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February 1, 2013

Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly and the New Liberal Times

They emerged this week as the most vivid representatives of Obama’s new liberal America, as emblematic of the times and what ails us as Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson were America’s “terror era” canaries in the coal mine.

In a media age marked by celebrity and plasticity, not just metaphorical but actual, the still–beautiful Gabrielle Giffords “looks a little off” for reasons that pose the most overdue and profound  challenge to our culture of vanity. And in the same way that the Obama relationship offers a model, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly adjust our shallow social frames in still another way.  What was once another “Hollywood on the Potomac” dream couple, an up-and-coming young Congresswoman and her proud hero-astronaut, being so much less are suddenly so much more. This week, in the pivot of the 2012 election, they represent values that have been aching to surface in our public sphere: openness in the face of weakness; love, endurance and self-respect in the face of trial and disability. (And even if it only surfaces on television in the most maudlin or chipper of terms, we know how much all of us, in greater and lesser ways, struggle with trial and disability.)

Finally, their emphatic advocacy for controls on weaponry (in that pragmatic, Obama-way) is also indicative of new politics. Simply, it’s another counterpoint to the old way and the old era, in which decision leaders, on whatever crucial issue, simply stuck to their guns and buried their heads in the sand.

(photo: Larry Downing/Reuters caption: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords spoke while seated with her husband, onetime astronaut Mark Kelly, at a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee about guns and violence in Washington Wednesday. She called on lawmakers to act swiftly to curb gun violence.)

  • bks3bks

    Based solely on first glance, and with all due respect to two very accomplished and unfairly afflicted adults, it looks like a ventriloquist act.


    • acm

      oh, I wish you hadn’t said that, but you’re right — it’s sort of a trick of her posture and expression that creates that association. oy.

    • Michael Shaw

      I admit I need to ponder whether the analogy is also cruel but it seems fair if we’re being honest about the daunting social dynamics — what does the literature say about taking and accepting the lead? — following a debilitating brain injury.

  • drydiggins

    From here:
    A different reaction, which I happen to share.

    “[...]I was reminded very painfully of experiences through the decades with two
    friends/colleagues who had suffered strokes. Their minds and
    personalities were intact; their command of muscles controlling speech,
    handwriting, or typing was in both cases severely impaired.
    Empathetically to experience even a fraction of the frustration evident
    in their attempts at speech and movement — and especially in their eyes!
    — was awful.[...]“

  • artr2

    Yea, we are sure a shallow group when all we can concentrate on is the messenger and not the message. It took a great deal of determination for her to do what she did. You all are disgusting.

    • Minor Heretic

      This is a blog about images; their creation and how we react to them.

      To paraphrase McLuhan, the messenger is the message. I am sure that Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly both understand that. Some communications researchers have concluded that in a face-to-face encounter 2/3 of the communication is not about the actual textual meaning of the words spoken.

      It is shallow to react to the image without realizing it or examining it. It is deep to parse it, separating the image from the words, and understanding the full intent of the messenger.

      I am sure that Ms. Giffords was careful about her appearance at this event, not out of vanity, but out of an understanding of the high stakes involved.

      All that said, seeing her like that, diminished and yet not diminished, brings tears to my eyes.

  • sabine

    she is defiant, all about her is defiant, her posture, her eyes and he loves her for it.
    this is a proud couple full of love, a rare find in our times.
    her message is a plead with the deaf, but she is pleading defiantly nevertheless

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