DECEMBER 11 2009 15:36h
They say one picture is worth a thousand words, but does that same picture produce in every person the same thousand words?
They say one picture is worth a thousand words, but does that same picture produce in every person the same thousand words? For example, the image of one of the presidential candidates that appeared recently on a certain web portal. He had his mouth wide open, and in his right hand was guiding a squiggly piece of slimy sea creature toward it.
Yes, it was true that some kind of juice seemed to be dripping down his chin, but it could have been the light, and they might have used a more, shall we say flattering, photo from the hundreds they have in their archives.
But the intention here, in this presidential election year, was not to flatter, but to belittle. The hope was that the thousand words this picture evoked would be the same for all readers, negative, and if not, the “independent” media would provide a little nudge in the right direction: Is this the individual you want for president? A primitive beast with bad table manners, gorging himself on some unidentifiable morsel he cannot even eat properly? How would he look in the White House, seated next to Obama at a state dinner? Or hosting a NATO conference, or striding down the stately halls of the Kremlin?
But would that interpretation really represent the majority of readers? It is certainly not mine, because, after all, don’t things like that happen to all of us, being caught in embarrassing poses with a milk moustache, or spaghetti sauce on our collar, or trying to capture with our tongue a noodle that has somehow gotten stuck on our chin, hoping nobody will notice? Who doesn’t agree with the ancient philosopher, Seneca, who wisely said: “I am a man. Nothing human is alien to me”? What media image is the typical human being more likely to identify and empathize with, the man or woman who is shown as a paragon of cleanliness and perfection, a fashion icon, a one-dimensional cliche whose public appearance more closely resembles a cartoon caricature than a living, breathing, fallible person, or are we drawn to the one who exhibits the human frailties and imperfections we all share, who makes mistakes, and is caught by conniving photographers (or relatives with video cameras) in embarrassing poses? Most would agree that it is the latter. After all, people are generally not snobs and do not crave for what separates men, but for what unites them.
It’s the Barbie doll complex. The dolls were hugely popular in my childhood, with their hourglass figures, flawless complexions, and luxury wardrobes - unattainable to the majority of the female population – but they were suddenly replaced at one point with the ordinary looking Cabbage Patch dolls, who dressed in frumpy clothing and had messy hairdos and freckles. Customers lined up at 5 in the morning to buy them, as they sold out immediately. They were a huge success, an illustration of the public disgust with “perfection”. Finally, they said, somebody just like me!
And this is the crux of the matter, what the media don’t seem to understand. Attempts to alienate the voters by portraying a popular candidate – not theirs, obviously – as a boor, or a clown, or a messy consumer of squiggly sea creatures by publicizing him in an unflattering pose, is bound to backfire. We see him as “human, all too human”, as Nietzsche said, one of us, with all the warts and blemishes. And then we go to the ballot box and vote for him.