October 17, 2009

My War. No, Your War. No…

His war?

I’m locked away this weekend creating a presentation for PhotoWeekDC next month. The title is: The President’s Personality: Piecing the Pictures Together. One element I address in passing is the pervasive, almost ubiquitous visual presence of the President. Not to delve into the presentation too much but I don’t think the high quotient of Obama face time has to do with narcissism or a “Messiah complex” (as many wingnuts drone on about). I believe the explanation, if anything, is much more the opposite. I think Obama has such an overarching sense of “the buck stops here,” he needs to stand up for almost everything coming out of the White House himself.

But, what does that have to do with the latest NYT Magazine cover?

It’s related to how much visibility Stanley McChrystal has had as one cog in the government machine (1, 2, 3, 4). Next to Gates or Clinton, who came into the administration with plenty of name ID, it seems nobody else’s mug has been as prominent lately. Why? Perhaps because Obama, really still not sure where he stands on the whole campaign, is letting the war belong to Stanley.

All that said, the photo — another this week from Peter van Agtmael in Afghanistan — is terribly evocative. I know McChrystal is notorious for some idiosyncratic habits, like not feeding himself all that much. But this goes beyond. Stanley’s face seems a perfect reflection of a country that draws in outsiders, then suffocates them.

(image: Peter van Agtmael for The New York Times)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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