February 19, 2012

The Romney "Plastered On" Smile


Recently, New York Magazine ran a post, made up of eleven photos, calling out Romney’s “plastered-on-smile.” Their explanation for it was that Romney was trying too hard not to be robotic … which is sort of in the ballpark.

Why people are (rightly) suspicious of Romney’s seemingly plastered-on smile is because it’s a reflex, not the result of a natural emotion. What’s the difference? Physical reflexes express themselves in a constant way almost every time whereas true emotion, particularly in a facial expression, has more distinction and nuance to it, made up as it is of combinations and degrees of feelings and thoughts, each which show up differently on the face. In Mitt’s case though, he has a very limited range of emotion — which is why he’s referred to, leading off the NY Mag piece, as a stiff or a robot.

I know someone is going to say: but politicians put on faces all the time so how is what Romney is doing in all those photos actually any different from the “happy face” Obama or Bush would put on. Well, it’s true Obama and Bush also apply public faces, but both men have more capacity for responding to warmth and attention than Romney does — Bush, the good ole boy, that much more so than Obama. That being the case, you’re going to see more more authenticity and thus more uniqueness in Obama’s expression, and certainly, in the Bush public face than you’ll see when the rigid Romney simply pulls the “slap-happy” lever.

Something else to note about Romney’s “emotional spectrum,” by the way. The one emotion Mitt has no trouble experiencing in it’s full range (from annoyance to frustration, from offendedness to snarky counter-attack) is anger. You can tell the difference because these types of expressions, as mentioned before, look quite natural and distinct. There being a lower bar for people to experience “negative” emotions than “positive” ones from an emotional development standpoint, Romney has no trouble getting annoyed or ticked off … and he wears it on his sleeve.

(photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images caption: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets supporters after addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Marriott Wardman Park February 11, 2011 in Washington, DC. A dozen potential Republican presidental hopefuls are set to address CPAC, the biggest gathering of conservative activists in the country.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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