October 10, 2012

Picture of Awkward: Romney the White Guy

Mitt, didn’t we say never to flash the benjamins around?

Just when it looked like Romney had the “big mo,” there were two pics this week that shouted he’s that ignorant white guy.

In this first shot, we see the Romney’s getting into it with a Cuban restaurant owner in Florida over paying for takeout. (Being in debt like that, who knows when you might get a call one day insisting on help getting a relative out of Cuba.) Bottom line though, you don’t get into a kindness-killing contest with someone over courtesy gestures, so much so that you and the Misses get framed as a couple of well off finger pointers. (Do love th painting, by the way.)

Haner NYT Romney FL

In case two, we see Romney — still grooving off his debate performance –giving the thumbs up to African-American diners who somehow don’t seem to see him.  Maybe go easy on the take-out for a while?


If there’s a message in this “analysis” so far, it is: do not write a post at three in the morning. Is it significant that race comes up in these two campaign photos? I think it does, but it’s not reflected above, not in the tone and certainly not in the comments about the second photo.

As pointed out in the comment thread, it’s not clear in this second picture who Romney is gesturing to. And, looking at the figure near right inside the restaurant, the arm extended in a fist-like  gesture just above the blind, it could possibly be an African-American. (Seems like a darker skinned man, maybe bald as it looks like light reflecting off his head … but it’s hard to be sure.)

The relevance of the photo, however, has to do with The NYT featuring a photo of Romney juxtaposed with African-Americans, a demographic everyone knows he has little resonance with. Consider the real irony here, however (and maybe that is what photographer Haner was going for) of Romney, high off his debate performance, possibly receiving kudos from an African-American — and possibly with a fist shake, the gesture popularized by way of the black power movement).  Ultimately though, what is clearly here is how much Romney is separated from these citizens as he breezes by, the thumbs up as much a gesture of superficiality.

Another aspect to this, however, which is something that came up during the wonderful BagNews/Columbia J-School salon we had last night (which — no excuse for the poor words above, did keep me out late and focused elsewhere) has to do with who’s inside and who’s outside. A primary theme of conversation last evening, especially between Alice Gabriner, who formerly edited the White House Flickr stream, describing the insularity of the White House, and NYT photographer Stephen Crowley, discussing the (escalating) problem of accessibility, is how much these candidates, and certainly the President, reside in a bubble. One thing striking to me about the photo (and why Team Romney must be happy with it) has to do with how much this contradicts the fact Romney and Obama are the obvious “insiders” (with the real seats at the table) from a cultural power standpoint. At the same time, the fact Romney appears to be out roaming fancy-free also contradicts how much these guys, trapped in the bubble, never contact with the public or social space in any casual way.

One last point:  Obama has done photo-op after photo-op ordering food and walking out of restaurants with take-out. Given the act represents something average citizens do, it’s designed to make the President seem more like us. And now, we see the Romney campaign taking up the practice. Given the campaign’s late shift to the center, this gesture of populism deserves more than an eyes roll.

By the way, I’m not exactly sure of the context in photo one either. I’m assuming that the person at the counter wanted to comp Romney the meal and he and Ann insist otherwise. I’m not sure.  If that’s the case though, here are certainly plenty of dynamics there too.

By the way, we have audio and video from the Salon last night and we will get it online as soon as we can.

(photo 1: Charles Dharapak/AP via Twitter. caption: TAKE OUT: Mitt & Ann Romney insist on paying for their order at La Teresita, a Cuban restaurant in Tampa .photo 2: Josh Haner/The New York Times. caption: Mitt Romney made an unscheduled stop in Tampa, Fla., on Friday night.)

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Michael Shaw
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