Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
March 1, 2015

Through CPAC-Colored Glasses

US News & World Report sifted through Carolyn Kaster’s photographs from this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference and put together a slide show edit called “The Many Faces of CPAC.” The edit offers up some of CPAC’s best in terms of attendees sporting so much “patriotic” swag, clothing, paraphernalia, and costumes. Many faces, sure, but really what the photographs show is how conservative aesthetics rally around a more or less singular political identity.

Here we see one Timothy Finn chilling out in a CPAC common area wearing his patriotic loyalty on his sleeve. At CPAC, there is room for self-expression, so long as that self displays the right colors. Folks like Finn on the visual right perform as though playing to the camera can really streamline the jump-suit argument: Real patriotism doesn’t mean just loving your country; rather, we true patriots embody the country. We are the USA. Personal identification with national symbolism is total. Otherwise aloof and disengaged from social dynamics bustling all around him, Finn’s isolation exemplifies the governing ideal of libertarian individualism. Hey Finn where you at? I’m wherever the hell I want to be, man. It’s a free country.

Of course if you can’t actually be the USA at CPAC, you can at least spend a couple of days seeing the world through USA-Patriot colored sunglasses. By design, the view is always spectacular.

Let’s not deny that CPAC’s vision of America’s place in the world, so long as you fit the ideal demographic, has its appeal. When we the people rally around political action, that’s when democracy is working like it should.

When it comes down to actually doing democracy, though, where the reality of “many faces” means engaging with difference, a wholesale identification with patriotic symbolism just looks like an insular way of doing politics. Against all the on-stage bloviating about projecting a voice of the people, these photographs from CPAC raise questions about how an idealized vision of patriotism might ultimately tie our hands behind our backs. And if political action means pushing the public conversation forward, then these photographs raise the question of whether identification with visual signs of patriotism can mark the END OF DISCUSSION by heightening a sense that it’s us versus them.

— Philip Perdue

(photos: Carolyn Kaster/AP. caption 1: Timothy Finn of New York, dressed in the colors of the American Flag, talks on his phone during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. caption 2: Jack Baumann looks out through American Flag glasses during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. caption 3: Timothy Finn of New York, dressed in the colors of the American Flag, talks on his phone during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015.)

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