January 10, 2008

Iron My Shirt


It wasn’t until Josh Marshall called out the “shirt incident,” along with Hillary’s emotional reaction to a group of women, as the week’s two defining events, that I paid more attention to this picture.  If the incident was unsettling when I saw it on television, looking back from now, it is abundantly clear how explosively offensive it is.

(If you haven’t seen it, by the way, I strongly urge that you watch the video.  As people register what happened, notice the strong visceral and unified reaction of the audience to this blatant act of sexism.)

Because of the historical significance of the incident, and the fact the image, at least in media space, has as much veracity as the real thing, I thought it was worth calling out a few elements:

1.  What makes it literally hard for me to view the picture is the fact that Hillary happens to be looking the other way.  Now, how poignant is that, given how women, in the act of being broad-sided, have traditionally been looking away, or forced to “look the other way,” in the face of slurs, put downs, innuendoes, and worse.  In many cases, much worse.

2.  Although research has had a hard time drawing correlations between color and emotion, I’m still struck, somehow, by that yellow color.  I don’t know if it pulls for domesticity or what, but my gut says these jerks instinctively understood this was an effective hue.

3.  What also makes the picture a little creepy is the gender division in it.  Notice that the row of kids stage left (and in-line with the sign) are all boys, while the people backing up Hillary are mostly female.  I would guess that’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t do a whole lot, visually, to complicate the one-sided gender blow.  (Also notice, by the way, how those boys on stage with the pro-Hillary signs are holding them down, as if deferring to the attacking sign, or “holding back” from “raising” opposition.

4.  The fact that most of the people on stage are so young also makes Hillary seem more exposed.  The absence of any grown ups between Hillary and the offending sign seems to make them feel more like opposite poles.

5.  Lastly, the most unnerving aspect is probably the fact that these creeps are in silhouette.  The invisibility pulls for associations to stalking, or random and anonymous violence — literally the worst kind of things you can imagine.

Remnants of sexism alive and well  (YouTube video)

Being For Both (TPM)

(image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.  Salem, New Hampshire.  January 2007.  nytimes.com)

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Michael Shaw
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