January 9, 2007

Dems Have Nuclear Arms

Tester Alpha Male          Webb-Alpha-Male

Shuler-Alpha-Male  Ellsworth-Alpha-Male

Oh man!  Oh boy!

With the Democratic Congress having been in session one full day, we’ve already gotten a peak at the stereotyping that’s coming. Using the platform of the NYT Week-In-Review, Ryan Lizza — credited as “a correspondent for GQ” (which sounds, to me, like a contradiction in terms) — offers us: Invasion of The Alpha Male Democrat.

Sparing the nuance, this piece describes a “pro-male” party which, having lost most of its female organization in the House, now consists of a nurturing Mommy or two, offset by a large influx of macho, “light in the resume,” Democratic muscle heads.

The accompanying collage — which I’ve pulled apart above — is as one-dimensional as the article itself.  That guy in the upper left is: a husky Montana farmer with a buzz-cut.  The guy to his left is:

“…[T]he former marine from Virginia who turned his son’s combat boots into an effective electoral prop … (and) upon arriving in Washington …  promptly picked a fight with President Bush at a White House reception.”

The one below, left, is a guy whose website “includes more information about his high-school football career (106 touchdowns) than his post-football career (selling real estate).”  And to his right is a sheriff who wears a gun.

(In order, you have Senators Tester and Webb, as well as new Congresspersons Heath Shuler and Brad Ellsworth.)

There are lot of inconsistencies, sleights-of-hand, and insidious new memes here that Mr. Lizza has planted.  I’d be interested in your read.  Between the illustration and the article, here are a few that jump out at me:

1.  Gender Stereotyping Is Alive And Well:  Using the Bush Administration as a model, perhaps strength in a man negates any possibility for its constructive counter-balance (cynically quantified in this article as someone willing to show up at the next Emily’s List fund-raiser).  As we begin to contemplate the “Bush recovery process,” clearly tremendous damage has been done to the definition, in America, of what is “strength.”

2.  Wrong End Of The Avenue, Buddy:  Isn’t it curious The Times would run a piece attacking the (supposed) lightweight nature of (supposedly) overly macho Democratic men just days before Bush and his civilian warheads introduce a flimsy plan for a major escalation of the Iraq war?

3.  Anyone Hear Swift Boats?  Lizza, just like the right wingers who damaged Kerry in 2004, is here setting up a framework for the same attack.

Using his own construction, he ascribes “muscularity” as an internal Democratic organizational standard, describing the Blues as a party which “measures its candidates by whether they wear a uniform, carry a gun or simply look tough.”  Having wheeled in the Trojan Horse, he then plays out the dynamic, innocently wondering whether the success of these new legislators “may raise uncomfortable questions for those Democrats who don’t pass the new macho test.”

Finally, using John Kerry as his example, he concludes the article with the end-“logic,” that not only will these supposedly strong Democrats have trouble maintaining their strength, but that potential candidate, like Clinton or Obama, are already “coming up short” on this supposed “Alpha meter.”

Briefly, I wanted to also mention the illustrations themselves.

It seems Washington and the media (often one in the same) are tremendously threatened by the “outsiders,” Tester and Webb.  Shuler and Ellsworth, as minor figures, get off easy (although Shuler’s head — stuck in the middle of his chest — is a deeper twist on the image of a dumb jock).

These supposedly bionic Senators, however — Tester with the pitchfork, Webb with the nuclear arms and his son’s infamous, somehow blue, and now huge Iraqi shit-kicking boots — are framed as exceedingly dangerous.  Going back to the article again, notice where Lizza talks about Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer.  What’s interesting is how the article equates, then merges the qualities of strength and aggression.

Woe to the Republicans that Dems (both men and women) can play ball just as hard as Bush, Rove and Cheney have been playing it every day for years now.  But then, woe to us that this blind media lacks the confidence to delineate the difference between aggression and strength.  If such insight had existed, we might have had better prospects for the post 9/11 world.

(illustrations: Stephen Kroninger/New York Times.  January 7, 2007.  nyt.com)

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

The Big Picture

Follow us on Instagram (@readingthepictures) and Twitter (@readingthepix), and


Comments Powered by Disqus