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Jun 06, 2007

The Hillary Code - An Update


I was planning to revisit this angle after six months, but the publishing calendar, its seems, has interceded.

Exactly three months ago, I did a post called "The Hillary Code."  My take was that, as the campaign grew more adversarial, a negative visual stereotype would begin to emerge involving Hillary Clinton's profile.  I saw this pose as "coding" for a rather robust set of negative associations.

"The profile has the capacity to reinforce Hillary as two-dimensional, as more object than person.  It can convey that she's more concerned with where she's going than what she's doing.  It can cue for detachment -- that she isn't that interested in face time with others, including you and me.  And it can float the suggestion that she's got a hidden side and an inside, duplicitous agenda."

The previous photo I posted was a profile from the February 2007 issue of Vanity Fair.  At the time,  BAGreaders were right to point out that the portrait was elegant and flattering toward Mrs. Clinton.  In elaborating on the portrait, however, one reader caught an element I missed, which, on reflection, cuts two ways.

Writes PTate in FR:

"[W]hen I consider this Italian tradition of painting noble women (or more modern profiles such as the classic images of Virginia Woolf or Queen Victoria) I wonder if the profile offers something special, establishing a woman as powerful in her own right, not viewed through the male lens."

As much as the first set of associations above have their resonance, the allusion to power seems a significant "loading factor" in the Hillary profile.

On a pragmatic level, having been a partner in the Presidency, and possessing such strong character, one might ask:  What's the big deal about depicting Hillary as powerful?  With the coding in mind, the problem (if you're part of Team Clinton) is the tendency to see power as a much faster springboard to "power trip" or "power hungry" than to something like "stately."

(credit note:  Neither the bookseller nor publisher sites, as far as I could tell, offered photo credits on either of these cover images.  Shame!  If these are your images or you can identify them for me, please be in touch. )


I realize it is how you have positioned the two covers in relationship to one another, but there is a Janus-like quality to it, marking a turn to "new beginnings" of a sort. Also Kress and Van Leuwing (Reading Images) talk about how images that depict subjects looking to the "left" tend to be coded as looking into the past, while those looking to the "right" tend to be coded as looking to the future. It would be interested to see how booksellers position the volumes in relationship to one another. One thing is for sure, this is no "Migrant Mother," even though there is a certain stoicism to the representation.

is it possible that she had to approve the photos (and likes her own profile)? or are these books written by people she would never give approval to?

As a one time photojournalist, I remember the rule (of thumb); if you want to make someone look evil, photograph them from below. It usually worked well from the front. Anyway that was the first thing I noticed about the picture.

I believe that it was in John Berger's "The Ways of Seeing" that he talks about how in art women were generally portrayed as either possessions or as being spied upon as evidenced by the subject not looking directly out at the viewer.
The act of a straight forward eye to eye contact from subject to viewer displayed the subjects strength and power. Perhaps that has changed over the last number of years but to me the profiles create a distance and a lack of connection.

I think it's possible that the quality that HRC thinks she most needs to project to America is strength. Voters must be comfortable in the knowledge that she will defend America, and defend them.

Profiles project strength, and vision, too.

Focusing on strength puts other qualities like empathy and compassion in the background, which is a risk. But the strategy, if it is a strategy, isn't obviously wrong.

Both shots photographed from below emphasize the jaw bone and I would think a sense of power. The "Her Way" photo is particularly brutal with its receding frontal hairline, pancake make-up, pimples on the nostril side, crows-feet about the mouth and neck. Not altogether flattering and a shot indicative of the supposed expose within. The eyes appear determined and set upon a distant goal, while the mouth depicts either apprehension or exasperation. Overall the photo projects a sense of raw power within a worldly, tough woman.

The "Woman In Charge" photo appears two-dimensional and with its weird perspective view, makes the image seem almost like a card that's being tilted away from the viewer. There's a sense of distancing from the viewer and the gradient backgrounds and gray suit don't anchor the head focus. She seems floating, ambiguous, and flat. Her expression is one of hint of a slight smile, but the mouth seems tight, especially with the taunt, (aged) neck tendons. It almost as if the smile (and its underlying emotion) is, not forced perhaps, but very much controlled. The eyes and her direct forward view indicate an attentiveness, if not determination, and I think, an intelligence.

There are the angles, then there is the objective person... She's a pretty lady; not a runway model, perhaps, but attractive. She's not smiling, so she comes off as businesslike and a little serious. I don't think the first woman President needs to stress the warm, nurturing side-- better to project the business look.

My take on the profile shots (at least in these cases) is that she's focused on something I'm not seeing. She's not focused on me, but I'm ok with that. The President is going to have lots on her plate--things I don't understand and am not privy to. I want her to keep her eye on the ball and stay focused... all the better if she's not constantly distracted by the lens. [nb. This jury is still out on Hillary as a whole package -- I'm just repsonding to the visuals!]

ref : “the quality that HRC thinks she most needs to project to America is strength. Voters must be comfortable in the knowledge that she will defend America, and defend them.

i find the very idea that Clinton would not be "strong," would not "defend americans," because she is a woman and not a man : the conceit implicit in this, is just stupendously offensive.

What boggles my mind is that not only do MANY dare express this tired epithet, but also that SHE, and her handlers feel the need to constantly reinforce the very same gender stereotype: Woman = Weaker Sex that so shackles us to this relentless FRAME: "leadership" is all and only about the politics of anxious masculinity.

What HRC needs to do, imho, is not "project strength" = be masculine, but "be courageous."

To not run away from her gender, but embrace it. The Woman Needs To Be Herself; meaning, not only re-define "leadership" as where i want to take you rather than i will follow you = the majority consensus opinion of some illusory "base" = Focus Group poll...

...but also, do so while being unafraid to be a woman : to revel in her gender. Because frankly, as a man ~ she represents nothing new; indeed, candidate ‘she’ so far is FAR TO THE RIGHT of our Democratic Party "base," in my opinion.

The BAGman's past -vs- present post today, in which he clearly and cleverly presents Two Hillaries to us, imho they illustrate well the difference between that elegance of HRC=SHE gender, and the unremarkable HRC=HE generic.

iow, as a man, i would see no strength inherent in her so long as she lacks the courage to own her own character... a woman, she does nothing to make me proud of my own gender, thus.

I think both profiles are complimentary, especially the one where she is facing to the right - perhaps that is her better side. She looks intelligent and capable. Facing left she looks a bit more hesitant. I actually decide a lot about a candidtae based on their face as I think it tells a lot about a person.

I would be interested to see profiles of Obama, as I see alot of ambition and ego in his face and not so much competence or the idea he has firm ideas - moreso he would be too easily manipulated.

At USC Film School we were taught that the viewer cannot "connect" emotionally with a subject unless both the subject's eyes are visible.

A strange idea, but one that Hollywood has leaned on (if discreetly- they don't advertise their secrets) since the 30s.

Ya, Gonz, woman or man her politics are butt. In the Republican debate the other night a couple of those dolts said things more courageous than HRC. She's got to step it up or she's cabinet material. She should have divorced that putz of a husband when he was poking the help with cigars. If he had not had done that, imho, Gore would still be President right now. Grr. WJC really fucked up for someone who claims he didn't have intercourse. Pardon my cursing. Enough. The press is like Sam in 'Green Eggs and Ham' ... try it, try it, you will see ... Green Eggs and Rodham.

Oh dear, I digressed. The first book the authors' names are teeny-tiny and on the second Carl Bernstein could be her VP. Both books, titles w/ photos, leave me with the impression that she is lonely. I'm sure I'm projecting.

Frankly I think she looks great and the images inspire confidence in her abilities. If these are suppose to be negative shots they miss the mark. The side profile makes her a little abstract and larger than life, but all successful female politicians especially Prime Ministers and Presidents (Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi..) have that otherworldly aspect about them. They are not normal everyday people, they are different, they have to be. Once the public accepts that they can be unstoppable politically. Hillary demolished her oponent in NY State by being herself, her otherworldly self. I think the Republicans think they have her number because of Bill, but I think they are in for a rude surprise.

Now will she deliver on my liberal hopes and dreams? I will be looking at her policy statements because that answer will be there and not in her image.

The image of Hillary on the left reminds me of Boudica, the Celtic Queen who defeated the Romans. I would follow her into battle.

The Hillary on the right is much softer, light shades of green, gosh, I wish I could get my hair to do that.

I would guess by the dust covers that the book on the left is more critical, and the book on the right gives her a few free passes.

Since I have not read either book, I am just pulling stuff out of the air. These are just my impressions. But The Left Hillary looks like one tough cookie.

I really liked the Janus analogy. That was very good.

Hillary Clinton is not in charge of designing either of these book jackets, so any theories about how she is/isn’t presenting herself (as strong or masculine vs. feminine) are irrelevant with regard to these images. Since these books are not authored by Clinton, she has absolutely no say in the cover images used.

Who then is doing the “coding” with these images of her? The respective editors/publishers, art directors, and marketing departments at Little, Brown and Knopf? That’s who determines what all other book jackets look like.

If you believe that some kind of coding is going on, then you might assume that the book on the left is a generally negative portrayal of Clinton (and you would be right) and the book on the right is generally more positive (and you would be wrong). Why? Because the image on the right is more flattering and Clinton is smiling slightly. From an interview I heard with Carl Bernstein, however, the book on the right is none too flattering either. However, the book on the left is written by two NYT reporters, and if you think the New York Times is knee-jerk pro-Hillary, Her Way ought to dispel that notion. The book isn’t even in stores yet, but the fact-checking has already begun. Should be interesting to see how both books are received by the public, considering the covers don’t quite match the content in either case.

The three faces of a human: The face they see.
The face others see. The face as it truly is. . .

What's Hillary Hiding?

I really am getting tired of this Religion stuff.

They chose these views of her because she looks better in profile. Face on, she has a tight, insincere mouth, with hard lines on either side whenever she is not geniunely, spontaneously smiling: translates to insecure and/or angry. She also has bags under her eyes, so headon is not flattering.

For what it's worth, Bernstein commented on his book's cover photo, saying he thought she looked strong, in charge - in other words, aligned with his title. They didn't take the picture; they used the one that worked for them. --- Haven't read either book, but based on that Bernstein interview (on Charlie Rose) it sounds like he sees many strengths but knocks her for the "inauthenticity" issues. An indirect pose serves that notion as well.

My guess is the first shot was not approved by the Clinton camp. It shows deep shadows, all the lines, even the pores in her face and neck. It also (almost) makes her look bald, showing only the tip of her hair above her long forehead. The second one, also shot from below, has softer lines, an almost-smile, air-brushing (or photo-shopping) as well as her entire head. It's much less threatening. Calmer. I like MarkE.Gabriel's description of them also. Spot on.

I am amazed and impressed (and grateful) that M.Gonzo brought into this discussion the politics of anxious masculinity. That is exactly why the likes of Rush & Beck et al., have spent the last couple of years bashing Sheehan, Pelosi, Clinton and any other powerful woman to appear within their very narrow view. And it is why Murdoch gave money to Clinton for her campaign. The right wants her to be the nominee precisely because they have the engineering setup ready to go to depict her as a male-bashing, castrating biatch. They feel confident, and I'm sad to say they are probably right, that no strong woman could be elected and no submissive woman could be nominated.

Off topic, but that 'anxious masculinity' is also what's behind the feminization of Edwards (the 'Breck Girl') and Kerry ('Frenchy'). If they can cast a male opponent as effeminate, thereby devalued, he becomes less of a threat. This is even more important to fundamentalists, hence a large sector of the republican party.

My guess is the first shot was not approved by the Clinton camp.

Neither shot was approved by the Clinton camp. Hillary did not grant Bernstein an interview for A Woman in Charge, so I doubt she was consulted about the cover photo for his book.

I am amazed and impressed (and grateful) that M.Gonzo brought into this discussion the politics of anxious masculinity.

I like the term “anxious masculinity,” but the theory itself is way too limited to take seriously. Plus, it doesn’t take Karl Rove’s genius at winning elections into account.

But anyway, I know it’s ridiculously early to call, but I predict Hillary will be the next president.

blue florida:"At USC Film School we were taught that the viewer cannot "connect" emotionally with a subject unless both the subject's eyes are visible"

I don't think we are meant to connect with Hilary Clinton. We are supposed to venerate her. She has a vagina, and she may be our next president. As such, she embodies the fulfillment of the Feminist narrative that began in the 1970s: Once we were oppressed, but now we are Free. Hillary is mythic. As others have pointed out, she is Janus, otherworldly, Boudicea.

Here is the link to some Italian Renaissance portraits and this one, the woman in yellow, in particular. Powerful Italian noble women gave you profiles. It was the courtesans who made eye contact. Eye contact is sexy, and I think the Clintons would like to stay away from "sexy."

I read somewhere that the "masculining" of Hillary will only work in her favor. Some call her pushy, others say take charge; some say strident, others say not afraid to speak out; some say "bitch", others say .... well it falls down there because what is there to say to counter that one? except to know fully that someone is not too secure in him/herself and has resorted to name calling.

I am decidedly not a Clinton supporter and I like how she looks in these shots -- especially the one on the right which does look a little retouched. She projects confidence. After Mr. Bumbler who walks into closed doors, that's a win.

People throughout history have made careers making others look good. I see a woman who declines to speak to the issues - or at least provide real answers to real questions, while opting for more Politically Correct Global Warming ones - even if she has to script them herself. How else could the Clinton staged media report Hillary’s remarkable comeback, after the Illegal Alien Driver’s License debacle. But like most Americans, I don’t want the duplicitous duo back in the White House.

With the Clintons, what is past is prologue. What is certain; Hillary will come back swinging. Then there’s the incidence of Al Qaeda flight students, trained at the University of Bill Clinton. Why does this remain a non-issue? Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it:”

The cover cameo of "God & Hillary: A Spiritual Life," really takes the cake though. Positively pandering, definitely duplicitous, and ultimately unelectable. Besides, people tell me I look better than that standing on my head.

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