October 12, 2010

Condi: I'm Innocent

On the cover of “Extraordinary, Ordinary People” (a title I’d love your thoughts on, given how Condi insists on having it both ways), we get the set-up for Rice’s new public persona, as well as the narrative she will use over the next few weeks on the talk show circuit to strangle and drown her membership in BushCo., her ineptness as Secretary of State, her darker side (1, 2), and particularly, her role and responsibility in the rush to war in Iraq on false pretenses.

Piggybacking on Obama’s racial breakthrough (which Condi is already paying plenty of lip service to in shmoozing the book), we see Rice reformulating herself as a valiant narrator of the African-American experience and a witness to the civil rights movement while growing up in the South. Dreams of my father? (…If the photo is indeed set in front of her family home, that would probably be the porch where her father sat with a loaded shotgun to ward off white night riders.)  Because her adult life has been erased through this regression, there are no actions to be responsible for. Instead, she’s a daughter of parents, and even more so, a daughter of a venerated era and a cultural milieu.

In terms of particular elements, the white dress is striking for the way it emphasizes a purity and innocence, especially in contrast to to Mom’s and Dad’s dark outfit — and Dad’s dark countenance. What it also does, of course, is telegraph and confirm how absolutely she’s scaled the heights of the white power structure. And then, the plaque she holds out drives home the meme that  — far be it from any consideration of her autonomous acts — Condi is simply the model citizen, the high achiever, and the girl to outshine all adversity.

More precious, however, is the cover of a companion volume released for a younger audience fronted by an even younger Condi. If the grown-up version professes Rice’s innocence, the junior edition pounds it home. And how do we know it works? Because for most anybody else, an accounting of one’s thoroughly controversial political behavior would be the minimum requirement for a literary romp back into the public light.

Can’t we just be honest about the function of this, as well as so many other so-called blockbuster political biographies, though? The objects above represent just the latest PR act of “wiping the slate clean,” of reintroducing a notorious public figure, of cementing a personality and reputation make-over by interjecting someone who ha  otherwise been laying low back into the media sphere by way of a “comeback tour.” The fact our culture, and certainly our media, is so ahistorical and patronizing of not just “big personalities” but “bad boys” and “bad girls” provides the “petri dish” for this to happen.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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