August 22, 2006

Full Of Macaca


At first, you might not see much connection between the NYT George Allen “macaca” story, and a piece that appeared later that week about facial profiling at airports.  The link is that, ultimately, both stories have to do with reading faces.

More power to You Tube.  What The Times article and apologist headline (Verbal Gaffe From A Senator, Then An Apology) try to pass off as a “verbal gaffe” is easy to see in the video as an ugly slur.  More than that, however, what the video really captures is a larger facet of Allen’s psychological make-up.

One of my favorite subjects is the interpretation of facial gestures.  A few years back, this practice was recognized as one aspect of a new psychological concept called “emotional intelligence.”  The aim of the construct — framed as a vital social capacity — was to encourage people, especially children, to recognize emotional states and traits both in themselves, and others.  (Unfortunately, the impetus to promote the concept seems to have come and gone.)

At The BAG, we spend a lot of time looking at body language as an expression of character, disposition or motive.  To the extent we’ve looked at faces, however, its had more to do with the editorial act of framing a figure in a particular way.  Just as fair, however, is the study of characteristic or typical facial gestures (especially in figures we are all familiar with) as a vehicle to map specific aspects of personality.


If you’re interested in non-verbal behavior, I recommend you watch this video once with sound, then one more time with the sound off.  Because, this example — as a quick study in taunting (and “egging on”) — is more informative outside the words.

When you watch, notice Allen’s interest in working himself up.  Also, observe how, given the instinct to dominate, the Senator seems to get so little satisfaction out of it.  The guy in this video — trapped in the psychic shadow of his legendary and disciplinary father, who can’t get through two sentences without interjecting some testosterone-infused football metaphor — is one angry man, apparently ever compensating for some deep inner inferiority.

“My friend with the yellow shirt,  Macaca, over here.”

“So, let’s give a welcome to Macaca.”

“Welcome to America, the real world of Virginia.”

I understand it’s a brief example, but this is what sadism looks like.

You can view the video at Wonkette.

(image: wonkette via you tube)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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