Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
July 27, 2016

Bernie Or Bust? What the Pix of Defiant Delegates Really Have to Say

Delegates cheered and booed throughout the night as Hillary Clinton's name was mentioned. Here, a Bernie supporter booed after Sanders announced his support of Clinton. He modified his "Stronger Together" sign to read "Stop Her." Photo by @mscottbrauer for @motherjonesmag

The headline story of the Democratic Convention — through the first two days, at least — has been the anger and disaffection of the overwhelmingly young, and overwhelmingly pissed-off Bernie Sanders delegates. Obviously, they were expecting more out of Election 2016 than just platform compromises and Hillary Clinton.

It wouldn’t be that big a deal except for the premium placed by the party and the media on group hugs and kumbaya — at least on TV. Its become a minimum requirement, somehow, in the horserace with the evil Trump. But we’re talking about Democrats, people. And we’re talking about a Sanders campaign that reached beyond the idealistic and HOPE-ful to the utopian, the quixotic and the out-and-out Kool Aid of the “revolutionary.” That’s in a country where “left,” on the political scale, pretty much refers to the territory just left of center-right.

With this plot line, the emotional crash was inevitable. And Joe Biden, for one, who has gone through more than his share of family loss, was soberly understanding about it. But watching the the frustration and disillusionment of the mostly youthful insurgents during the Democratic National Soap Opera, the media has turned what is overwhelmingly an emotional reaction, the experience of disappointment of grief and an understandable amount of acting out into a binary, a false dichotomy. Like it’s 100% change or a vote for Stein, Trump or nobody.

Invested in trouble as much as they are, the media has mistaken a family squabble with a desperate fracture. Taking the family analogy a little further, what you’re actually seeing this week in Philadelphia is a “convention as intervention,” in which the party and the Clinton people are doing everything they can (and, let’s not sugar coat it) to build consensus with, and show respect toward The Bern and his legion.

Along the same lines, a closer study of the images reveals less absolute schism then shades of grey. As much as the media sees the youngs, especially, dropping out of the election (formalized by the term: “Bernie or bust”), there is not one obvious flavor of disappointed Bernie delegate — or indicator of future behavior. Which leads us back to Biden’s message: beware of taking the loss, and it’s ensuing emotional reaction, at face value.

Sure, the media and Instagram is overwhelmingly filled with images of the rejectionists, the angry delegates with tape over their mouths, the frustrated delegates attempting to occupy the media center, the hundreds of delegates walking out of the arena and marching through the streets of Philadelphia, even. At the same time, consider these examples from yesterday’s Instagram feed. Specifically, note the gradations between M. Scott Brauer’s photo of the guy with the converted “STOP HER” (or ‘Stop Hillary’) sign above to the next two photos, and then the two below that.

@AlanSChin here at the #Philadelphia #DNC for @NewRepublic ! #DemocraticNationalConvention #DemConvention #politics #Bernie Nicole Lutkemuller, #BernieSanders delegate from #California modified her "love trumps hate" sign to "love Bernie or Trump wins."

This photo by photographer Alan Chin, an assertion but not an opt-out, gives us no sense at all what this woman will do come November.

Bernie supporter (center) does not cheer alongside Hillary supporters yesterday during opening speeches. Brett Carlsen @gettyimages

And this photo by Brett Carlson is even more oblique when it comes to outcome, the caption simply reading:

Bernie supporter (center) does not cheer alongside Hillary supporters yesterday during opening speeches. 

Olivia, 19, delegate from Illinois. "I'm Bernie, but not Bernie or bust". DNC Philadelphia @noorimages @nina_berman for @columbiajournalismreview

The most definitive example, however — because of the caption — is this photo from Nina Berman. It reads:

Olivia, 19, delegate from Illinois. “I’m Bernie, but not Bernie or bust”

Bernie? Or Hillary? Delegates chat on the floor of the #DNC for @time at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. @landonnordeman for @TIME

Finally, take a look at this photo from Landon Nordeman. What we’re witnessing, going by the caption, is probably the most natural and expectable outcome of the collision between the unstoppable Hillary and the here-to-fore unmovable Bernie. The relevant portion of the description reads:

Bernie? Or Hillary? Delegates chat on the floor of the #DNC.

So they’re talking about it. They’re working something through. And isn’t this the essence of what politics, a political convention and (emotional) loss, too, is all about?

(photo 1: @mscottbrauer/Instagram. caption: Delegates cheered and booed throughout the night as Hillary Clinton’s name was mentioned. Here, a Bernie supporter booed after Sanders announced his support of Clinton. He modified his “Stronger Together” sign to read “Stop Her.” photo 2: @alanschin for @newrepublic/Instagram. caption: Nicole Lutkemuller, #BernieSanders delegate from #California modified her “love trumps hate” sign to “love Bernie or Trump wins.”photo 3: Brett Carlson @brettinreallife/Instagram .photo 4: @nina_berman/Instagram for @columbiajournalismreview. photo 5: @landonnordeman/Instagram for @TIME. caption: Bernie? Or Hillary? Delegates chat on the floor of the #DNC for @time at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.)

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