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Oct 15, 2007

Hillary: On The Face Of It


"God had given you one face, and you make yourself another."

--Shakespeare (Hamlet)

When the "Hillary laugh" business came up about two weeks ago, I didn't pay much attention.  It seemed mindlessly superficial.  (Hendrick Hertzberg's TOT piece in the New Yorker provides an excellent chuckle-by-chuckle summary, by the way).

I'm taking notice now, however, for the way its wormed into recent campaign imagery, and especially, the newswire stock.  What got me thinking something was up was a Barnum-and-Bailey-clown Hillary last Wednesday in an eCanadaNow story on the Iowa race.  Then Friday, I came across an outlandish, laughing-out-loud Hillary in the LAT print edition attached to an otherwise serious story on her Iranian Guard vote.  (The shot above is a representative AP shot grabbed off Yahoo News last night taken Monday a week ago in Cedar Rapids.)

What I think is happening is that the media, as well as the opposition, is looking for a stereotype with which to pigeonhole Clinton.  The search, on the part of the right wing, is to develop a toxic characterization.  (Remember, it was FOX News, after Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace, that got this ball rolling.)  The media's motivation, I believe -- given its aversion to complexity -- is to fix on a simple behavioral thumbnail with which to frame Hillary's personality.

I do want to comment, briefly, about the behavior itself, because I feel journalists love -- but generally fail at --playing psychologist.

The key here -- it's that complexity thing again -- is that Hillary's laugh is not "unidimensional."  In other words (referencing the Hertzberg write-up), I agree with Arthur Schlesinger, Bill Clinton and Jackie Kennedy that Hillary has a good sense of humor, and likes to really guffaw at times.

But I also agree with Brit Hume that, in other instances, Hillary's laugh (and it was this variant, I believe, that started this whole business) is a typical political device, meant to simultaneously disarm and engage (and, as necessary, discreetly call bullshit.)

Finally, I also agree with Frank Rich and the Politico that -- at still other times -- Hillary's laugh, when she's in her overly rigid and scripted mode, can be (unconsciously) more affected than natural.

All that said, God help any of us if we had to account for any number of expressions frozen from second to second.  Unfortunately for Clinton, however, the visual media -- hot on this bandwagon now -- can't help but mine ever more curious samples.

And the more than thrilled (and less than innocent) right wing can't help but field-test various explanation, from "the put on," to the look of hysteria to the shrill cousin of the Dean scream.

(image:  Charlie Neibergall/AP. October 8, 2007.  Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  linked image: Mary Ann Chastian/AP.  October 12, 2007. Columbia, S.C. caption: Democratic Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles as Theronee Foster, 6, stands next to her during a campaign stop at 'Wise Young Minds After School Program.  Via YahooNews)


I believe the laugh is a genuine gesture of contempt and amusement at the stupidity of the Republican charges and the credulity of the press.


JESUS---when that face popped up on my screen this morning I literally spit my coffee out. And not with laughing. I had a complete overwhelming urge to jump behind a bush and hide (no, not that Bush--although that might be the intended reaction).

What a vicious picture for someone to publish! I mean, anyone who is photographed as much as Hill is going to be caught in some unflattering facial contortions. I bet the next minute she looked fine. Why didn't this pic end up on the cutting room floor?

I mean Christ, she looks like she's a pod person about to tear into somebody's baby. Yikes.

"to the shrill cousin of the Dean scream." Bingo! This is precisely what the right is trying to do. And what has the press learned from that case study in distortion? Nothing.

I noticed the "typical political device" variant, at least three times, myself, before the pundits had time to make an issue of it. I think she trained for this, and failed, somewhat, to achieve that oh-so-necessary illusion of sincerity. I think ridicule and authentic, genuine laughter is exactly the right response to a lot of the crap that is coming from the other side, and I think here handlers were right to promote this response, but it came on so abruptly and so strong that it seemed, to me at least, to be obviously contrived. Maybe she'll get better with practice.

Sad that the freakin' leader wannabe's we have in this country have no higher self composure and poise that this. Kissin' arse and smoozing smacky-face with the Iowa ethanol producer sucklings. Some obease old farm woman is the beneficiary of this jiz all for the caucaus vote and maybe a $50 buck contribution.

I could name about 40 countries right now that the Leaders of which would never feel the need to grovel for votes and interpersonal connection the way this phony Hildabeast does. Pathetic, really.... That characature cartoon of a person is hoping to lead America after the dismal shrub years.

Do not expect good things to come of this - they won't.

A man is almost never described as "hysterical" unless one is referring to his being falling-down, ha-ha funny. The term is most often used derisively to describe anything a woman does that is not calm, collected and composed.

Consider that the origin of the word: from the Latin hystericus and the Greek husterikos; from huster or womb. It was long thought that disturbances in the womb caused hysteria. The shorthand here? Being a woman makes you crazy. And a crazy person should never, ever be placed in a position of power.

Disclaimer: I am neither for nor against Hillary Clinton.

Except that a crazy person HAS been placed in a position of power.

Asta: I was being sarcastic, but I'm sure you knew that.

"God help any of us if we had to account for any number of expressions frozen from second to second"

Everyone should try this - spend some time going frame-by-frame through video footage of a talking head (even TV news anchors, the supposed pinnacle of presentation ability) and you are 100% guaranteed to obtain some hilariously amusing stills. The best are usually mid-blink while they're talking.

Because you can do this to anyone, the best response for the left would be to start publishing stills of the GOP candidates in contexts that reinforce existing negative frames. Most won't stick, but any that do will be a reminder that this kind of tactic leads down a path to Mutually Assured Destruction.

The Washington Post recently used two unflattering screenshots of Senator Clinton in a story on her nonverbal communication at one of the Democratic debates. The story is largely positive about her, but I felt the images were unnecessarily negative. (I was impressed with her in both of the videos.)

I think we should have a small cute dog as President. That would eliminate all this photo nonsense.

Michael, thanks for sparing us the deeper session evaluations on what Hillary's face is actually Doing in the photo.

Rather than delivering her now textbook laugh she looks about to launch into visceral ululations before popping out her eyes--eye-popping being one of the neater tricks taught at the P.T. Barnham School of Shameless Self Promotion...

or casting the view of the, half-face cover thingy over her face with one side or the other it gets even scarier--particularly her mouth, very predatory.
The Horror.

Speaking as an introvert, I observe that Hillary's been wearing her game face for some time now; Her public persona has been carefully crafted to win the Democratic nomination; We shouldn't be surprised if, when, it cracks. How many strangers can you meet and greet warmly, enthusiastically, presidentially, while communicating both concern for their issues and competence on all fronts? It has got to be tiring, and in pictures like this, you know that it is taking a toll.

She hasn't cracked, actually, for decades. About Bill Clinton's behavior with countless women, the continuation of which must have surprised her during his presidency, her demeanor always said "see, it doesn't hurt. Nothing he has done hurts me. See girls, it's okay if your husband does that. It's fine. I'm fine. It doesn't hurt a bit."

Johanna: "her demeanor always said "see, it doesn't hurt. Nothing he has done hurts me. See girls, it's okay if your husband does that. It's fine. I'm fine. It doesn't hurt a bit."

Interesting projections on your part, Johanna. Have you ever tried psychotherapy?

Reading these comments is like administering a Rorschach test.

She's not forcing a laugh through her tears over Bill's infidelity. She's not projecting her contempt at right-wing shenanigans. She's not being "predatory." She's not "wearing her game face."

Look at the other people in the photo -- whose expressions are essentially the same as hers. They suggest that Mrs. Clinton's reaction was, in a word, genuine. Not rehearsed. Not Machiavellian. Not force-fed by polls or consultants or operatives.

What the hell has happened to us as a people?

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