January 14, 2013

Let the PR-Orchestrated, Media-Enabled Lance Armstrong Redemption Tour Begin!

Armstrong Oprah diptych SI

One of my favorite beats in visual politics is the PR industry’s reconstitution of tired or disgraced celebrities. I invite you to watch closely over the next couple weeks as we see Lance Armstrong morphed into a contrite, then ultimately media-vindicated and valued public citizen again.

The first stage of the morality play is demonstrated by these files photo, all published in the last 24 hours. Remember these looks because I guarantee they are not going to last very long. (Meaning, after Lance-Oprah on Thursday). We can call this the “defensive/lingering denial” phase before the truth settles in and the process proceeds to the story-getting-told-more-fully-and-openly for a week or so (enabling Lance to accept the truth and you and I to accept Lance) on the way toward full contrition and redemption. (At that point, it’s never discussed again — except in that lucrative bio and the hugely lucrative media tour in the exact same sound bites a few years out from now.)

Notice how SI, framing the rebuttal, sets us up for how difficult it’s going to be for poor Lance to submit to Oprah and all that reality. Focusing on the athlete’s right hand and the wrist band, by the way, notice also how the selection of this particular photo suggests that the goal, going forward, is to keep the foundation front and center — as well as to preserve the bling.)


This photo posted yesterday at SFGate shows Armstrong both in a steeled mode, the eyes and jaw capable of anger and defiance, but also receptive, the mouth softer and not all that far, actually, from a smile. I’m sure he’s been coached to manage the crossover.

Armstrong Pre Oprah image

In this NBC Sports file image and caption, the hand over the mouth not only is supposed to suggest anxiety but also the conflict over how much he can bear to bring himself to say. Overall, we’re reminded again how Lance is about to pass through a great trial, setting up the encounter with Oprah as the critical hurdle on the road to redemption. But then, Lance is already on his way, because if it’s good enough for Oprah (and the payday those ratings pull in), it’s good enough for John Q. Public, right?

Stay tuned.

(SI diptych: Gianluigi Guercia/ AFP/ Getty Images; George Burns/ A.P. photo 2: Thao Nguyen, Associated Press photo 3: Lucas Jackson/Reuters.)

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Michael Shaw
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