that extent Hillary is as tough as Rudy is, however (and not the "woman" they turned Kerry into, and the kind of extreme softy RADAR — in another act of Rovian foreshadowing — turns Obama into), you can expect a more (sexually) vicious battle to emerge if both Rudy and Hillary, in their respective party wars, "come out on top."
On those terms then, the fact that Hillary is recast as young, sexually empowered and only mildly amused by Rudy's aggressive advances means that she's got her own power — certainly a good bit derived from her gender — to draw on, and she's not going take any shit.
…Obviously, there is more political interpretation to be made here on sexual/gender stereotyping turf. I just wanted to get the post, and any ensuing discussion, on a more substantive track.