Saturday, September 20, 2008

Magazine Coverage of Presidential Candidates

Early in the history of periodical publication (1700s), most magazines were labeled "miscellanies" because they tried to appeal to a relatively diverse demographic with a wide variety of content. This, of course, is no longer the case since almost all modern magazines cater to niche markets. Over the course of the next several entries, I will make a series comparisons among magazines based on their use of photographic imagery in the context of the articles they present.

I begin the analysis with Newsweek because, as a mainstream publication, it can serve as an imperfect baseline to judge the extent to which the "left/right-wing" publications exploit or manipulate imagery to support their ideological points of view.

Starting with the most obvious characteristics of this cover, the use of lipstick to inscribe "What Women Want" is a blatant allusion to the use of lipstick as a metaphor since the Republican National Convention when Palin quipped that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit-bull was "lipstick." Of course, this lipstick conversation continued well beyond that speech with the now-famous battle over Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark used to describe McCain's economic policy. However, to confine the imagery of this cover to that superficial exchange misses the point entirely. What Newsweek is trying to do with this cover is cleverly introduce a discussion on politics and gender.

As we will see, they do this quite effectively through the use of photographs.

This photograph to the right, for instance, which features the title "From Seneca Falls to Sarah" with a reiteration of the question from the cover beneath, can be read from two perspectives that may lend insight into the role of the print media in perpetuating the "Palin Effect."

From a psychodynamic point of view, the iconic quality of the exaggerated lips - red, swollen, and moist - are a clear symbol of not only femininity, but virile sexuality. Symbols like this have the effect of linking their referent (Sarah Palin) to her biological sex through reference to gender-based cosmetic practices (i.e. the use of lipstick) and symbolic representation of female genetalia.

Read from a Marxist perspective, the words "Lipstick wearers unite" on the sign is an allusion to the communist mantra "Workers of the world unite" taken from none other than The Communist Manifesto. At the sight of this, one is left to wonder if the bearers of these signs are conscious of the contrary political significance of their choice of slogans. Palin, an outspoken proponent of market de-regulation, would seem to have no relationship to this political philosophy of unionization and market regulation. The fact that it is used is symptomatic of how effective the right-wing in the United States has been at appealing to lower socioeconomic classes despite the economic best interest of those classes. Specifically, the poor, working poor, and most segments of the middle class would benefit more from an Obama presidency than a McCain presidency, yet many in these groups still support McCain, perhaps ignoring actual proposals for rallying cries.

The feature article itself traces the evolution of female political figures throughout American history beginning with the right to vote all the way up to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Looking at the women embedded at the center of the text on each page, the tracing of female figures takes on a very literal meaning as the bodies of four women are wrapped in text, emphasizing their physical qualities. In the page to the left, Annie Oakley is dangerous and aggressive, holding a rifle and staring down the barrel with menace.

She is composed of diagonal lines and right angles, a fierce and threatening woman ready to defend herself against any attacker. She represents the toughness of the midwestern frontier woman.

On the opposite page, the reader is likewise greeted with a symbolically opposed image. The woman here is plump and curvaceous, her arms stretched up behind her head rendering herself vulnerable to the gaze of the reader. This is clearly the counterpoint to Annie Oakley's angular posture of defense and threat.
She is the archetype of motherhood and the outline of the text surrounding her hips emphasizes this, further exaggerating her fertility and abundance.

The following two pages juxtapose Margaret Chase Smith (a woman who filled her husbands congressional seat in 1940) with Hillary Clinton. This is a strange union of imagery since it seems to suggest a parody between the two women on the basis that both of them served in Congress after their husbands held poltical office. If I read these images correctly, this is a poor comparison indeed since Hillary's political career was not handed over to her by her husband.

The final page of the article presents Sarah Palin as the ultimate outcome in the history of the political woman. Notice how her shape, contoured by the text on the page is an amalgum of hard angles and diagonal lines (of the Annie Oakley variety) and the softer curves of the woman on the opposing page. This closing image reiterates the title of the article "From Seneca Falls to...Sarah Palin" and subordinates all previous instances of women in political office to this single definitive moment in history.

The remaining magazines will be analyzed based on political persuasion (The Weekly Standard vs. Mother Jones) and level of sophistication (The Atlantic vs. People).

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