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Feb 14, 2005

Getting The Business

Is spin coming unspun?  In other words, is spin starting to draw more attention to itself than to what it's spinning? 

What suggests this possibility are lead articles in two different sections of Sunday's NYT.  On the front page of the Business section (maybe I am focusing a little more on business these days), was an article entitled Spinning Frenzy: P.R.'s Bad Press (link).  The story focuses on the recent disclosures about journalists and commentators being paid to shill for the Bush Administration.  At the same time, the lead story in the Sunday Style section was a feature on how Arnold Schwarzenegger markets the California Governorship (If You Can Plug a Film, Why Not a Budget? -- link).

In both stories, the subject involves the blurring of the lines between news and public relations.  If the P.R. game is starting to wear thin, however, I think someone forgot to tell the Governor of California about it. 

What I found interesting about the Arnold story is how, at the same time it calls attention to the blurring of news and promotion, the article is taken advantage by it.  (If you've been following the BAG, you know I like to photograph news photos.  I do this in order to better examine them outside their context.  I never did this with a web page before, but the on-line version of the Schwarzenegger article warrants it.)


A lot of stories in the on-line NYT are accompanied by images, but I've rarely seen one (outside the Multimedia section) that occupied the width of the article.  Whatever the editorial rationale, it also demonstrates Arnold's ability to co-opt high profile news space in the name of self-promotion.  In this shot, Arnold is standing in front of a poster promoting himself promoting California.  This is a textbook example of how Arnold's P.R. makes news, which just generates more P.R.

Arnold's cross promotional skill is also demonstrated (and further promoted) by the second image in this article. 


This is a poster promoting Schwarzenegger promoting one of his various politically-related P.R. campaigns. 

Regarding the image itself, I think there are a few things to take note of.  If you look at Arnold, he appears much younger than he is now.  Is it possible this is an old photo?  If so, it it suggests that either a younger face was superimposed on the body or the California flag was superimposed.  Or, the other possibility (because the face might not be exactly in scale with the body, or actually attached to this body) is that this isn't even Arnold's body.  If any of these possibilities are true, perhaps we're the ones being given the business.

I think it's also worth mentioning what happens when P.R. material crosses into more "respectable" venues.  Of course, when an image is enhanced for a promotional poster, a certain level of tolerance can be seen for that.  When that poster finds its way into a news article, however, that replication can't help but lend the image more authority, and thus more legitimacy as being real.   

Authenticity aside, there are a few other things worth mentioning about this image.  California may be a massive, but compared to Schwarzenegger, it's puny.  Apparently, Arnold doesn't want anyone in the state to forget where the real size and muscle resides.  Also, because Arnold directly addresses the viewer while the map of California faces slightly to the side (and has a fold in it), the Gov lets you know where the attention belongs.

Finally, because the state is on a common t-shirt which has little intrinsic value as a piece of clothing (especially since Arnold is typically seen in hand-made suits costing thousands of dollars), it suggests the governorship is something that Arnold can just "throw on," get as dirty as he wants, and always change out of for something finer. 


This is what happens when movie personalities, note I didn't say 'actors' or 'stars,' such as Reagan and Ahnald decide they have the wherewithal and conviction to serve the public. I never saw Reagan do it, (remember 'trickle down economics?') and I sure as Hell don't expect the Governator to do it. These self-serving publicity hounds need only the adulation of the Bud swilling masses to feed their swollen egos, and don't give a shit about the public trust. And by the way, REAGAN NEVER BROUGHT DOWN THE SOVIET UNION, ESPECIALLY WITH ONE MEANINGLESS SPEECH. Just to set the record straight, his hair was dyed too.

In that last picture (the newspaper ad) Arnold's head most defiantly looks super-imposed. The neck and head are too small, and at an incorrect angle.


Perhaps you should talk to people who actually lived in the USSR before and after the collapse. They seem to think that Reagan had something to do with it.

What Reagan did was to hold that it was possible to defeat the USSR, that it wasn't a successful society that would be around forever. That's the conventional wisdom now but it was considered to be wild-eyed radicalism back then. As it turned out, Reagan was right and the conventional wisdom of the time completely wrong. One of course wonders how President Bush and the conventional wisdom will compare 20 years from now.

AOG; was Reagan's belief that Capitalism was superior to Communism his belief alone? I thought your entire country felt that way, more or less. By that reasoning, the American public are just as responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union; yet I only seem to hear Republicans suggesting the glory is Reagan's alone. That's hard to reconcile, particularly when your nation was engaged in battling the Ruskies to the death from their very inception, (economically, not militarily). BTW, I for one am enjoying our current spate of civilized discourse, and hope that we remain similarly courteous, if not of a shared opinion; it makes a nice change from some of the more hate filled responses my comments draw elsewhere. Who would've thought that opposing viewpoints could be so polite? Me, that's who :)

P.S. There is a large population of Russian ex-pats here in Toronto, and I've been fortunate to speak with many of them regarding their lives in the former S.U. I won't deny that many agree with your 'Reagan as Saviour' opinion, but just as many, if not more, do not. Not to fear, Ronnie has made it to the penultimate status symbol of our times; he's now a US stamp. Even if he isn't recognized (by some) as the liberator of the Soviet Union, he's still earned more than enough marks of distinction, and that ain't shabby. There is still that question of Iran/Contra however, but if it's good enough for the Postmaster General.....


Well, actually, the USA did oppose the Bolsheviks militarily early on.

As for the belief in Capitalism over Communism, that was the general belief of the nation, but there are several critical factors that made Reagan's stand politically courageous.

  • The chattering classes tended to favor Communism or at least were indifferent to the differences.
  • It's not an obvious step from the moral superiority of Capitalism to the view of its ability to triumph over Communism. Mona Charen's Useful Idiots is an excellent guide to quotations to this effect. It's important to keep this in mind as liberal elites try to rewrite history to make it look like they opposed Communism back in the Reagan era.
  • It was a radical departure from previous foreign policy with regard to the USSR.

Reagan was just as reviled in his time in the same way and for much the same reason as President Bush is today. Reagan was called an evil fascist, a warmonger, an idiot, etc. because he challenged the orthodoxy of a positive portrayal of Communism. Even today, one can find hordes of people, especially among the liberal elite, who are positively gushing over Fidel Castro.

I'd like to note that one of those people who didn't see much difference between Capitalism and Communism was Senator John Kerry.

I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in other it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.
In my view, this is a far more obvious example of moral obtuseness than anything I've seen quoted coming from Bush.

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