Is the Washington Post smoking pot again?
IN THE COMMENTS: Simon asks, astutely:
"What would you say is the difference between visual aesthetics - which you often remind us are at [least] fair game, and even important - and aural aesthetics, which is what this piece is about? That is: what's the difference between Monica Hesse's piece and anything by Robin Givhan? Why is discussing the psychology of what they wore different to the psychology of associations evoked by a name?"First of all, I do want to support the discussion of aesthetics in politics. The key is to do it well. Actually, I think Monica Hesse is doing it reasonably well, using broad -- and a bit potheaded -- humor. I've never noticed her before, but I always notice Robin Givhan. Maybe Hesse is taking a cue from Givhan on what it takes to get noticed in our word-cluttered world. Good! She got a Drudge link out of this one. Last night I dreamed I got a Drudge link! I mean... A Drudge link! A Drudge link! Think what it means...
Every day, journalists and media executives in newsrooms across the land hope they'll have something that catches Drudge's fancy — or, as he has put it, "raises my whiskers." Most keep their fingers crossed that he'll discover their articles on his own and link to them. Others are more proactive, sending anonymous e-mails or placing calls to him or his behind-the-scenes assistant.I've had links that send me thousands, even tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands?! The mind reels....
Drudge's following is so large and loyal that he routinely can drive hundreds of thousands of readers to a single story, photo or video through a link on his lively compendium of the news.
Now, back to Monica Hesse. She wrote about the sound of names, and Robin Givhan got all that attention over writing about cleavage. It was mostly criticism, but attracting criticism can be a game worth playing. (Where's my sandwich?)
But the important thing is to do some good analysis! When it comes to politics and aesthetics, I want to stress the distinction between the subjective and the objective. The effect of the word "Fred" on a particular columnist is only significant if it tells us something about how it will affect people in general. What is the psychological effect of a particular name? Most politicians fly under the radar by being named Bill. But even "Bill" has the effect of no effect. Our minds are open to subliminal influence. Look at what care we take naming our babies. We want to give them the advantage of name that has a good subliminal effect on those who hear it. It's worth thinking about how various aesthetic aspects of a candidate -- including his name -- will affect the voters. Actually, talking about these subjective effects can help us make it conscious and therefore overcome the things that shouldn't factor into our decisions.
But there is an objective side to this. What is the candidate doing? Fred Thompson didn't name himself, but Hillary Clinton chose to wear that low-cut top. We should notice when politicians are trying to manipulate us, both so we can overcome the manipulation and because it tells us something about the person doing it. Not everything is intentional. I certainly assume Hillary knew exactly where her breasts were in that top. (The alternative explanation, which I reject, is that she -- and her assistants -- are incompetent.) But Fred has probably been called Fred for decades and has no real way out of being called Fred. It's just his name. It's nothing he's doing, just something that might affect us.
Now, Hillary's decisions about dropping "Rodham" into the cleavage between Hillary and Clinton -- that means something.
AND: Here's some good commentary by Jill Colvin:
The fact that appearance is a relevant factor in any political campaign is a long-proven fact...UPDATE: And don't miss the diavlog with me and Robin Givhan over on Bloggingheads.
According to [research by Dianne Bystrom, the director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University], both male and female candidates must work very carefully to balance stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. Candidates, she says, must be seen as strong, yet compassionate, forceful, yet friendly.... [W]inning women candidates are typically those who are best able to balance stereotypically masculine and feminine images and issues, posing with children as well as in formal suits, and discussing both healthcare and defense. Those who are seen as too feminine tend to lose races, while those who are seen as “too hard” work frantically to soften their images....
Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the whole cleavage controversy is that no one has yet criticized Clinton for dressing inappropriately... Instead, everyone except for Hillary’s campaign seems strangely pleased with the development. Even the latest Rasmussen poll shows that Hillary has been steadily gaining support in the last two weeks, and now leads Obama 43 percent to 22 percent.