January 31, 2006

Why The Long Face


Look familiar?

For what it’s worth, Monday night’s Senate vote on the Alito nomination seemed to actually hold some meaning for the Democrats.  With the loss a foregone conclusion (41 votes were required to mount a filibuster), 24 Dems still voted to to extend debate, including several (such as Feinstein and Mikulski) who were leaning the other way.

I had some questions about the photo coverage, however.  Following the vote, many of the Democratic Senators gathered in front of the cameras.  From what I could tell, the mood was combative and serious, not defeatist.  In spite of the fact, the coverage once again yielded too many glum shots of Kennedy and Kerry — in contrast to, say, Democratic women (such as Feinstein, Stabenow, Murray) , or fresher, more eager faces (such as Obama, Feingold, Bayh).

Throughout the ’04 election, I documented repeated instances in which I felt the visual media tended to physically distort Kerry or portray him as a sad sack (example 1, 2).  In this shot, notice how Kerry’s head is distended, and the person on his left is so shadowed as to evoke an ink spill.  The other tendency of the visual press is to depict Kerry as a depressed loner.

Having spent a good chunk of time researching Kerry, I believe his nature does tend to the dysphoric and solitary.  Still, I believe the photo media, playing into a bastardized sketch of Kerry conceptualized by Rove and his Swift Boat accomplices, seem almost trained to unconsciously look for the chance to turn Kerry into a caricature of himself.


Another theme of the evening’s photo coverage had to do with elevators.

Many of the members coming off the Senate floor were heading up or down, and we’re depicted in transit.  Although taken earlier in the day, this shot of Alito fit well in the same YahooNews thread.  I found this image quite evocative, however, especially in contrast to the Kerry shot (which I worry, can be interpreted by the broader audience as also representative of the blue party).

To me, this shot makes reference to the almost total lack of access to the real Scalito.  I think it also reveals something of the shamelessness the right wing exudes but manages not to completely flaunt.  It’s like Alito gloats: “You can’t touch me!”

(image 1 & 2: Jason Reed/Reuters.  January 30, 2006. Capitol Building, Washington.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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