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May 17, 2006

Saturday Versus Monday Night Live


If you're looking for evidence of the conservative meltdown, consider the strides the opposition has made lately in achieving visual parity.  This latest example involved some pretty strategic real estate.

It's not often Rove gets shown up when it comes to staging, but Al Gore's Oval Office routine on Saturday Night Live left Bush's prime time immigration speech two nights later looking like sloppy seconds.  And it didn't help that CNN cued Bush early, creating an awkward false start to the address.  (This frame is where Bush had to pull up.)

Content-wise, the two performances also show an almost complete reversal from 2000.  Now, Bush looks like the overly rigid, overly scripted, and overly self-conscious politician while Gore seems loose and comfortable in his own skin.

Policy-wise, Gore did his part to loosen some of the biggest screws holding together the Bush Administration, including tax cuts, energy policy and security.  He did so, however, with a kind of deft misdirection that characterized Stephen Colbert's deconstruction of Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner a few weeks ago.  With the friendlier venue, however, Gore achieved it as much with nostalgia as with parody.  As "the inventor of the anti-hurricane and tornado machine" pretends to review six years of a Gore Administration, who couldn't dream (and even, pine over) how much better America might have become?

When these two frames are juxtaposed, there is really no sense the top shot comes from a comedy show  Even after you see the sketch, the images still achieve equivalence.  It's the spectacular failure of the Bush Administration that puts these two image on par.  In fact, this Gore pic forces into the open the fundamental question people grow more uneasy about by the day, which is  -- who's competent enough for the seat?

See the Gore SNL sketch here.
See the Bush immigration "false start" clip

(image 1: NBC/SNL via iFilm. com.  image 2: CNN via


Bush looks way over-lit.

And it's interesting how the nicely-aged-looking American flag behind Gore projects so much more gravitas than the almost-fake-looking one behind Bush. The bright primary colors in Bush's flag remind me of a child's picture book[*] -- it seems to belong not to our America, but to some idealized cartoon version.

[*] Hmm.... "My Pet President"?

The only thing wrong with the Gore shot is the bunker-like office building in the background. The roses are a nice touch, though.

Good point about the cartoon flag, mr.memento.

Although I despise Bush, he's the man under the REAL hot lights.

Saying that, I also think Bush has no opinion/interest/knowlege/power in staging or lighting, and that those who are in charge of that stuff for Bush are really, really tense about getting everything "right", so consequently, it looks like sh*t. Bush is even more tense looking because he's usually not good at this "president speaking officially" thing, as if he doesn't really own it (because he doesn't?).

Making a presentation and speaking in front of a large group of people never comes off as relaxed as when you practiced in front of your friends. The ability of a politician to maintain that relaxation is a rare gift. Kennedy had it, Reagan had it, Clinton has it. Perhaps, with Gore's trials and mellowing, and finding his "true love" in politics (environment,internet/future), will give it to him. But the SNL performance is no judge of that. The campaign trail will be.

I think Gore did a bravo job on SNL, and the roses (a small personal-enjoyment type display) fit him and his image perfectly. I can only hope he has more sense, and say, in how he appears when he sits in the real hot seat.

Bush's handlers come from the world of direct mail (Karl Rove's cash cow) and Amway-type pyramid schemes. So they always overdo things in a cheap-looking way. The Bush administration misuses the presidential address the same way junk-mailer Rove misuses the postal service--for cheap, short-term gain. It's the Bush administration that's made a mockery of the oval office address--not SNL.

SNL's oval office looks more "presidential" because the stage crew at SNL actually has to demonstrate some legitimate skills to get and keep their jobs. Whoever sets up the Bush speeches is probably some crony of Rove or Norquist. I agree with Bighorn about the bunker-type background. What is the actual view outside the window of the Oval Office? Did they cart in trees and put them outside the window? It was getting dark in DC when Bush gave the speech, so the trees were probably artificially lit.

On Bush's right, there's a picture of his twin daughters and, are they with the family dog? I don't see Laura anywhere. Maybe she's gotten too popular for her own good. and Rove decided to keep her "out of the picture."

Bush's "props" (photos, flag, etc.) seem to crowd and overwhelm him, whereas Gore's stay obediently in the background. And the difference in the expressions speak volumes. For the last few months Bush has looked like a little boy who's had his candy snatched away from him in every photo I've seen.

14All: "Bush's "props" (photos, flag, etc.) seem to crowd and overwhelm him, whereas Gore's stay obediently in the background."

I noticed this, too. The camera is further away from Gore, and yet he fills up the screen in a way that GWB doesn't. Bush seems overwhelmed and shrunken. The background is stuffed with symbols of authority--the US flag, the Presidential Flag with its stars&striped-breasted eagle.

As a liberal I find it hard to interpret the semiotics that appeal to the Bush-Rove base. We've analyzed this before on BAGnewsNotes--the stage sets or the proposed new Christian flag. The props seem literal, crowded and cluttered to me, but the visuals were not intended for me. This speech was intended to soothe the concerns of Bush's right wing base, a crowd who are more concrete and literal in their world view than me.

One subtle touch for the fashionistas--Gore's photos appear to have sterling silver frames which--especially paired with the red roses--communicate richness, quality, elite. Gore is dressed in a black suit with a red tie--again communicating power and command.

Whereas Bush's picture frames are dull gold, and look like the kind one can buy at Walmart's. Bush is dressed in a medium blue suit with a light blue tie. To my eye--again, NOT the target--the effect is subtly cheap and spare, but probably appeal to Bush's lower middle class base. Bush is one of them.

The visuals make use of sophisticated social cognition: fast, automatic, out-of-consciousness class discrimination.

What a sad fate for the world that Gore did not win. Those Democratic advisors are total losers. Why don't they just get rid of those guys? Killed Kerry too...

Does anyone else notice the puppet strings on either side of W? In front of the flags.

I'm surprised that nobody has noted the one difference in costume props--Gore is missing the politician's flag pin. This accessory wasn't unheard-of before 9/11, of course, but it's become ubiquitous since then for POTUS, for most people who are running for POTUS, and for most American politicians who know that they're going to be on TV today.

A quick look at official photos of past presidents shows that Bush is the first to keep a flag on his lapel at all times, as if taking it off would call his American-ness into question (or as if he considers the USA to be in a perpetual state of war). "President Gore" doesn't need a miniature flag to assert his patriotism or leadership, since his fictive administration is characterized by prosperity, peace, confidence and a continuation of the best aspects of the Clinton years.

The Gore speech is a humorous take on "what if" he had been elected in 2000, so since it was 9/11 that prompted all the flag-pin wearing, there would be no reason for a President Gore to be wearing one. If Gore had been president, White House counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke, whose "hair was on fire" from worry over terrorism, would not have been ingnored.

Gee, now I've made myself depressed about what could have been and what would not have happened.

Bush tends to hunch over when he is tense. I have always thought that the famous "hump" under his suit was a back brace, so that he will stand erect, and this photo would seem to support that claim.

He's also hunching in on himself in the photo above, resulting in shadows in and slightly under his jacket's shoulder pads that the bright blue of his jacket and the overlighting have thrown into relief. The effect is especially pronounced around the collar, which has developed a vertical "roll" that extends almost to the bottom of his lapel notches.

Bush must drive his tailor nuts. I bet that his suits are padded on the chest and collarbones to a fair-thee-well to make him look buffer than he is. I used to do costumes at college and had to correct bad posture and other flaws, especially in period plays, through the clever use of padding and tightly-fitted undergarments to encourage an actor to stand the way a character would.

Gore is sitting erect. His posture is straight, and his suit collar lies flat along his collarbones. Gore's head isn't tucked forward and up the way Bush's is. He's relaxed and loose, and looks it. Bush looks like he is expecting a barrage of rotten vegetables to fly at him from behind the camera.


Will the real President please stand up?

Thank You!

I've felt like I've lived in an alternate universe since 2000, and especially since 9/11.

I miss the universe where Gore is President, I really do.

It almost looks like the guy on the bottom is wishing he had conceded the 2000 POTUS election to the guy on the top.

Also, PTate in MN already somewhat mentioned this above, but the juxtaposition of the ties is very intriguing to me...

AND the flag behind Gore looks more genuine and weathered. The flag behind Bush is very different: the colors seem cheap and newly-installed... translated as "this guy is STILL a cheap, second-hand amateur."

tracy--good catch on the suit.i never knew why his suits fit so badly and now i see what you are talking about,he`s a small man in a big suit.

what strikes me is the red power tie and dark suit on al and the metallic blue tie and a shiny blue suit on george. with all the millions of dollars he has why doesn`t he have someone tailor a suit to fit him? god it is really sad this country is being represented by him

Back for a quick comment: one of these pictures communicates, "I sell used cars." One communicates, "I know what I am talking about." Can you guess which one is which?

What a great post!

I have been noticing for awhile that Bush hardly ever wears red, almost always blue and occasionally a yellow tie. When his is not suited up, he is always in blue, beige or white.

My sense is that someone (very likely Laura, since she seems to decorate everything including the Oval office) thinks that the blue ties bring out his blue eyes. The few times I have seen him in a red tie he looks frail, whereas Gore looks great in strong somber colors (appropriate for a war time president).

I do remember reading somewhere (a WaPo article) about a tailor in DC who made "all" the president's suits from at least Ford or Carter. Cantankerous old guy. He loved Reagan (though it would've been fun to tailor for Reagan, whatever else was wrong with him, he could wear a suit - and probably let him do his job). I wonder if "someone" (again, Laura) is second guessing this guy and having him make suits (like this "friendly' blue one - like who on earth picked out the shiny fabric?) that he would rather not make.

Sharoney, your photo link of Gdub - that isn't a back brace. I think it's a global positioning device, so his minders can find him if he gets lost.

Asking seriously, now. Many times we've seen him with this lump in is back. What the heck is it really?

Does anybody out there know?

About the back lump.....I've read that it could be some form of heart monitor. I remember reading about a doctor who thought that was the case, but I couldn't find the site today. I think it was the kind of device that jolts the heart if it stops or races. There were some photos that looked like he had a wire running from his shirt to his pocket. There was also some speculation that Cheney had the same thing. Some thought it was a transmitter so that he could be told the answers to questions, i.e., in the debates.

I looked at the suits again and noticed that W's really doesn't seem to fit his body. Sharoney's call about the shoulder shadows does make it seem his body is hunched over. And the sleeves just below the shoulder pads looks wrinkled and tight, they don't slip down his arm gracefully and makes him look uncomfortable. As to the tie......I wonder if he doesn't wear red because he has rosacea, a form of acne. How many of you have told your teenagers not to wear red because it will just show up their zits?

More about Bush's suit: To my eye, it looks exactly like a southern televangelist's suit. The fabric is too stiff and shiny--looking almost like a synthetic blend, and the cut is terrible--like something off-the-rack and about a half-size too small. And yes, that awful light blue. Televangelist blue.

Or maybe my middle-school principal would have worn a suit like that on a really important day.

I've never been a fan of Reagan, but I have always observed that the man dressed impeccably--dapper, actually. I assumed his wardrobe came with him from Hollywood, because the man dressed like a subdued Cary Grant.

Bush's posture and body language in this shot, as in many other photos of him, reminds me of an insecure eight-year-old boy who kind of needs to pee.

I'd noticed the sterling silver frames, too (they have the warmth of old silver). With the fresh roses and antique golds, the coordination of tie, flag, flowers... the entire setting looks richer, warmer, and more authoritative. There is a lot of power in understatement. The relaxed speaker looks comfortable both in his room and in himself. Sigh.

Bush is not only hunched, but his elbows are splayed further out, making the desk appear too big for the boy. Having the flags overlapping the window also clutters the scene claustrophobically. He radiates insecurity and nervousness even after 5-plus years to grow into the job. Why is his watch visible? That just makes him look more nervous! Why didn't they just drape the flag over his shoulders like a frat-boy's toga? Or let him hide behind it, like Polonius behind the arras?!?

If somebody is going to be speechifying for any length of time, why would they do it against an uncurtained window? Brightness and glare during the day would be a distraction despite adaquate counter-lighting. Even at night, one's eyes tend to wander from the speaker. If the view was significant (say the Washington Mounument was visible), that would be one thing... but hedges?

Speaking from one's desk does give more weight to the message, unlike FDR's "fireside" chats which were designed to make news more palatable. But with an entire palace, full of rooms and a choice of historical furniture, surely someone with an eye to presentation could set up a nice official important-looking office with good accoustics to be used for addresses such as these? I'd pick a creamy wall-paper (bland, but elegant), and some recognizable piece of furniture used by presidents past (such as Washington's chair), but minimize the distractions.

If the television audience doesn't know that >>>I'm<<<< the President interrupting their evening viewing across all channels for a really important message... then all the flags, pins, props, and desk clutter in the world aren't going to convince them of my identity.


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