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Election 2012: Image World (8)

A. D. Coleman, 2010. Photograph copyright by Willie Chu.

For the purpose of this coverage of the 2012 election, I intend to comment on the four debates (one vice-presidential, three presidential) as a set, after completion of the last. In the meantime, I’ll attend to other matters imagistic.

The GOP Plays the Race(ist) Cards

On Tuesday, September 25, officials of the Virginia Republican Party had to order its Mecklenburg County affiliate to remove from its Facebook page a cluster of Photoshopped images variously portraying President Obama as a witch doctor, a caveman and a thug. (Click here for Laura Vozzella’s Washington Post report.)

Obama as witch doctorThese images — apparently not generated by the Mecklenburg Republicans themselves, but found online and added to their page — have been there at Facebook for months. They drew attention from Democrats only recently, after a Mecklenburg-sponsored “dutch treat” lunch event this week with Republican Senate candidate George Allen. (Allen’s no stranger to racist slurs, having gone down to defeat in his 2006 Senate reelection campaign partly for referring to one of his opponent’s aides, a man of southeast Asian descent, as “macaca,” a racial slur in some cultures.)

Obama as caveman, caricatureHastening to attempt damage control, Pat Mullins, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said, “These kinds of images have no place in political discourse — period. They are offensive, tasteless and should never have been posted anywhere, let alone a local unit’s Facebook page. The Republican Party of Virginia condemns this sort of imagery in the strongest possible terms.” Mullins indicated that he’d contacted the Mecklenburg branch to demand their removal.

Obama as thug, caricatureR. Wallace “Wally” Hudson, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Republican Committee, initially vowed to ignore calls from the Republican Party of Virginia to take the images down. According to the Washington Post story, Hudson said, “If that group is that sensitive, I’m sorry, they’re just not human. It’s not American. If they’ve got a problem with it, we’re not going to change what we do.” He also the the Post reporter that critics were playing “the race card. . . . The rest of them, if they don’t want to see it, they don’t have to look at it. We don’t consider any of it racist.”

Nonetheless, by the morning of Thursday, September 27, they’d all been removed; shortly thereafter, that Facebook page became unavailable. However, there’s a potload of racist, homophobic anti-Obama imagery circulating on the internet via websites published and sponsored by Republicans, who disgrace the party of Lincoln with their parade of prejudices.

"Watermelon Jake" postcard, Detroit Publishing Co., ca. 1912.

“Watermelon Jake” postcard, Detroit Publishing Co., ca. 1912.

This imagery harks back to (and in many cases resembles and even replicates) forms of racist imagery that circulated widely as picture postcards, illustrations in periodicals and books, and other print media at least through the 1950s. The postcard to the left, “Watermelon Jake,” exemplifies the genre. It was issued circa 1912 by the Detroit Publishing Co., at that time headed by photographer William Henry Jackson, who served as the company’s president starting in 1898 and as its plant manager from 1903 through its bankruptcy in 1924. According to Wikipedia, “At the height of its success, the company employed some forty artisans and a dozen or more traveling salesmen. In a typical year they would publish an estimated seven million prints.”

Here we are, a century after that postcard started to circulate, with the Republic Party’s Mecklenburg branch declaring it “not racist” and anyone finding it unfunny “not human.” Count me among the “not humans,” then. Another proud moment in the 21st-century GOP’s handling of visual imagery concerning racial issues. Here’s some news for them: The 800-pound gorilla in the room isn’t Barack Obama. It’s the enduring racism embedded deep in the heart of darkness that is the Republican base.

Ann Romney Going “Gangnam Style”?

Ann Romney with her dressage horse Rafalca, ABC News, screenshot.

Ann Romney with her dressage horse Rafalca, ABC News, screenshot.

So far as I’ve been able to determine, there’s absolutely no truth to the gossip that South Korea’s internet sensation Psy plans to endorse Mitt Romney for the U.S. presidency and is working secretly on a “Gangnam Style” video with Ann Romney and her dancing horse Rafalca, scheduled for mid-October release.

Psy, "Gangnam Style" single (2012), official cover.

Psy, “Gangnam Style” single (2012), official cover.

For those who don’t follow pop culture, Psy’s music video “Gangnam Style,” featuring his now-famous horse-riding dance, has become YouTube’s most “liked” video of all time, with over 350 million viewings as of this writing. Gangnam is a district of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, where some of the country’s wealthiest people live. So, albeit with tongue in cheek, the song celebrates the lifestyle of the younger generation of privileged upper-class South Koreans, of which Psy is a member.

That makes the connection to the Romneys logical in terms of both class allegiance and the shared “horsey set” values and experience. With Paul Ryan’s failure so far to provide the “rock star” energy for which he was touted, the floundering Romney-Ryan campaign desperately needs a boost now that they’ve entered the final turn.

Ann Romney, Rafalca, and taxesStrategically, joining forces with Psy would add a global flavor to a team seriously short on international creds. It would also tie Romney-Ryan to a historic Asian geopolitical ally of the U.S., with which we share a military history that carries the gravitas of World War II without the negative implications of the subsequent Vietnam War.

Plus it would have a powerful appeal to the youth vote, Romney-Ryan’s last chance to draw on that sector of the electorate. Not to mention adding some last-minute fun and humor, notably missing from the personae of both Romney and his running mate. Topping that off, it would take a shot at rebutting and trumping the anti-Romney “Gangnam Style”-parody, “Mitt Romney Style,” posted at, and “Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?,” the John J. King (“J-Rex”) Eminem/Slim Shady parody. It would even give Barack Obama, famous for “slow-jamming the news” on the Jimmy Fallon Show, a run for his money in appealing to the under-35 set.

Mitt Romney goes "Gangnam Style," Republican National Convention, 2012.

Mitt Romney goes “Gangnam Style,” Republican National Convention, 2012.

The persistent rumor has it that both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan make cameo appearances uttering Psy’s signature line (“Oppa is Gangnam style”). One version of this rapidly spreading story has the combined Romney and Ryan families dancing in imitation of the video’s mock-horseback choreography. Hints about the video got dropped at the Republican National Convention in August, when Romney came onstage to the sound of Psy’s smash hit and offered up a few seconds of credible moves. Click here for a clip of that moment, which didn’t happen during primetime coverage.

For a white-hot contemporary pop song, the lyrics of “Gangnam Style” are distinctly PG-rated — nothing here to offend the “family values” crowd. So, from that standpoint, it represents a savvy choice of material for a group of performers seen by most, even their advocates, as stiff, stand-offish, and humorless.

Formation of the retinal image, as illustrated by René Descartes in his La Dioptrique (Optics) of 1637.

Formation of the retinal image, as illustrated by René Descartes in his La Dioptrique (Optics) of 1637.

Speaking of which: The term “optics’ has somehow entered the vocabulary of the chattering classes as a buzzword. See, for example, “Why the 2012 campaign ‘optics’ really don’t look good” at Oliver Burkeman’s blog in The Guardian (UK) on August 28, and “The ‘Optics’ Epidemic” by the American Journalism Review staff, published in the AJR’s  August/September 2012 issue.

Chatterers and wonks have apparently decided that optics, a term referring to specific physiological and technological matters, can and should function as a substitute and synonym for visuals and/or images. Here’s one example of this usage, gathered from National Public Radio by AJR: “If Obama’s campaign optics suggest, ‘This guy’s a big deal,’ Romney’s optics convey, ‘This guy’s a problem solver.'”

Formation of the retinal image, as illustrated by René Descartes in his La Dioptrique (Optics) of 1637.

Formation of the retinal image, as illustrated by René Descartes in his La Dioptrique (Optics) of 1637.

Setting aside the possibility of confusion in spoken commentary with the frequently used term “upticks,” meaning small rises (in the polls, in quantity of media coverage, etc.), there’s the fact that “optics” has quite specific meanings that have nothing to do with the ways that political candidates come across in their appearance. Those meanings have in fact made headline news during this very election cycle. See, for example, the Associated Press report “Nobel physics prize highlights weird world of quantum optics,” by Karl Ritter and Louise Nordstrom, published on October 9, 2012.

What with the tendency of literate but scientifically challenged people to throw in the term “quantum” to signify something like “mega” or “a whole bunch of,” I anticipate with dread that we’ll start seeing post-election analyses weighing the “quantum optics” that presumably led to the victory of one or another candidate . . .

Paul Ryan, WJHL Interview, 8-27-12, screenshot.

Paul Ryan, WJHL Interview, 8-27-12, screenshot.

Given the nation-wide uproar that resulted from the broadcast of Todd Akin’s lunatic commentary on “legitimate rape” and women’s innate ability to “shut down” fertilization, how can we explain the fact that Paul Ryan gets to call rape “a method of conception” without anyone except Paul Slanksy at the Huffingon Post calling him on it?

That was on August 27, seven weeks ago, and the silence since has been awesome (totally). Notably, Ryan said this in an interview with John Smith of WJLH-TV in Roanoake, VA, in which he’s seated on a stool in front of shelves full of canned food in what looks like a mom-and-pop convenience store. Just the sort of place that Ryan, Romney, and their 1 percent donors hang and shop, I’m sure. Kudos to his sly location scout for picking that one out.

I’m with Samuel L. Jackson: America, Wake the fuck up!

For an index of links to all posts related to this story, click here.

This post supported by a donation from the Estate of Lyle Bongé.

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