This post concludes my coverage of the 2012 presidential elections, approached from my position as a critic of photography and digital media and treated as a contest of images. After the appearance of the first in this series of posts, on September 3, one reader proposed that such commentary was inappropriate for this blog and urged me to volunteer my services to the Obama campaign instead. I’d like to think that, in my own way, I both stuck to my last (in the words of the Greek painter Apelles) and put my queer shoulder to the wheel, in the words of Allen Ginsberg. If I’m still at this come next presidential election cycle, I may try it again.
Mitt the Good
Snapshots of a kinder, gentler Mitt Romney — let’s call him Mitt the Good — began to emerge as he and his family rapidly departed the political stage, leaving behind the spotlight and returning to the (relatively) private sphere. Mitt pumping his own gas; Mitt and family on the rides at Disneyland; Mitt and Ann going out for the new Twilight movie; Mitt and Ann cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Mitt as a political figure not just falling back into the pack but becoming almost immediately irrelevant. A far cry from the eyeing-the-national-future Romney of his book jacket, or the captain-of-industry look he maintained throughout the campaign.
Romney will never come across as a guy you can sit down with over a beer or a cup of coffee (what with his whole Mormon shtick). But these pictures do humanize him in ways that make me wonder why we didn’t see more such images during his campaign. I don’t think they’d have swung the election his way, to any significant degree. But they’d have created a more nuanced perception of him, balancing out his obvious discomfort at daily mingling with the hoi polloi and pressing the flesh. Couldn’t have hurt.
Another bet missed by the Romney-Ryan campaign. Another failure to understand the function of imagery in our time. Concerned as they were with controlling the “campaign narrative,” the neocons disregarded (or lost their grip on) the visual narrative during this election cycle.
I’ll shed no tears for them re this oversight. Given that Romney ran the most mendacious presidential campaign in recent history, and demonstrated a remarkable lack of empathy with people on the bottom half of the socioeconomic scale, I went to the trouble of looking up the symptoms for the psychopathic / sociopathic personality. In his public persona Romney displays a number of the relevant traits, including delusions of grandeur, lying without compunction, manipulativeness, bullying, emotional unresponsiveness . . . enough so to make me think we dodged a bullet here.
Now They Tell Us
Want another explanation? Tagg Romney, Mitt Romney’s son — yes, the macho one — revealed in a Boston Globe interview that his father “didn’t really want to win” the fall contest. “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life,” Tagg told the Globe, confessing that his father ran only because Tagg and Mitt’s wife Ann pushed him into it. (See Michael Kranish’s December 22, 2012 Globe report, “The story behind Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential campaign to President Obama.”)
So even the Mittster’s repeated claim that he really and truly wanted to be our president was a fib. This explains, at least in part, the aura of inauthenticity and false sincerity that Romney radiated. He can therefore thank us, the “47 percent plus 4,” for sparing him from that unwanted outcome. On the other hand, he could have spared us the aggravation of dealing with his secretiveness, his duplicity, and his hostility toward those not of the affluent persuasion, all manifested at considerable length simply because Ann and Tagg wanted to live in the White House. Perhaps they’ll consider reimbursing the taxpayers for all the public monies spent on Secret Service details and such during their pursuit of this trophy presidency.
Wouldn’t surprise me if Tagg jumped into the political arena himself down the line, what with the increasing dynastic tendency in U.S. politics. Remember, if that proves out, that this is the 42-year-old man who announced publicly that he wanted to “rush down to the debate stage and take a swing at [President Barack Obama]” during the second presidential debate. Sounds like a classic case of puer aeternus to me. Not someone I’d want to see holding any office in the land.
. . . The Other’s for Fun
Apparently, this past election cycle, we were spared yet another Republic Party contender: General David Petraeus, whom the reptilian, terminally corrupt Aussie media mogul Rupert Murdoch solicited privately for the role as the stealth Fox News candidate, promising him the full support of the Murdoch empire if he agreed. You’ll find Bob Woodward’s report breaking this story, inexplicably positioned by the Washington Post in its “Style” section, by clicking here.
The online version comes complete with an audiotape of Murdoch’s secret emissary to Petraeus, Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations, making him an offer Murdoch hoped he couldn’t refuse in Afghanistan in spring 2011. (There’s a complete transcript of the clear recording at the Post as well.)
Petraeus eventually told McFarland, “You know it’s never going to happen. It really isn’t,” adding, “My wife would divorce me.” Which apparently will happen anyway, due to the subsequent revelation that around the time of Murdoch’s overture the general had entered into a torrid affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Wise of “Peaches,” as Broadwell like to call him, to demur; their fling would no doubt have come out much sooner than it did. Too bad, though; watching that scenario unfold with Petraeus as the standard-bearer for Republic Party “values voters” would have been . . . priceless.
Both Sides Now
Here’s a short slideshow of work by the two Washington Post photographers assigned to the respective 2012 presidential campaigns, with voiceovers: Melina Mara on Mitt Romney and Nikki Kahnon President Obama.
This was without question the most photographed presidential election campaign in history, especially once you factor in the citizen-journalism vernacular output. Next time around, if someone figures out how to aggregate all that coverage into a single website, constantly updated, I’d have a hard time tearing myself away from it.
Glenn Beck, Postmodernist
Adopting postmodernism’s appropriation strategy for an unexpected tribute to Andres Serrano and his culture-wars powderkeg image, “Piss Christ,” Glenn Beck turned artist/art critic for an afternoon on November 28 to dunk a figurine of Barack Obama avowedly into “pee pee,” offering to sell the resulting work for $25,000. The segment combined Beck’s sarcastic comments on “offensive” art — served up with Beck clad in a beret and sporting a Pepe Le Pew accent — with celebratory (yet oddly rueful) remarks about freedom of expression under the First Amendment.
Beck, referring to “The Truth,” a 2009 painting by Michael D’Antuono of Obama as Christ, claimed that his motive was “to highlight the hypocrisy of those who would shout in defiance at defacing the image of a sitting U.S. president, but not that of an image so sacred to Christianity.” No evidence substantiates his implication that anyone anywhere has “shouted defiantly” at his “defacing” of an Obama bobblehead doll. Frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn.
Placed on eBay, after 79 bids “Obama in Pee Pee” achieved a top bid of $11.3K before eBay pulled it, on the grounds that they don’t allow the sale of items that include bodily waste. Beck has since revealed that the liquid in the jar is actually beer, not urine (possibly the case with Serrano’s work as well). So we give less than a damn, if that’s possible, even if it’s Coors.
Beck then decided to auction “Obama in Pee Pee” directly from his website. Bidders submit their offers via email, and his site neither indicates the bidding level reached nor the closing date and time, so there’s no telling how it’s going. Other signed one-of-a-kind works by Beck created during that session — altered images by Picasso, Pollock, and several more — got auctioned at eBay for prices ranging from $670 to $2025. Presumably this chef-d’oeuvre will command a higher price than the lesser works.
Beck has pledged that all proceeds will go to benefit Mercury One and their Hope for the Holidays fund. Thus the purchase prices are tax-deductible by him, but not by purchasers. Be advised: Mercury One, named for NASA’s first mission in 1958, laments in its mission statement that “America’s freedoms, opportunities and Judeo-Christian foundation are being disassembled at a lightning speed,” and affirms its belief in American exceptionalism.
Donations to their Hope for the Holidays fund will go in part to “empower churches, synagogues and other faith based organizations to continue serving their local areas through outreach, education and other community programs.” Which could mean pray-the-gay-away, abstinence-and-promise-rings, creationism-and-intelligent-design indoctrination. Keep that in mind as you weigh adding an original Beck to your collection.
Glenn Beck, meet sculptor and installation artist Danny Hafley. This good ol’ boy from Casey County, KY installed a mannequin in his front yard depicting President Barack Obama eating a watermelon. Nothing racist about it, he insists; he just thought the figure “might get hungry standing out here.” Click here for a Lex18 video interview with the artist.
I see an exhibition starting to take shape: “Vernacular Obama,” bringing together the best examples of pro- and anti-Obama artworks in all media. To the best of my recollection, no president has evoked and inspired so much creative activity from the citizenry at large, work in which he himself figures. Perfect for the Smithsonian Institute, to which I donate this concept.
Over and In
It seems fitting to wind up this lengthy assessment of the imagery generated by the 2012 campaign with two photographs that verify the outcome for the public record: official pictures of Barack Hussein Obama taking the oath of office for his second term. As images, they’re standard and nondescript. Yet they document a truly historic moment in the evolution of the United States.
Here’s Pete Souza’s official White House photo of Obama taking the oath of office in a private ceremony on January 20:
And here’s Sonya N. Hebert’s photo of the public inauguration on January 21:
Sigmund Freud, who visited this country only once, in 1909, famously declared, “America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success.” The jury’s still out on that. But the nation’s first Black president winning a second term despite a collapsed economy isn’t the stuff of dreams. It’s absolutely real; and, to whatever extent photographs still function as evidence today, we have the pictures to prove it.
For an index of links to all posts related to this story, click here.
This post supported by a donation from photographer Harry Wilks.