September 26, 2008

Thoughts On The Debate: Real Estate, Faces, Teeth


One thing I learned a couple weeks ago — speculating on the McCain/Obama Ground Zero appearance –  is that prognostication is tricky business.

Still, I was contacted by a reporter from NPR a couple days ago, asking what I thought were the key “visual cues” to be looking for during the debate.  My answer, it turns out, was mostly a combination of the behavioral and the spatial.

Primarily, I’m going to be watching McCain’s body language and whether he can keep his aggressiveness in check.  I want to see how much he tries to lean, or even move away from his podium toward Obama (from what I can tell, the two lecterns are pretty close together) to occupy more real estate on that stage in a territorial manner.  I’ll also be interested how, and how much, he physically orients himself toward the audience, especially after a cheap attack.  (After hostile digs, he has a tendency to flash that self-satisfied, sadistic “gotcha” smile immediately afterward.  I’m also keen to see if the audience reinforces him for it or actually — given his erratic behavior this week — or pulls back and leaves him in it.  Lacking the reinforcement for the gutter game — or if McCain’s strategy is more simply to play the highroad (national crisis going on, all that) — you might see a lot more of the “put-on, deadly serious statesman face” I highlighted yesterday in the Couric/make-up post.

I also want to see how animated Obama is.  I think he has to literally “show more teeth,” specifically through disarming humor and, on the offense, through biting (but, simultaneously funny) analogies.

From what I understand, the set is very rich in color, deep blue background (with that overwhelming eagle) with rather formal red carpet.  I think the official feeling conveyed by the setting might serve to actually lend too much dignity and buffering for McCain’s otherwise course coarse manner. 

(image:  Getty Images. University of Mississippi September 26, 2008)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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