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Election 2012: Image World (13)

A. D. Coleman, 2010. Photograph copyright by Willie Chu.Post-Season Wrap-Up (a)

Can’t help relishing the moment. Having accidentally-on-purpose released prematurely, on November 4, my anticipatory account of the resounding defeat dealt out two days later to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan by the American electorate (via Barack Obama and Joe Biden), I’m savoring the slapstick comedy of the wingnut right slippin’ and slidin’ on the banana peels with which they strewed their own post-election paths.

Peggy Noonan making a fool of herself, "Varney & Co.," Fox News, 11-6-12, screenshot.

Peggy Noonan making a fool of herself, “Varney & Co.,” Fox News, 11-6-12, screenshot.

Keeping in mind Richard Kirstel’s proposition that “Ignorance is a condition, dumbness is a commitment,” ponder the commitment manifested by Peggy Noonan in her November 5 post, “Monday Morning,” at her Wall Street Journal blog. Try reading aloud this delusional nonsense — complete with its quote from Walker Percy, inserted to prove Noonan’s another Republic Party “intellectual” — without cracking up. (Or challenge yourself to keep a straight face while listening to her gush about “Romney rising” on Fox News the morning of Election Day.)

Then go to Kimberley Strassels’ November 6 “I’m Calling It for Mitt,” also at the WSJ.

Next, move on to a barking-mad Karl Rove, refusing on Fox News to concede that Romney-Ryan lost Ohio and the election was over. (In a rare moment of connection to the concept of fact versus fiction, anchor Megyn Kelly asked him, “Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better? Or is this real?”)

After that, click here for a list of these and several dozen other conservative dumbbells at Fox News and elsewhere who for most of this year got this election exactly and completely wrong, seriously misinforming their audiences with their faith-based babbling.

Sarah Palin talking trash, Fox News, 11-6-12, screenshot.

Sarah Palin talking trash, Fox News, 11-6-12, screenshot.

Finally, as the crushed cherries and whipped cream garnishing this dumbness-flavored banana split, listen to Sarah Palin pissing to Greta Van Susteren and Ann Coulter moaning to Laura Ingraham about the outcome. If you’re still hungry after ingesting all that conservative transfat, check the rabid frothings of Donald Trump and Ted Nugent.

What a daisychain of raging assholes and sore losers. Proof positive that there is no God: If She or He or It did exist, persistent dumbness like theirs would have consequences for its devotees. But, as Jon Stewart pointed out on Election Eve, pundits exist in a “reckoning-free zone.” These raging bulls and mad cows haven’t even paused in their blathering, much less apologized to Nate Silver, whom they slandered mercilessly as a fount of “voodoo statistics” for calling every outcome of this election cycle with maddening accuracy.

Dean Chambers, Business Insider screenshot, 11-8-12.

Dean Chambers, Business Insider screenshot, 11-8-12.

(Exception: Former wingnut darling Dean Chambers, the completely discredited amateur pollster who concocted a bizarre system for “unskewing” the supposedly liberal/left-biased polls. Chambers has acknowledged that Silver had it exactly right and he had it completely wrong. Not that he had much choice after issuing on November 5 his “FINAL Definitive Projection of the race: Romney wins 51% and 275 EVs.” Oops. But Chambers has also had the good manners to apologize profusely for ad hominem attacks he made on Silver’s appearance and voice. Points off that apology for Chambers’s lame explanation that someone else calling him “portly” triggered his blatant homophobia. Still, it’s an apology. Obese or not, Chambers has more balls than MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Scarborough, who has yet to admit that Silver, whom he called “a joke,” nailed it. Too busy wiping the egg off his face, I’m sure.)

Campaign Imagery as Cubist Collage

When Roland Barthes wrote his classic essay on the portraiture of political candidates used in election campaigns, “Photography and Electoral Appeal” (first published in the French journal Les Lettres Nouvelles and subsequently reprinted in his 1957 book Mythologies), he — and his readers — lived in what now seem, in terms of mass media, almost primitive times.

Mitt Romney, "No Apology" (2010), cover.

Mitt Romney, “No Apology” (2010), cover.

Re-reading that essay today, I’m struck by how elementary the management of visual imagery during an election appeared back then, as Barthes saw it. One commissioned a formal portrait — a Renaissance portrayal, from a fixed-point perspective — that transmitted some aspects of surface appearance presumably evoking leadership, and that single image got repeated everywhere: posters, banners, buttons, flyers, billboards. Thereafter one shook hands, kissed babies, ate working-class fodder (hot dogs and knishes and pizza and barbecue), and (starting in 1960), debated one’s opponent on national TV. But that one image endured; it had staying power.

To be sure, there were staged photo-ops aplenty back in the day, plus the occasional impromptu moment (Adlai Stevenson’s shoe sole). However, barring something extremely unforeseen — such as the attempted assassination of Alabama governor George Wallace or the successful assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, or Nixon’s 5 o’clock shadow under the TV lights in his debate with JFK — any given candidate’s visual image remained relatively static during the course of a campaign.

That evolved dramatically over the ensuing years, and became transformed even more drastically with the arrival of the World Wide Web in the mid-’90s. The sheer quantity of visual imagery disseminated today during a national election, its diversity of forms, its variety of sources and distribution methods, and the rapidity with which image succeeeds image, boggles the mind by comparison.

Mitt Romney, still from fundraiser video 5-15-12, screenshot.

Mitt Romney, still from fundraiser video 5-15-12, screenshot.

It also destabilizes the electorate’s perception of the candidates. For unified, coherent Renaissance representation it substitutes Cubist depiction of its subjects, a collage of glimpses built up over the course of the campaign, fluid and unfixed in the mind, perhaps jelling only momentarily and idiosyncratically at the moment each voter steps into the booth to cast his or her ballot.

I’d argue for the benefits of this new condition, as more grounded in the constant flux of reality as we experience it, while acknowledging that it places a heavy demand on voters to analyze and weigh and reconsider regularly an often bewildering, unpredictably shifting barrage of imagery — and, of course, puts a burden on politicians and their campaign staffs to manage that imagery to whatever extent they can, and attempt spin control when they can’t.

Photo Criticism as Political Commentary

I hadn’t planned in advance to post about this election at any length. As with so much in my professional life, one thing simply led to another. A reader took offense at a derogatory comment I made in passing about Romney’s Mormonism, proposing that I should restrict my writing at this blog to matters purely photographic. Rejecting that narrow view of my role, I found myself struck by the imagery projected by the Republican National Convention, and wrote about that. For balance, I did the same with the Democratic  National Convention. Then the Romney “47 percent” video surfaced, along with the Innocence of Muslims trailer — couldn’t resist. And so it went.

In this series of posts I’ve tried to address the major visual moments of the 2012 presidential election, along with some of the minor but illuminating ones. Yet I only scratched the surface. Consider the ones, most of them telling, on which I commented over the past four months:

Clint Eastwood with chair, RNC, 8-30-12, screenshot.

Clint Eastwood with chair, RNC, 8-30-12, screenshot.

• the Republican National Convention, with its embarrassingly all-white demographic and Clint Eastwood’s geriatric haranguing of an empty chair;

• the Democratic National Convention, with its contrasting “rainbow coalition” demographic;

• the release of the secret “citizen journalism” video of Mitt Romney giving his infamous “47 percent” speech to wealthy donors, a recording made (my guess) by a member of the waitstaff at that private function;

• Romney possibly bronzing himself for appearances before Latinos, and the spate of laws requiring photo ID for voting;

“Innocence of Muslims” (2012), screenshot.

“Innocence of Muslims” (2012), screenshot.

• the posting on YouTube of the trailer for an inept, unfinished anti-Muslim film created by the Christian right in the U.S., and the events following the publicizing thereof throughout the Middle East;

racist Photoshopped imagery of Barack Obama gathered from the internet and posted at the website of the Mecklenburg (VA) branch of the Republic Party;

• Paul Ryan’s milking of a Youngstown, Ohio soup kitchen for a photo op that backfired big-time;

Paul Ryan pretends to clean a pot in a soup kitchen, Youngstown, OH, 10-13-12, screenshot.

Paul Ryan pretends to clean a pot in a soup kitchen, Youngstown, OH, 10-13-12, screenshot.

• the imagery of the debates, including Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” line and the resulting meme;

Time magazine’s release of their odd studies of Ryan as a buffed yet somehow dopey and buffoonish wonkboy during a 2011 workout;

• the National Review‘s appropriating both a Stalinist propaganda poster and a Nazi propaganda poster for the cover of its issue endorsing Romney-Ryan.

Mitt Romney, concession speech, Boston, 11-7-12, screenshot.

Mitt Romney, concession speech, Boston, 11-7-12, screenshot.

The concluding images in the trail of this election cycle’s visuals, fittingly, include this screenshot from Fox News of Romney’s graceless, petulant concession speech, capping the dismal “Mitt Romney Victory Party” at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where a crowd watched the disaster they’d endorsed and subsidized as it unfolded on Fox News. (Click here for the singing version of Romney’s farewell. And click here for the now-vanished Romney-Ryan campaign’s victory website.)

And, surely, to wind it up, this screenshot — also taken, appropriately, from the Fox News livecast — of a truly historic, watershed moment in American political life, two-term U.S. President Barack Obama’s extremely gracious and surely more invigorating victory speech before 10,000 invited guests at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago:

Pres. Barack Obama, victory speech, Chicago, 11-7-12, Fox news screenshot.

Pres. Barack Obama, victory speech, Chicago, 11-7-12, Fox News screenshot.

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

This post supported by a donation from photographer Harry Wilks.

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4 comments to Election 2012: Image World (13)

  • A. David Wunsch

    Today’s blog is super but I would concur with the post that chides ADC for his swipes at the Mormons.

    The Mormon religion is no more meshugeh (clearly I’m not a Mormon) than any of the older established religions: a man is swallowed by a whale and lives to tell about it, some dude is born to a virgin and walks on water. You gotta be kidding. If the Mormon faith were 2000 years old its craziness would be a part of accepted mythology.

    BTW, the NY Times reports that 1/4 of Mormons who voted eschewed their coreligionist. There are some smart ones.

    • A. D. Coleman

      I don’t consider the beliefs of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Unitarian-Universalists, or practitioners of any other faith off-limits. Why should I consent to Mormon exceptionalism? As I told the previous objector, no sacred cows here (pun intended).

      To the contrary, I consider it especially appropriate to discuss, examine, and criticize the religious beliefs of any candidates who, like Romney and Ryan, insist on foregrounding their religious convictions and announce that those antiquated, irrational notions underlie and determine their past, present, and future political decisions. These theocrats have made it clear that they want what you trivialize as “accepted mythology” to function as the law of the land. That makes their lunatic theologies fair game, at least around these parts.

  • Colleen Thornton

    I was struck by how the captured expressions in both official campaign images and mass media images of Mitt Romney so directly transmitted such a depth of negative characteristics and feelings… even the cover of his book radiates an aura of self-satisfied superiority, like he really believes he’s fooling everyone with his studied impression of what a sincere person looks/sounds like! His lack of self-awareness (or awareness of any kind) positively begged for satirical cartoon balloons and inane voice-overs. The lens catches the momentary slip of even the most expertly crafted mask and then we get a good, LONG look at the ‘naked’ truth.

    • A. D. Coleman

      Romney and his wife Ann both give me the impression of people not comfortable in their own skins, nor at ease around other people, especially strangers. Quite the opposite with Barack Obama and Michelle. Obama somehow invites you to get closer to him, whereas the Romneys, and Ryan too, give signals about keeping your distance.

      At the risk of going all psychobiographer on you, I think Mitt has spent his life in unconscious competition with his father. Whatever his accomplishments in the corporate world, they don’t equal heading GM in its heyday, as George did. So the only way to top Daddy would have been to not just run for the presidency (which George also did) but to win. Now Mitt will live out his days knowing that he wasn’t the mensch his father was, and couldn’t equal his record of public service either, and that everyone knows this. That has to hurt.

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