Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 27, 2011

Michelle Bachmann’s Iwo Jima

Michelle Bachmann

The perilous battle that was fought during World War II in the Pacific at Iwo Jima was a battle against all odds, and yet this picture immortalizes the victory of young GIs over the incursion against the Japanese.

These six young men raising the flag came to symbolize all of America coming together to beat back a totalitarian aggressor.

Our current debt crisis we face today is different, but we still need all of us to pull together.

But we can do this. That’s our hope. We will push forward.

— Michelle Bachmann – from the unofficial Tea Party/CNN response to the State of the Union address.

I know I’m a day late on this, but I’m still trying to fathom this scene, especially Bachmann’s visual analogy.

So we’re supposed to liken the budget battle to WWII? And the Democrats, I guess, to the Japanese and “totalitarian aggressors?” I understand Bachmann is weak tea, but with CNN giving her this kind of platform, what would otherwise be laughable deserves some response (if just for “icon abuse”).

If Bachmann had any sense, she would have known this, but given the reverence and historical weight of Joe Rosenthal’s historic photo, the analogy is not only completely out-of-left field but, soundtrack aside, creates a juxtaposition between Michelle and the image that makes Bachmann look — especially in the way her gesture presumes to generate an air of authority — like barely a second thought.

What’s most telling about the image, though, is how much it exposes Bachmann — just like Palin’s response to the Tucson shooting exposed her — as fundamentally failing to comprehend the changed atmosphere, the country’s political pivot since Gabrielle Giffords was shot.  What goes completely over Michelle’s head is that, in this stretch of nineteen days, the shooting has thrown the difference between reality and bluster — especially in the form of visual hyperbole (the difference between a gun sight and a surveyor’s symbol, say) into stark relief.

That being the case, Bachmann’s attempt to siphon even a grain of meaning off the Iwo Jima photo, positing petty political rhetoric in terms of “the Great War” and one of the greatest visual touchstones in the American psycho-historical landscape is not just ignorant and tone deaf, but at this moment in time, actually insensitive.

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