April 20, 2010
Nina Berman Looking at the Tea Party
Opening up with the daft, Halloween side of the Party, we have the umpteenth permutation on "Obama the Narcissist." Juxtaposed with the laughing granny, it showcases the thrill of mocking. Clicking though, however, you'll see that Nina goes deeper than that.
This second picture captures the real signature of this Tea Party phenomenon -- the mixed-metaphor. The racist Mr. Joker and Mrs. Clown Joker-Riddler, with that stick on backwards, are the perfect complement to the yellow "Don't Tread On Me," the flag forming its own montage with three hot dog signs, and then what looks like one in the guy's hand. It's as if the photo is playing with how the Tea Party rallies jumble all kinds of different symbols together. Hot Dogs. Government out of control. You get it, don't you?
Yes, we have Big Paranoid Guy with his little flag giving us the evil eye. And the two guys with their big guts and their little flags. But the photo is not about making fun. Because, looking at the facial expressions, you don't just see how sure these guys are, but also how much they just need to believe in something. As well, the boy -- who is "out front" of the other men -- seems a lot more open and uncertain, his shirt suggesting how easy it is to be a tiger on the surface.
But what makes this series is the guy in the suit. If he's otherwise the smiling guy in the barber chair, or the upbeat host at the Toastmasters meeting, or the funny one when he and the guys get together for a round of golf, on the other side of the "dividing line" from all the HOCUS P.O.T.U.S., we see (in him, and the others) head-hanging fear, and sadness, and weariness, and exhaustion, and regret, and yes, of course, the suspicion and anger inside that suit over what's happening to our country.
Yes, the guy in the suit seems a lot less vulnerable in this last photo. But then, he's sharing the company, and the energy, of other angry white men, making a stand in defense of their monument, and their right to be loud.
What’s smart and, yes, respectful about Nina Berman’s Tea Party photos is that they aren’t taking the Tea Party any more or less seriously than the party’s frustrations, on the one hand, and their antics, on the other.