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Jan 09, 2007

Dems Have Nuclear Arms

Tester Alpha Male          Webb-Alpha-Male

Shuler-Alpha-Male  Ellsworth-Alpha-Male

Oh man!  Oh boy!

With the Democratic Congress having been in session one full day, we've already gotten a peak at the stereotyping that's coming. Using the platform of the NYT Week-In-Review, Ryan Lizza -- credited as "a correspondent for GQ" (which sounds, to me, like a contradiction in terms) -- offers us: "Invasion of The Alpha Male Democrat."

Sparing the nuance, this piece describes a "pro-male" party which, having lost most of its female organization in the House, now consists of a nurturing Mommy or two, offset by a large influx of macho, "light in the resume," Democratic muscle heads.

The accompanying collage -- which I've pulled apart above -- is as one-dimensional as the article itself.  That guy in the upper left is: a husky Montana farmer with a buzz-cut.  The guy to his left is:

"...[T]he former marine from Virginia who turned his son’s combat boots into an effective electoral prop ... (and) upon arriving in Washington ...  promptly picked a fight with President Bush at a White House reception."

The one below, left, is a guy whose website "includes more information about his high-school football career (106 touchdowns) than his post-football career (selling real estate)."  And to his right is a sheriff who wears a gun.

(In order, you have Senators Tester and Webb, as well as new Congresspersons Heath Shuler and Brad Ellsworth.)

There are lot of inconsistencies, sleights-of-hand, and insidious new memes here that Mr. Lizza has planted.  I'd be interested in your read.  Between the illustration and the article, here are a few that jump out at me:

1.  Gender Stereotyping Is Alive And Well:  Using the Bush Administration as a model, perhaps strength in a man negates any possibility for its constructive counter-balance (cynically quantified in this article as someone willing to show up at the next Emily’s List fund-raiser).  As we begin to contemplate the "Bush recovery process," clearly tremendous damage has been done to the definition, in America, of what is "strength."

2.  Wrong End Of The Avenue, Buddy:  Isn't it curious The Times would run a piece attacking the (supposed) lightweight nature of (supposedly) overly macho Democratic men just days before Bush and his civilian warheads introduce a flimsy plan for a major escalation of the Iraq war?

3.  Anyone Hear Swift Boats?  Lizza, just like the right wingers who damaged Kerry in 2004, is here setting up a framework for the same attack.

Using his own construction, he ascribes "muscularity" as an internal Democratic organizational standard, describing the Blues as a party which "measures its candidates by whether they wear a uniform, carry a gun or simply look tough."  Having wheeled in the Trojan Horse, he then plays out the dynamic, innocently wondering whether the success of these new legislators "may raise uncomfortable questions for those Democrats who don’t pass the new macho test."

Finally, using John Kerry as his example, he concludes the article with the end-"logic," that not only will these supposedly strong Democrats have trouble maintaining their strength, but that potential candidate, like Clinton or Obama, are already "coming up short" on this supposed "Alpha meter."

Briefly, I wanted to also mention the illustrations themselves.

It seems Washington and the media (often one in the same) are tremendously threatened by the "outsiders," Tester and Webb.  Shuler and Ellsworth, as minor figures, get off easy (although Shuler's head -- stuck in the middle of his chest -- is a deeper twist on the image of a dumb jock).

These supposedly bionic Senators, however -- Tester with the pitchfork, Webb with the nuclear arms and his son's infamous, somehow blue, and now huge Iraqi shit-kicking boots -- are framed as exceedingly dangerous.  Going back to the article again, notice where Lizza talks about Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer.  What's interesting is how the article equates, then merges the qualities of strength and aggression.

Woe to the Republicans that Dems (both men and women) can play ball just as hard as Bush, Rove and Cheney have been playing it every day for years now.  But then, woe to us that this blind media lacks the confidence to delineate the difference between aggression and strength.  If such insight had existed, we might have had better prospects for the post 9/11 world.

(illustrations: Stephen Kroninger/New York Times.  January 7, 2007.


Whoever put together these illustrations has clearly never seen John Testers hands, or Jim Webb's (son's) boots. As political satire, it's about as incisive as your average RedState post.

Democrats as the party of "Alpha Males"? WHAAAAAAAAT???!!!
ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod, this is quite a turnabout. Is this what the Codpiece Worshippers are really saying now?

If Democrats are Alpha Males, this makes Republicans what exactly?

Oh yeah, the party of aging, very unattractive impotent post-alpha males.

exxxxcellllllent, you didn't know what you were doing, but you did well, my pretties...

In other words, I think these pictures might appeal to the sorts of people who want to vote for the Party of He-Men. If Democrats get redefined as muscular and "alpha", so much the better. There can only be one alpha, folks, and those of typically Repub mentality want to vote for a winner. Those who vote with their lizard brains may actually like Democrats all the more for being portrayed this way.

If this is the kind of tactic BAG says it is, it may well backfire. Haven't we made heroes of the members of all these professions? A soldier, a farmer, a football player (didn't R-Allen try to exploit this image), a sheriff...COME ON, what's not to like? Positive he-man images all.

This could well be a gift in disguise.

Tina, I agree. This is rather remarkable stuff, in that it makes you truly puzzled about the intended audience. Is it written for Republicans, in which case the thrust is mockery of Democratic candidates' phoniness, or is it trying to warn Dems of the 'incorrectness' of their recent electoral choices, which would mean the writer is mocking Democratic voters for their gullibility. In either case, it seems too obviously desperate and envious.

"But then, woe to us that this blind media lacks the confidence to delineate the difference between aggression and strength."

You nailed it (and saved my exploding head). This kind of spin, designed to shift reality, is why I tend to ignore the pol-pundits. I always feel as though I need to either bathe or vomit after reading crap like this.

The masculinization of both politics and its participants must end if we hope to ever steer this country toward a more healthy future. Perhaps this answers the question of why I was so put off by Pelosi's arm-pumping, and hammer waving. I felt she had fallen into this very trap.

Turn up Computer speaker volume and be taught:

"Gender Stereotyping Is Alive And Well" is certainly true, even on this site. And, I am tired of it.

Bob Somerby has a great column on this, today at the Daily Howler.

To every psychological asset there is a shadow,
easily exploited if not integrated.

The schism exploited here is the dumb jock/brainy nerd

If you are smart and a dem you are a brainy nerd

If you are strong and a dem you are a dumb jock

If you are smart and strong, then you are not a dem

It a logic full of fallacy and is as potent as any character assesment on a 6th grade playground. Which is unfortunately the level the mass media and the masses have been for awhile.

The next part of the strategy is to debunk one side of the schism...i.e. make Kerry's attempts to be strong seem infantile ~ windsurfing or cowardly ~ swiftboating and pigeon hole him as an out of touch intellectual.

I would say the new Dem faces will be looking at character attacks on their individual and collective intelligence and any freshman procedural mistakes will be pounced upon as indicators of a lack of their mental strength.

Also, get ready for the alpha male character to get assailed as the war winds down and the dems are in power, under the motto, the dems elected dumb strong guys who didn't know how to wage a war correctly and had to withdraw because of their blunders. Commander Codpiece changes uniforms and we get a bait and switch in media archtypes....

such interesting times

A small theory concerning republican vitriol:

One can dig as deep as they like into the cavernous den of money, power, and corruption that describe the villains of the big media, and still never understand why (besides money) one would choose to author such knee-jerk opinions as are so convenient for their news-masters to have printed on the page. But the reason may be deceptively simple: it is a game.

Just as one would affirm their undying love for whichever football team is closest in proximity to their home, so shall being Republican be decided by a simple factor of hereditary chance. As a member of the more bombastic team, it becomes imperative to win at all costs, to keep up appearances, to psyche out the other side.

Their most effective strategy is to project their own faults onto our side. The macho mock-up on display today is a great example of what the media did not portray during george w. bush's famed codpiece landing, which had the more appropriate timing for such a statement.

But then, one must never break the quarterback's concentration. Oh, sorry. I mean the cheerleader.

I'm offended by stereotyping of any sort. And especially by ignoring Pelosi and focusing on the men.

I think everyone with the exception of Donna is missing the real tragedy of this whole discussion based on stereotypes: we are not looking at what is important about what politicians think, and do about what they think, and we are intellectually paralyzed by media perceptions which are dangerously limiting. It is the formula for fascism, racism, bigotry, and every other kind of manifestation of labeling people as "other."

Nancy Pelosi has an even tougher time ahead because, as a woman, she has the extra burden of stereotype, all of which deny her her individuality and her genuine abilities.

I am sick and tired of the cheap excuse for analysis which is occurring on this site. It used to be more deeply insightful, but has become in many ways a reverberating chamber for the worst of the MSM.

As someone whose family suffered from persecutions based on just this kind of thinking, I am appalled.

Hullo, Margaret, isn't that sort of thing exactly what we're decrying here?

Are you upset about the choice of pictures we're discussing or the comments?

If it's the comments I can link you up to a few sites that actually have fascistic, racist, and bigoted comments, so you can compare and know what that really looks like.


Tina, you "decry" it, but you reinforce it, and that is the point I am making.

"Sex in the City" for the boys???
Did someone misspell his name: Lizza-rd?

"...reinforce some stereotypes of the so-called mommy party...." And just WHO called it the mommy party? No one I know.

"...surrounded by children and bedecked in pearls...." If one bothered to take one's snout out of the pages of GQ and watch C-span, one would have noticed that most of the children on the floor were attached to men. "Bedecked" implies decoration over the top, showy or tastelessly lavish. Pearls, for the edification of Mr. Lizza-rd, are just about the most conservative jewelry a woman could wear.

"...for their carefully cultivated masculinity...." This after six years of a Connecticut-Yankee-frat-boy-cheerleader wearing boots and a ten-gallon while choppin' wood in Texas!! Sounds like the republican sore spot is beginning to itch.

I can't go on. I don't read GQ so I don't know if all their articles (sic) swim in such platitudes, but this is too declasse even for the NYT. Is it their attempt to dip into the 'saleability' of the metrosexual attitude? Or just another backhanded slap at the 'feminazis?' There's a long history of anti-intellectualism in the US. Now this seems to be anti-anti-intellectualism, or is it anti-jock-ularity? Or maybe the NYT wanted to take the focus off Pelosi and drafted the GQ squirt to fashion-plate some men.

I agree with the above comments about the intended audience. While I couldn't get through the entire article, I just wonder if, to truly enjoy this drivel, one would have to be a Malkin/Coultergeist salivating groupie.

dead earl: "Their most effective strategy is to project their own faults onto our side." Do you think this is intentional or subconscious? It is rampant in W's speeches and news (sic) conferences but I wonder if he even knows he's doing it. I once went to a seminar on how to get along with people you hate. Upshot was that the problem is oneself, that you and the other person have much in common so, of course, you have to change yourself. Is that what is at work here? Or is it truly (as I suspect with Rove) just a game for the game's sake? A war for a war's sake.

OT: An interesting article on the 'we have met the enemy and he is us' meme is (hat tip the Rude One).

Typepad is down and I've had time to re-think. Is it possible that this article (sic) is a rightwing accident of putting the thumb in the pie of democratic fears. When I heard all the lefty talk of 'Fightin' Dems' I cringed. It seemed many of them (both male and female) were republicans cum lately democrats and a little too connected to the military establishment. I worried their 'machoness' would, over the coming months or years, prove them to be just more republicans in disguise. They may be against the war in Iraq, but were they FOR the social programs democrats promised to deliver?

"I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay....."

somerby covered this today. lizza, partly responsible for an egregious hit piece on gore in the boston globe, should shut the Fu*k up.

I heard a snippet of Jim Webb today on NPR; he'll be a guest on Morning Edition tomorrow morning (Wed, the 10th).

I find him interesting.

margaret said: "we are intellectually paralyzed by media perceptions which are dangerously limiting."

I don't think we are intellectually paralyzed, but I do think we sometimes slither into intellectual laziness.

margaret said: "this site . . . used to be more deeply insightful, but has become in many ways a reverberating chamber for the worst of the MSM."

Then Cactus said: "While I couldn't get through the entire article, I just wonder if, to truly enjoy this drivel, one would have to be a Malkin/Coultergeist salivating groupie."

Which kind of proves margaret's point.

Why *should* we read this particular article? Because we learn something from it, or because it fits a formula to feed our righteous indignation?

"I always feel as though I need to either bathe or vomit after reading crap like this," said lower_case_A.

And Cactus said: "I can't go on."

Sometimes feeding our righteous indignation makes us sick.

Speaking of sick, margaret said: "I am sick and tired of the cheap excuse for analysis which is occurring on this site."

Like the recent "analysis" of Nancy Pelosi's "tentative" signature perhaps?

tina asked margaret: "Are you upset about the choice of pictures we're discussing or the comments?"

What zatopa said: "Whoever put together these illustrations has clearly never seen John Testers hands, or Jim Webb's (son's) boots. As political satire, it's about as incisive as your average RedState post."

As incisive as your average RedState post. So I'm guessing margaret is upset by the choice of pictures, the choice of articles, the choice of topics, the choice of language. Any wonder?

Margaret, I agree that Nancy Pelosi should be judged solely on her abilities, and the fact that she is a woman should have nothing to do with it. In a perfect world, her gender would not be mentioned in relation to her job performance. On the other hand, she shouldn't get a pass because she is a woman either, as that would be sexist as well.

As a woman, and a minority, I am compelled to say that we are all still learning, still trying to find our way in the dark on this issue. After all, this country has a long history of skewing perceptions in order to benefit a select few.

Sorry for the double post. I wanted to add that I am, in NO way, excusing the media for the swill they try to serve up to us, but I also believe we can benefit from discussing these issues when they come up.

I'm a little puzzled as to why some of the commenters are upset about this post, and/or the last few posts. Is it that there shouldn't be criticism of Democrats - or Democratic women?

I think that the article linked above was pretty silly, but the underlying idea - that the Democrats did specifically set out to find candidates who could help challenge the attitude that they were "soft" on terrorism, war, or whatever - is something that we've discussed here before. For example, there was In the Spotlight, where Tammy Duckworth and three male veterans were photographed in front of a tank. That's politics.

If archetypes (or should I say stereotypes?) like "the farmer", "the soldier", "the football player" and "the sheriff" (he reminds me of Oliver North) actually are appealing to the voters, then that's interesting in itself. Since I have four boys, when I see those pictures I'm reminded of the typical "Career Day" choices for young boys. (I guess they couldn't find a firefighter or an astronaut, although we've had politicians who were astronauts before.)

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote a post, "Going Back Into Analysis," (link) in which I asked all of you to help me think about the nature and direction of this site.  I still refer to your comments and suggestions, and I'm as curious about them now.

I am profoundly interested in margaret's comments here (as well as rtbg's response which, I admit, I would like to understand better. I thought, for example, that Zatopia's "Red State" comment was referring to the NYT analysis, not The BAG's.).  Margaret (and I ask the question of any and all):  could you sketch out the kind of pictures, the kind of critical direction, and maybe an interpretive pathway or two you imagine the site following that would be more serious/worthy?  Also, do you see a groove, rut or pattern in the approach I've been taking that represents a deviation from the past, and/or is causing me to miss some greater theme or take too shallow an approach to the political visuals?  (And then, what was I doing before that was so great?)

...I'm not sure about this, but one way I think to answer the question is that I've been too affected by the liberal blogosphere, so my tendency to consider the "pure" semiotics might be contaminated lately by political partisanship.  In other words, I might be "defending" the pictures on behalf of the Dems (and, against the media), rather than seeing them, more generally, in their own right.

(I'm also glad, btw, that rtbg brought up the handwriting analysis.  I regret that side-trip I took into the world of amateur graphology.  Also, I certainly didn't take enough time last week to think about the Pelosi image on the NYT front page.  What I regret most, though, is the overly hard and certain way I made my comments.)  

A more global observation:  I believe we've all been in a pretty familiar groove the past few years deconstructing the Rovian work product.  With the tide shifting, however, I'm thinking the social and political currents (along with the imagery) are much cloudier, murkier, more confused.  In this new stew I think the pics/trends/themes are also less developed so much harder to read.  (And yes, with the change, and with the Dems given the chance to lead, I think it's also creating a lot of new tensions in and for all of us.)

Lastly, I want to thank you all for your care about the site.  Many of you have now shared the space with me for a couple of years.  The times are not easy.  The world is not easy.  What we're trying to do here is not easy.  I'm just glad you feel the ideas, the community, and the mission are worthy of the heart, time and the intelligence you contribute.  

Bag, In answer to your question to me about what I miss in the current posts, it is that insightful analysis of pictures which show relationships between the power-players and the possible reasons they are chosen to represent a situation. That never gets boring, although it may not be a challenge to you from day to day.

I am only disturbed by thinking which is stereotypical, or reinforces our tendency in this country to dismiss people with superficial readings of what and who they are: hairdo's, shoes, clothes, age, sex, race, ethnic origins, socio-economic indicators, und so weiter. I know you are not that limited, but the choices of late seem to play, increasingly, to that kind of discussion.

For me, the greatest danger to the Republic is that our Constitutional guarantees have been diluted by this Administration and the 109th Congress. How you might highlight that would be a great challenge and a gift to the web, as you have a great deal of influence on the discussion of what Democrats really want to accomplish.

I apologize for sounding so critical, but I have gained so much from reading this site every day and the comments of its readers, that I didn't want to lose access to its formerly serious, special insights.

Whoa, folks really bashed this one around. It seems to me that there is good value in looking at what Lizza is saying, for several reasons.

First people here point to Lizza being a contributor to GQ, and maybe even a, gasp, conservative. But more important is that he is a senior editor at The New Republic. The New Republic tends to be moderate in the mold of Clinton and Democratic Leadership Council. Lizza's article seems to fit that, too.

This is an example of the Democratic Leadership Council getting its message out, which fits the Testosterone model. We are hearing a lot about Shumer and Emanuel, the architects of the Big Balls approach. Where is Howard Dean, wasn't he more responsible for the Democrat success of 2006 elections? There must be big in-fighting in the Dem Party.

Beyond that, should we be surprised about the Alpha Macho-ness described in the article? One may not like that, but if we look at the state of America we shouldn't be surprised.

The US has become an agressive, militaristic imperial nation- wars, big defense budget, dropping bombs on other nations whenever and wherever. Military bases and outposts in over 120 countries.

I think there is value in looking at what Lizza is saying, because he is describing what some of our Dem leaders want us to see, and he is describing what the leadership of our nation looks like to the rest of the world.

I'm not sure why Margaret decided to rip into me. Maybe she doesn't know the difference between stating something and endorsing it. Do I think it's a good idea to vote with the gut, for a uniform or a macho image? Nooooo...but people do it. Next question please.

It appears that the BAG already does a great deal of what Margaret describes. A little variety, in the form of posts on entertainment figures (like the Beyonce pictures) and such, gives us space to have a little fun, in my opinion. Come to think of it, we haven't had a good entertainment industry picture in a while. How about the pic of Tigger allegedly hitting a little kid? Out-of-line employee or parents lawsuit shopping? Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work!

"insightful analysis of pictures which show relationships between the power-players and the possible reasons they are chosen to represent a situation."

Do we have to pick apart Cheney's leer or Condi's glances at Bush every single day? Egad. Bush wears his shirt sleeves rolled up so it looks like he's working--we got that already. The BAG posts pictures in multiple categories, which is great. He does politics five days out of seven, which is also great.

I don't know what Margaret is really referring to. I rarely if ever see a photo I consider frivolous. I don't find every single picture deeply compelling nor do I feel obligated to post for every thread, but that's to be expected. Frequently someone points out something I hadn't considered before, like with the Khalilzad picture. Khalilzad's eyes are indeed dead and sharklike, which gives him the kind of edge a good poker player has, probably. I would never have considered the photo remarkable if someone hadn't pointed it out. That's what the BAG does. It makes us more aware of visuals, which are more ubiquitous than print these days. It's an amazing blog.

Rtbag, I think you got crit of the BAG and crit of the NY Times a little confused there. I don't think Cactus got sick of reading the BAG but rather the source article.

I've lurked in quite a number of blog forums, Huffpost, Crooks and Liars, etc.....and I have yet to find a group of posters which offer more intelligent or incisive commentary while at the same time almost never descending into simple opinion parroting and general nastiness. The people who come the BAG are great, quite simply a uniformly intelligent group with good, relevant observations to make. I've never seen anything like it the blogosphere, to be honest, what with trolls, party shills (from both sides), people who really have nothing to say, and so on. This site has never had that. So Margaret, what's your beef?

Don't change a thing, BAG. And posters, the only thing I wish is that there were more of you. We've got about a dozen regulars and some visitors who don't post often. It seems we're getting to be old hat, guys, so some of you lurkers might want to start weighing in :)

P.S. as per: "our Constitutional guarantees have been diluted by this Administration and the 109th Congress. How you might highlight that would be a great challenge and a gift to the web,"

Highlighting, pointing out, and bemoaning Bush's power grab is already something that many bloigs already do full time. Try Digby's Hullabaloo, I think he must post something like ten pages a day on this subject. He's very detailed and very, very indignant. And the blogs have done a great service in this respect, the MSM is running scared from them.

But I think the BAG is about the visuals, not just this one topic. The BAG is totally unique in that sense. I'd hate to see it lose its identity.

Thanks BAG for hearing me out.

Though I've only recently begun commenting here, I've been a reader since hurricane Katrina, when I was given a head-up about a photo spread you had done. I was very impressed with the BAG then, and still am today.

As I said above, I believe discussing the problems of stereotyping, bias, bigotry and hate-speech, especially within the world of media, is important and beneficial for many reasons. If we hide our heads in the sand, refusing to confront these issues, they will never be solved. The messages hidden within an image are powerful tools, and if we miss them, we miss an opportunity to hone our skills at identifying, then outing, those messages. This is why I have returned to this site day after day, and I hope it doesn't change too much..

Tina, that term, "trolls" and others like it, is the kind of stereotyping I am talking about. And, I didn't "light" into you...I spoke to the trend in this blog towards analysis of stereotypes which educes further stereotyping in the responses by many, but not all.

There is nothing wrong with reading and talking about things with which you do not agree. That is not my point. It is the superficial nature of people's agreements or disagreements, the arguments which evolve from the topic, rather than examining the topic in a fresh way that reveals more than the obvious. Most of the time we are only operating as cheerleaders for one side or the other. The debate demands more seriousness than this.

In addition, it was the lack of serious debate which gave us Bush 1st and second term, as well as a Republican Congress and a terrible war. Reframing the questions raised by MSM is what is needed...the visual is only a part of it.

Oh, and one more thing, I am not anti-Bag. I have much respect for his ideas and postings. The changes have been subtle, but moving in the direction which I noted. If everybody likes to "surf" the web for "stuff," instead of digging deeper into it, that's fine...I'll just curl up with my own thoughts and continue writing my congressmen and women.

Margaret, "trolls" is not stereotyping, it is a widely used term for people who hang out on a blog's comment thread and bust up the conversation with all kinds of meaningless unpleasantness. Think about it for a little bit. What group is going to be insulted by this definition? Trolls themselves?...Here's a clue...whatever the fairy tales say, they don't really exist.

And you specifically addressed me and said I endorse stereotyping when I was criticizing it, and I replied to that. I found that upside-down charge rather uncalled for, you're reading negativity into everything at this point.

Very sorry that you find the posters superficial and not serious enough for you. You may also want to think about whether or not that characterization is correct. A facile comment is going to be made from time to time, but really....c'mon. I even go back and reread some of these discussions sometimes. I think you are being completely unfair. The quality of the posts is excellent.

It's not particularly deep or a sign of seriousness to just disparage Bush endlessly.

This is the best idea....when you see the photographs "in a fresh way that reveals more than the obvious", please share the insight. We'll try to keep our flickering attention spans zeroed in long enough to appreciate it. Really. If you want us to discuss what you're talking about (and I confess I don't really see what you're asking for, besides more propaganda dissection), lob the ball over the net to us. We'll get it back over, we promise.

Remember also we're posting between child care, work, and all the rest of it. We can't compose doctoral dissertations every time. When you bring that into consideration it's clear this is not a shallow group and most of the posts are quite thoughtful.

I'm not trying to be harsh and I hope you'll continue to post here!

In addition to the BAG, Salon's Table Talk can be quite good (sometimes), too. Pay them a visit.

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