October 30, 2006

The Partial George Allen




The longer I am in Spain, the more puritanical America seems to look.  I'm sure that impression is exaggerated, however, by all the dirt flying back and forth in the House and Senate campaigns.

The scuzziest example I've seen so far involves last week's attack by Virginia Senator "Macaca" Allen on his opponent, author/screen writer, lawyer, Vietnam Vet and former Naval Secretary Jim Webb.

With his back to the wall in a race that was supposed to be easy, Allen (who keeps looking meaner and phonier by the week) launched a raunchy character strike by publicizing sex scenes out of some of Webb's published fiction.  (Although American politics was never much good at distinguishing fiction from reality, Allen seems to strive for the complete erasure.)

Given the material was too crude for the commercial airwaves, the campaign used the web to bootstrap the trash into the media sphere.  One blast from Drudge, and voila!  Bring on the MSM!  (If you don't mind stooping, I've drudged up Matt's original "news" flash.)

While shaking off the slime, the obvious question is, was the attack effective?  The typical approach to the answer has to do with voter opinion.  Another way to view it, though, is in terms of the campaign narrative, in which the impression of Allen, like concrete, was about to harden into a fixed and not-so-winning picture.

If you haven't seen it yet, TIME has recently added to the on-line political photo community with its White House Photo Blog.  (Why they call it a "blog" instead of a plain old photo gallery, don't ask me.)  And just who would you imagine would become their most lucrative early subject?  (Hint: When was the last time you saw the Virginia state flag?)

If abstract, I found the portrait of Allen and his wife, Susan, representative of both the Senator's, and the Republican's potential demise. (The image above, taken on October 20th, captures the couple standing behind George Bush while the President addresses an Allen fundraiser.)

It's not just that heads and legs have been cut off (which is what this election portends for the GOP majority, as well as many of the party's big dogs).  It conjures a wax museum-ready prototype of the Washington Republican power couple back in its turn-of-the-(21st) century hey day.

When your political portrait elicits associations to taxidermy in the "stretch run" of your campaign, and your inferiority complex is as big as Allen's, it makes sense you would attempt to erase reality — with a hammer.  The difference between the TIME offering and the juxtaposition proffered by the Drudge page editor is the difference between art and kitsch.  In its primitive way, though, I found the Drudge job just as compelled.  And it does change the subject.  (As a quick aside, I'm also wondering when Drudge is going to have the decency to actually credit a news photo.)

Anyway, there is bludgeoning George enhanced by Old Glory directing a macho blow (with its own sexual connotations, by the way) in the direction of an "obviously" shamed Mr. Webb.  (In his own fiction/reality merger, Drudge does a creative job of imagining two photos as one. What adds more glue in his post is the combined headline/caption, which begins:  "ALLEN'S REVENGE"

In Drudge's visual narrative, not only is the candidate-pornographer hanging his head, but the creator of "underage sex scenes" is also caught in the glare.  Enhancing the "guilt," the photo captures a Webb sticker about to hit Jim in the butt (or stab him from behind), reading: "We Don't Have An ATTITUDE, We Are Just That GOOD."  (And for good measure, if you didn't catch it, the Allen photo also looks down on the Webb photo for being taller.)

With still a week to go before judgement day, I don't think for a minute Allen can't go lower.  After all, we're talking about a guy with everything to lose who is already missing his head and feet.

(image 1: Christopher Morris VII/TIME.  October 20, 2006.  time.com.  image 2/3: unattributed.  October 26, 2006.  drudgereport.com)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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