“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” Susan Sontag
This week, Newsweek released their most recent issue with a full-on, terrifying photo of Michelle Bachmann, a photo that one could say, was a hop, skip, and a jump away from being compared to that of a glazed-over zombie. While possibly thematically accurate, the criticism was quick to come, most vocally from, of course, FOX News. Claims of sexism are only rarely whipped out by conservatives, usually only necessary when a member of their own party is attacked, as evidenced by Michelle Malkin‘s criticism of Tina Brown, Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek. “You’ve resorted to recycling bottom-of-the-barrel moonbat photo cliches about conservative female public figures and their enraged “˜crazy eyes?’ Really?”
Malkin is right. The cover is a cheap shot, but not just at conservative women, though Malkin should just be happy she can pick the two prime examples of Bachmann and Palin, while disregarding the other seemingly sexist covers that have graced Newsweek. It’s an even further shocker when considering the magazine has put very few women on its cover to even begin with. But is it sexist? Well… here’s where it gets complicated.
Rarely are male politicians ever portrayed as “crazy” and Slate Magazine recently pointed out that Newsweek has never portrayed a male politician in an unflattering “crazy” light, though they have had ample opportunities with equally controversial public figures like John McCain, Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee, though Mitt Romney’s cover has come close. What about other frontrunners and how their politics are viewed? Santorum is an extremist, as is Pawntley. Perry is “misguided” but “galvanizing.” All of these descriptions seem rooted in language that confirm that even though their ideology is indeed “extreme,” they are solid in their logic. Yet Bachmann, whose ideologies take from the same schools of though, if not above and beyond, is crazy and rageful. Why?
To be “crazy,” is to be without logic or reason. Crazy implies a lack of responsibility or control and above all, crazy seems to be rooted as a strictly “feminine” trait, dating back to historical bouts of crazy like hysteria or witchcraft. Not only is “crazy” just downright ableist, but it’s easy to swallow because it requires no critical thought as to where a person is gaining their insights from and why. And let’s face it, Michelle Bachmann is definitely not crazy. Far from it. She is extraordinarily well-versed in a an extreme right-winged rhetoric and completely believes that what she is saying and doing is right. Unlike a lot of politicians out there who might sway with the political current, as evidenced as an obvious tactic from the 2010 election alone, Bachmann believes wholeheartedly in the idea that gays need rehabilitation or Obama is indeed not a U.S. citizen. To say she is crazy is to pat her on the head and send her off to play with her toys, considering her as just presence not necessary to deal with. Labeling her “crazy” is dangerous because who would vote for crazy? Well, plenty of people if you look at Bachmann’s political service and the thousands of supporters who do really believe that she is capable to be the next president of the United States. The more we engage in dismissing her behavior as invalid, the more we set her up for easier access to gain power.
“Bachmann’s intensity is galvanizing voters in Iowa right now and Newsweek’s cover captures that.” said Tina Brown, in defense of the controversial cover. Brown even went so far as to release outtakes from the session as proof that the manical stare pictured on the cover is indeed, not very far from Bachmann’s facial expressions most of the time, a point that is debatable. Indeed, the cover is reflective of a woman whose personal beliefs and public platforms have included everything from the Satan-like behavior of gay and lesbians to the embracing of slavery as a benefit. But unlike “extremist-cum-crazy” conservative women candidates of the past, Christine O’Donnell or Sarah Palin, Bachmann’s dangerous views actually reflect a determined interest to make nation wide policy as opposed to TV or just a few minutes of scandalized fame.
The photo strays from the typical “sexist” depictions of right wing female politicians, most notoriously, Sarah Palin’s own controversial Newsweek cover, as well as the acceptable fodder around her status as “Sexy Mama Grizzly” and “MILF.” If anything, the photo of Bachmann cements a lot of preconceived notions about what most of us have already come to know about her, just in a most unfortunate way. Whoever said photography was an objective format might have been lying through their teeth.
The photographer was thought to be an acute but non-interfering observer–a scribe, not a poet. But as people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same thing, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal, objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world. -Susan Sontag
Is the photo sexist? To be honest, I don’t know. I lean towards no. Not because it’s Bachmann, not because I secretly gain some joy inside from it and not because I don’t think Tina Brown isn’t capable of doing a sexist cover. I look at it solely as a cheap shot, an easy way out for Newsweek to wrap Bachmann and her damaging rhetoric up into a nice, neat, “crazy” little package and wrap it with a bow. If it takes Newsweek, a relatively well known and successful newspaper an unflattering photo to depict Bachmann’s “rage” and extreme politics, then perhaps the staff at Newsweek aren’t doing their job, which would be adequately writing about all the different examples that make up Bachmann’s Dominionist theocracy and the many ways she has manipulated the very system she speaks out against. As Jon Stewart said a couple of nights ago, “You used that photo in a petty attempt to make Michele Bachmann look crazy. And that’s what her words are for… You want a photo that makes her seem a little off? Make it out of her words.” But Newsweek chose another way and now we are just left with a picture that says everything and nothing at all.
But as Susan Sontag would say, “The camera can be lenient; it is also expert at being cruel.” I think that applies to the truth of this matter as well.