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November 17, 2009

The truth hurts: Newsweek's Palin cover

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Newsweek used this photograph of Sarah Palin as this week's cover shot.

The headline reads, "How do you solve a problem like Sarah? She's bad news for the GOP--and for everybody else, too."

It's a damned good question, and I couldn't think of a better image to make the point.

Palin posed for this picture as part of a photo essay captioned Governor Palin, The Runner, which ran in the August issue of Runner's World. When I saw this image in its original context, I was appalled that a sitting governor would pose for a shot like this; or this stretching shot that puts the visual center of gravity squarely on her crotch.

Maybe Palin didn't realize that the photographer, Brian Adams, was depicting her this way. If so, he totally fucked her over. But I think she was on board with the concept. If Palin had assailed Runner's World for making fun of her, I might now take her complaint about Newsweek seriously. She liked the Runner's World spread, though. She thought it was appropriate. [NB: In an earlier version of this post, I misspelled Brian Adams' name "Bryan Adams." Today, I got an email from a firm called Web Sheriff telling me that they'd take legal action if I didn't apologize to the rock star Bryan Adams and ACI for any injury I might have caused to his reputation. So, I sincerely apologize to Bryan Adams. I wouldn't want my name associated with these ridiculous pictures either.]

There's nothing scandalous about Palin showing some skin, or wearing Spandex. But this cover image is deliberately styled to make the then-governor of Alaska look like a Vargas pinup girl. Unlike the other images in the series, this one references her status as a governor. As she poses like a swimsuit model, she's clutching one icon of political power--the Blackberry--and leaning on another. The theme isn't Sarah Palin, athlete. The theme is Sarah Palin, Sexy Governor. (As in: one of those dime store Halloween costumes: sexy cop, sexy lady bug, sexy sanitation worker...)

Predictably, Palin complained that Newsweek's use of the image was sexist. Yes, the image was plucked from its original context. The whole point was that the picture was appalling it its original context. Newsweek is holding this picture up to the world and asking: Who does this? 

The bottom line is that Palin's a clown. She doesn't get a pass because her chosen clown persona is stereotypically feminine.

She caricatures herself. Day in and day out. Good for Newsweek for pointing and laughing.

The story is about why Sarah Palin is a problem for the GOP. The picture answers the question. She's a problem because she's a freak with no judgment who regularly makes a spectacle of herself.  Obviously, she's a potential problem for America because she's an incompetent leader who supports terrible policies. But that's not Newsweek's question.

Newsweek's question is why she's bad for the GOP. The answer is that she's dragging down her party because it's impossible for adults to take her seriously. Not because she's beautiful or maternal or fit, but rather because she has no decorum, no dignity, and no common sense. I mean look at her, she's working the goofy MILF persona like that's a perfectly normal thing for a governor with presidential aspirations to be doing.

Palin's not even bad news for her party because she's ignorant or radically reactionary. Lots of American politicians are both and they do just fine. Palin has the double whammy of being ignorant and absurd. She's absolutely not ready for prime time. John McCain plucked her from obscurity as a publicity stunt and he lived to rue the day.

The tighter the wingnut base embraces her, the more clownish they reveal themselves to be.

Comments

i don't see any problem with these shots in the context of a running mag, even the crotch one. i didn't see it as inappropriate even though its somewhat more sexual than the usual offering form female pols. male politicians flaunt their masculinty all the time, windsurfing kerry comes to mind, dukakis's failed tank shot, reagan as cowboy on horse, and of course shirtless Putin. obama is very aware of his looks, using his jawline very effectively, if not as demonstatively as musssolini. there's a website called Obama pics daily or something where obamamaniacs ooh and aah all day long over the hot leader. che and Malcolm are pinups too.

but i guess theis is the first pinup female leader, and its discombobulating. where Obama does the mussolini jawline move , she does the wink. her comfortableness with her femininity reflect the rightwing belief in nature over social construction vis a vius gender roles.

but i can see how decontextualizing the pic from a runner ad may be sexist. has any magazine made fun of a male pol by putting a hyper-masculine pic on the cover of a political mag?

Manju, I think you answered your own question. Political publications make fun of what they consider to be masculinity FAILS all the time. They thought it was silly of Michael Dukakis to try to pose in a tank like a tough guy--even though he was a real veteran. A lot of people made fun of George W. Bush in commander codpiece mode on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln for the same reason.

Gov. Sarah Palin posing like a pinup girl is ridiculous. It's even ridiculous by the standards of Runner's World which usually does its best to capture its subjects (male and female) as serious athletes--which is sexy in itself, but infinitely more dignified. This is athleticwear cheesecake like you'd find in Shape or Men's Fitness or old school posing magazines.

"This is athleticwear cheesecake like you'd find in Shape or Men's Fitness or old school posing magazines."

its so subjective. we don't have any datapoints as to what is acceptable sexuality for a female leader. thather, hill, golda, indira just covered it up. condi started to push it a little with some leg and once wore some dominitrex looking boots while inspecting the trops. camile paglia oohed and ahhed. i think the press won't mocky if you ooze vogue-like spohistication, as oppssed to palin's more porny working class aesthetic. however, working class identity is a large part of her power.

in other words, its a real life reese whitherspoon "legally blonde".

Are you kidding? "first pinup female leader" what the HELL are you talking about? There are so many intelligent, capable women -- both democrats and republicans that can and should be leading our country. You conservatives are DESTROYING us by trying to sell this cartoon to the American public as a viable leader. Enough!

These are good models of adult female sexuality in politics: Benazir Bhutto, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Anne Richards come to mind. Michelle Obama's a first lady, but she's doing her part to show that you can be a simultaneously formidable and sexy woman in American public life.

There's a difference between being feminine (or sexy) and assuming an overtly sexualized posture. Male politicians who flaunt their masculinity don't usually pose by thrusting out their pelvises or recline line the Barberini Faun.

Part of the reason that don't have more good models of female sexuality/sexiness in politics is because our culture equates conventional female sexiness with extreme youth. By the time most politicians are old enough to be national figures, they're usually past the age when they can rock the calendar girl look--no matter how attractive they are. The aesthetic is as much about vulnerability and naivete as it is about measurements or skin elasticity. Palin looks silly in part because she's a 44-year-old woman trying to strike a pose associated with teenage girls.

Newsweek is trying to sell as many magazines as possible, and obviously decided that this cover photo would help.

Indeed, from a commercial perspective, it's hard to argue with their decision.

Because sexual controversy sells.

As Palin well knows.

"Palin looks silly in part because she's a 44-year-old woman trying to strike a pose associated with teenage girls."

you think she looks silly b/c of that, but her supporters think you think she looks silly b/c she's working class, religious, conservatives, etc. its like i think al sharpton looks like a idiot with his poofish hair, but his supporters think i think that b/c i'm racist. and when you think about it, why should a poofish hairstyle signify anything different than say obama's more corporate look?

the point is identity groups hear things the rest of us can't. dogwhistles. palin, identity group however, unlike shartons's, is large: white, working class, christian, etc. by making fun of her, you make fun of them, in their mind, and she thus has a powerful base from which to launch.

She's not working class. She never has been. She was the daughter of a schoolteacher. She got a journalism degree and became a sportscaster. She went on to a career in local politics. Her husband has a blue collar job with a paycheck and benefits to rival most white collar workers.

"She's not working class. She never has been."

well, middle class, bluecollerish is how she codes. a lot of blue collar people have hefty paycheck in this country, especially if you are a mechanic, plumber, contractor. working class Americans generally don't resent that...that why we're so wealthy as a people.

She reads middle class to me. What's more middle class than obsessive jogging, journalism school, and working your way up in politics from the city council level?

Like you say, there are lots of people with blue collar jobs in the middle class, especially union members like Todd Palin. Would that there were more.

Based on a review of the Palin's nominal income, they clearly are neither Blue Colar nor Middle Class.

Consider, as AK Governor her income was approx. $125K. Todd, priorly had been in management at BP, then moved to operations to prevent conflict of interest concerns. Their combined family income would put them into the top income bracket and likely amongst the the top 3% of earners.

On Wikipedia it has a picture of Palin's home, which is no small hut, and Todd's float-plane is parked in front.

In addition, she has/will receive millions for her book deal.

To make the statement that these people represent America's working class is like calling Joe the Plumber, well a plumber; it's false. As Andrew Sullivan likes to say, "another curious case of the lies of Sarah Palin."

I'm not offended that she posed for those photos for a running magazine. It fits that photos for a running magazine show her legs, and how she stretches.

I object to what she says, not her poses-for-photos.

"Based on a review of the Palin's nominal income, they clearly are neither Blue Colar nor Middle Class."

there's more to class than income. its more about at what class she stareted from and cultural values.

Many a modern president has been photographed and videotaped in their running gear, I have no objection to the attire but why wasn't she photographed in the act of running or maybe entering a Burger King as President Clinton once did. Good or mostly bad, she has become a phenomenon but I do not feel she could ever be considered a legitimate candidate for President anymore.

This entire post hammers a whole bunch of nails. It's hard to imagine that Palin was not on board with the original photo shoot, and it's much more likely that the entire spread was engineered right down to poses and props by Palin herself and her people -- I doubt if anything was left to chance or the whims of a mere photographer. (A sitting governor, even of Alaska, is attended by a host of aides and handlers that a corporate CEO would envy.) The RW feature was an all too deliberate and calculated exposure to enhance the image that Palin felt was in her interest to project. Period. For her to complain about it now would be like Paris Hilton whining about those awful paparazzi she sent her appearance schedule to.

There's clearly more to class than income, but that still makes Sarah middle-middle.

The code is camp: "To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater." And camp is middle-class.

I am not a Sarah Palin apologist but this criticism is strictly ad hominem.

Sadly it doesn't really matter to her supporters whether she is being duplicitous (great photos in RW, but all of a sudden sexist in NW!?) or acting the knave. I think trying to judge her actions and motives rationally and logically is a mistake, as I do think underestimating the number of people who will think unpredictably and irrationally in supporting her. As someone said earlier, a (supposed) attack on her is an attack on them and what they believe or value. For a certain group of people, I can see how she is appealing and while she may not be middle class now, certainly her background does resonate to the working and middle class and the "we need someone in office who understands us or is like us" type of voter.

Oh, good grief. Look at that light fixture. She may be upper income, but she's middle class. (And yes, that's her house.)

I didn't noticed the Blackberry when I first saw that photo. That Blackberry is a hilarious touch.

Are you kidding? She's wearing running clothes and posing for a running magazine. That's what she looks like when she goes running. The way she's standing is exactly how women are taught to pose for pictures. I don't like her as a political candidate, but really. Let it go. When she starts really campaigning then things that are actually ridiculous will come out of her mouth. That's what we should critique. The rest of the stuff is really us putting to much on her.

But Eric, the "actually ridiculous" stuff is now coming out of her mouth. She is complaining that the picture is sexist and demeaning. Before it was on the cover of Newsweek, it was a fine picture.

She knowingly posed for these pictures (and if you look at the photo, there is very little that has to do with running, other than a pair of shoes) and cries foul now?

"Let it go" indeed. You can't defend the indefensible.

I guess you didn't bother to look at the pictures inside the magazine depicting her as a catholic school barbie doll or a pair of disembodied legs being ogled by teenage boys. Of course this is sexism and you are sadly letting blind hatred to keep you from seeing that. I would never support Palin politically, but give me a break. The two pieces in Newsweek are written by men, including Christopher Hitchens who is a notoriously drunken sexist pig. The fact that you find the photo inappropriate in its original context only shows your own internalized sexism. Why is it anymore inappropriate, for example, to show Palin in running gear than to show Obama coming out of the ocean in a bathing suit in People magazine? Was that inappropriate for a presidential candidate to do? and yes, it was more candid, but the campaign used it to full effect. Meanwhile some of your male "feminist" counterparts are using that and other similar photos to claim that the media is sexist against liberals as well. Guess they didn't get the memo that Obama is a man and therefore not capable of being a victim of sexism. These are they same men, btw, who shrug off the fact that women's reproductive health is being sold down the river with the current HCR and that don't even notice the implementation of new insurance industry friendly mammogram guidelines that trade women's lives for profits. Shame on you and women like you that can't let go of personal issues to support all women who are victims of oppression and sexism. But after seeing what happened to Hillary Clinton at the hands of the same cast of characters, I can't say I'm surprised.

"How do you solve a problem like Obama? He's bad news for the Democracts--and for everybody else on the planet, too."

This woman is just a human being and not a pre-packaged, handled, politically correct, self promoting, politician. She has no political office, no title, and no movie coming out; she is merely an American woman thrust into the spotlight who quit her political job to speak to people about her personal attitude and feelings regarding the future of our country. If after being the Vice Presidential nominee, she does not have a constitutionally gaurenteed right to speak her mind without sexist, childish, insults and attempted bullying by the Obama controlled press, we are all in trouble and had better watch what we say. We are next, just like the folks at the EPA. The press shall giveth and the press shall taketh away. Who are you folks talking about. SHE IS NOT RUNNING FOR ANY POITICAL OFFICE!!!!!! WHAT NEWS ARE YOU LISTENING TO!!!! Thank God she still has the right to speak, when her right is gone so is yours.

I LOVE this photo - because it shows Palin literally leaning on the flag in a glamour pose, in the course of cynical self-promotion. It is the perfect display of her fake, kitschy and toxic blend of narcissism and sentimental patriotism. This picture is a perfect rebuttal to every movement conservative who has claimed the American liberals are not patriotic.

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