October 22, 2007

Getting Pinked


The First Lady’s aides said there was no link between her visit next week and a planned Middle East peace conference this year organized by her husband’s administration. But McBride added: “Certainly the timing is probably very good.”  –  AFP Trip Preview. 11/23/07.

This shot — documenting Laura Bush’s (drum roll please!) Breast Cancer Tour of the Persian Gulf — was featured in yesterday’s NYT main slide show.

Regarding the visual-cultural dynamics here, No Caption Needed has done a number of posts on the burqa as framed within overtly Western trappings (examples here and here).  As they handle that dimension far better than I, I gladly defer.  I do, however, have a few thoughts about the editorial dynamics here, as well as the domestic and foreign policy gamesmanship of the photo op.

From an editorial standpoint, I think the photo takes certain advantage by virtue of a tight reading.  I say that because, if you didn’t know anything else about Mrs. Bush’s sit down at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center in Dubai, you would never know there were six other women on this banquette, and that the ribboned woman to Laura’s left, breast cancer survivor Nabweia Hussein al-Zaabi, was the only one whose face was completely obscured.

So, to that extent, this colorful image made the “Best Of” list yesterday for its star power, color contrast, and cultural exoticism.  Put one more checkpoint in the “politics as fashion” column.

But that’s the “soft politics.”  The harder side involves what this pic glosses over, which is the use of women’s issues and breast cancer as a cover to send Laura Bush out on a Persian Gulf propaganda mission. 

Honestly, I don’t have a sense of how this tour, and scenes like this, are translating in the region.  To a larger extent, however, I believe this show has a domestic agenda, running interference around the loss of Iraq, and the Bush and Cheney Iran/World War III hysteria.

In that regard, the image is a classic piece of Rovian cotton candy ready to feed to anyone disinclined toward a more culturally-sensitive or culturally-adjusted understanding of what’s underneath.

Next to Laura, the face of this Administration, Mrs. Hussein al-Zaabi is an abstract, de-individualized representation of Islam, a stage prop symbolic of how the Cheney/Bush mindset refuses to honor (let alone, make out) the unique people, states and identities in the region.  Sitting next to a perfect lady, Hussein al-Zaabi offers the quality the Administration likes most to see in its regional allies, which is barely an outline.

Notable, along those lines, is the one Occidental marker of individuality here — the ribbon.  In light of the noise lately about the conservative-issue lapel pin, the fact Hussein al-Zaabi sports such an object well known to the breast cancer community, but as akin (from a distance) to the widely-identified “Support Our Troops” ribbon gives still another reading of her — and, by association, the region — as an Administration client.

And finally, how about that PINK!

Keyed more to Laura and the propaganda mission, it seems to evoke an apolitical, pre-adolescent, syrupy, 1950’s brand femininity.  Married to the Administration’s demolition of Iraq (with the attendant implications for all Iraqi girls, women and mothers) and Cheney/Bush’s refusal to seriously or competently engage in diplomacy with anybody in the region, this shot — from a strategically-time, supposedly girl-powered Middle East power trip, speaks to a candy store distraction from the imperial doings at hand.

(image:  Karim Sahib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. October 22, 2007.  Abu Dhabi.  nytimes.com. linked image: Kamran Jebreili/Reuters/UAE-Pool.  via YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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