January 13, 2015

Je Suis Photo-Op: On the Paris World Leader Solidarity Fail

Mass Unity. Fraternity. We all stand together against the threat of Islamic radicalism. That’s the narrative, anyway, and it’s a good one. We were even more impressed when A-list figureheads came together, locked arms, and took to the streets to show their solidarity with the people, leading millions in a public demonstration of shared commitment to free political speech. This is what democracy looks like. Right?

What’s noteworthy about this photograph though, isn’t the extraordinary resolve of those willing to put themselves at risk on the front lines. Rather, it’s the way this image captures how quickly world leaders can come together when it’s time to jump on the visual bandwagon. Mr. Netenyahu, get yourself to Paris, stat. Cameras and adoring crowds are waiting. They’ll be happy to see you. (And it goes south from there … or behind the paywall.)

Of course, we know enough about grandstanding and the way politicos behave in front of the camera to feel justified if something looks fishy. If you follow the line of figures on the front row all the way to the right, you’ll notice a woman standing just to the left of Mahmoud Abbas. As a counterpoint to Netanyahu’s silly parading, her sly facial expression offers a clue for those keyed into the bigger picture.

When this TV shot circulated Monday on social media, people cried foul. Not because it exposes the artifice of Mass Unity, or that it shocks us to know that so many politicos cooperate on the political backstage. The spoiler here is that seeing the Paris march from this angle runs against the grain of a narrative that really matters right now, namely, that all of us really are in this together and our leaders are on board. For that story to line up, Reuters’ photo-op image–the one depicting politics from the ground up–looks about right. In fact, it makes such a strong play on Selma, 1965, you can almost see it glistening on the pages of next year’s history textbooks.

— Philip Perdue

(photo: Reuters/Phillippe Wojazer. caption: French President Francois Hollande is surrounded by Heads of state as they attend the solidarity march in the streets of Paris January 11, 2015.)

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Philip Perdue
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