Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 29, 2018

Midterms Mania and one Candidate’s Wife’s Purple Hair

Official campaign photo for Dan Canon. Dan Canon, with his wife Valerie and their two children. Photo by Scotty Perry, courtesy of the Dan Canon campaign.

Politics are local, but politics are visual, too.

This is the Canon family, and this is an official photograph for the Dan Canon campaign.

Shown here with his wife Valerie and their two children, Dan Canon is a progressive civil rights lawyer who is running for a congressional House seat in 2018. He’s looking to #FlipIN09 by ousting current GOP Rep. Trey Hollingsworth in Indiana’s 9th district.

While Rep. Hollingsworth has been busy playing Trumpism this past week by sending out loaded polling questions about whether Congress should “release the memo,” Canon was getting some national visibility as “one of the most fascinating midterm house candidates in the country.” This according to Michael Powell over at Vice, who thinks a Canon electoral victory, should it happen, “will serve as a flashing beacon that the Republican Party is in trouble.”

What also sends a signal, of course, is the color purple.

Once reserved for royalty, in this photo it’s an emblem of populism. It is a recommendation to review the exhausted aesthetics of family values. The power of the purple alters the blueprint of local stagecraft, and like millions of other strong, confident women, it conspicuously dares you to make something of it.

The progressive left largely embraces the politics of performance, play, and experimentation, especially on the terrain of gender, presentation, and cultural hybridity.

But in a largely conservative political culture prone to seeing people in terms of black and white, even a small modification to the customary ratio of embodiment and pigmentation can make an individual stand out from the crowd.

And so, Twitter trolls piled on, thrown by the image of a woman composed.

Since the formal Dress Code mostly has been relegated to the internal dynamics of authoritarian institutions like the military and orthodox religious denominations, standards for personal decorum and appearance have to be policed in postmodern public culture through mechanisms of ridicule and derision.

To dyed in the wool traditionalists demanding the visible display of bodily comportment and conformity from women in public life, a winsome alternative is to throw some shade from the left: Thanks but no thanks, and fuck your fascist beauty standards.

Still, wary of the objectifying gaze myself, I am conflicted about drawing attention to where my attention is drawn. In a photograph for the Dan Canon campaign, why focus on the woman’s appearance an not on his?

That is a fair question, and I certainly am not immune to the socializing pressures of gender and surveillance.

But neither is the US Congress. And because style matters a great deal in politics—it announces who we are and who we want to affiliate ourselves with—I very much like the idea of Congress being exposed, as much as possible, to women who rock the purple hair and to the men who admire them.

-Philip Perdue

Photo: Scotty Perry, courtesy of the Dan Canon campaign. Caption: Dan Canon, with his wife Valerie and their two children. 

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