May 24, 2005

Twice to the Pyramids


Laura Bush takes a major trip to the Mid East, visits every holy site she can get photographed inside or in front of, sits down with a who’s who of Jewish and Arab females in the region, and the most interesting image I can come up with is this one taken on the ride over? 

Well, that’s not to shortchange the image, however.  In fact, the more I looked at this shot, the more curious it became, evolving into an advertisement for how the Bush’s relate to the world.

So, the obvious question is: Why would you put an image of the President waving from the doorway of Airforce One on Airforce One?  (Especially, when you know it forms the backdrop for Mrs. Bush’s trip kick-off meeting with the international press?)

(Of course, there are those of you who would answer: Why not?  And, there are others who would answer: What’s the big deal, anyway?  If you’re going to hang out with me at the BAG, however, you have to give up the notion that anything is arbitrary.)

To answer the question is to also understand why I couldn’t invest much interest in the actual trip photos.  The answer is that the Bush’s view travel like the ugly American.  Which means, the travel has little to do with where they went, whom they met, or what they might have learned, so much as that they went and were seen as having gone. 

(By the way, if you took a trip to India or Jerusalem or Istanbul or Kyoto or Moscow, do you really think you would choose to commemorate your travel by hanging up a tightly cropped, geographically indistinguishable photo of yourself at the threshold of your flight gate?)

So, on the eve of this crucial goodwill trip to the trouble Mid East, what could such a photo signify to the foreign press?  How about:

Capt.Xifv10105200739.Laura Bush Xifv101

There’s my ground, there’s your ground, but there’s no middle ground.

I don’t know if I’m coming or going.

I’m going over your head to the people.

Some of us are a little closer to God than others.

I’ve got the biggest machine.

It’s always about the camera.

(By the way, did you happen to catch how the gangplank seems to perfectly separate Mrs. Bush from the reporters?)

As Mrs. Bush parades around Cairo sanctioning the democratic instincts of President-for-life, Hosni Mubarak (pretending that she is Condi Rice pretending to be Colin Powell), realize that, in this onboard interview, her only unscripted comments had to do with how badly she wanted to see the pyramids. 

Also realize that the domestic press — hog-tied as it is — never talks about Mrs. Bush’s dramatic lack of foreign experience, let alone put it in context.  This was certainly not true for the foreign journalists, though.  In excerpts published on the White House website, no less, the reporters seemed surprised to discover that the second term President’s wife had never been to the West Bank, or to Jordan, or to Egypt. 

Well, that’s not exactly true.  She had been to Egypt in 1998.  While George was meeting dignitaries with his fellow Governors at the time, Laura and the Bush women took a cruise down the Nile.  As she told these reporters, sitting on Airforce One in front of this photo of Airforce One:

“And so this will be my second visit to the pyramids. I think you would want to visit the pyramids as many times as you possibly could in your lifetime, so I’m really looking forward to that.”

(image 1: Brian Snyder/Reuters. May 19, 2005 in YahooNews.  image 2: Evan Vucci/AP. May 19, 2005 in YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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