August 12, 2007

"Say it out loud. Do it. Fred. Fred. In the South, Fray-ud. Fur-red-duh."

"It has the tonal quality of something being dropped on the floor, something heavy and damp-ish. Waterlogged paper towel. Fred."

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.

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.
I've had links that send me thousands, even tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands?! The mind reels....

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...

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.
UPDATE: And don't miss the diavlog with me and Robin Givhan over on Bloggingheads.

31 comments:

Jeff said...

As opposed to the lilting, trips-lightly-off-your-tongue name "Barack". Or the ray of sunshine that is "Hillary".

Christy said...

Yay-up.

Simon said...

Ann,
What would you say is the difference between visual aesthetics - which you often remind us are at lesat 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?

Galvanized said...

I guess that if onomasticians say that a child's given name can affect his life in many ways, then I guess the President's first name is also important in how people perceive him.

It's (Fred) the quintessential American name," he says. "It might be dated, but the time we date it back to, the 1950s, was a very bucolic one. Middle-class success, a rising standard of living. Working hard was all you needed to succeed...We once had Freds. We want them back.

And Americans we do want back our middle-class success so his name just might help him.

And I remember that we've talked about first names here before and found it interesting.

George said...

Guy from America goes to Asia. Meets an Asian guy, says, "What kind of '-ese' are you—Chinese, Japanese, or Burmese?"

Asian guy replies, "I dunno. What kind of '-key' are you—donkey, monkey, or Yankee?"

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

"On Urbandictionary.com, a "Fred" is defined as "a person who does stupid, annoying, or idiotic things" (Fred Flintstone, Fred Mertz). The best-case descriptors a Fred can hope for are terms like well-intentioned, predictable, benign (Fred Rogers)"

What's their definition of a "Monica"? Or are they not allowed to print that in a family paper?

Zeb Quinn said...

Me, I put this in the category of more of the MSM doing their little part to undermine Fred Thompson. Trophy wife, previous lobbying activity, actor, now his name. They're scared to death of him getting in.

The Exalted said...

if you could explain the intersection of feminism and attention to a female politician's show of cleavage (or, to the sane observer, lack of show of cleavage)..

Paddy O. said...

Ronald. What a clown.

Arnold. Kind of a nerdy name.

Just takes one extraordinary person to change the whole tone of a name.

bwebster said...

Surely, given this piece of journalistic insight, the Post must even now be preparing similar articles of equal length on the first names of all the other candidates. I can hardly wait to hear what they have to say about "Tommy", "Rudy", "Obama", and, of course, "John".

On the other hand, ever so slightly in Hesse's defense, I will admit that when I moved to Houston back in 1979, I thought that the woman next door was calling her young son by his initials, "J. F." It was only after a month or so that I realized that she was actually saying his first name ("Jeff"). ..bruce..

Revenant said...

Who, exactly, uses the term "Fred" to refer to stupid people? The same people who say emoticons out loud?

blake said...

I ell-oh-ell you, Rev.

If memory serves, there was a fellow back a few years who started a club for Freds (Club Fred) in an attempt to salvage the name from cultural obscurity and lampooning (and to make a few bucks, probably primarily to make a few bucks).

You could buy all sorts of Fred boosterism items from him, including a bumper sticker that read "Better Fred Than Dead".

Palladian said...

If you were marketing a bottled tap water to New York hipsters parched from a hangover, what would you call it?

Why, Fredof course.

Mindsteps said...

Personally, I like the point made by Simon. I also did not necessarily find the Washington Post analysis particularly illuminating, although not because Hillary may have had more 'control' over the presentation of her cleavage relative to the control Fred has over his name. Fair or not, the media exploits all sorts of personal characteristics for a whole host of reasons. Moreover, There are all kinds of ways to massage a name....and those in the entertainment business routinely change their names. I just don't think the author of the Wa Po article selected a particurly potent element in this case (e.g. I think Dennis Kucinich's name has more negative associative power than Fred's and Rush Limbaugh has leveraged Obama's name against him and the dems quite effectively).

On a related matter, I do think we could perform Ann a service if we provide some suggestions that might bring her blog to the attention of Drudge. While I have enormous confidence that Ann will eventually coax a link out of Drudge, maybe we could quicken the process. The egg salad vlog did not work.......however, I think Ann is on the right track using evocative material and people, such as....cleavage, Hillary Rodham Clinton....now where is the tipping point? Any suggestions for Ann?

Meade said...

"Any suggestions for Ann?"

Mindsteps,
Here's a few just to get things started - trite, you might say - but then again, time-tested:

A gal "pal"
A dress
A president
A DNA sample

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Well, looky here.

Balfegor said...

I think the biggest name-handicap any of the candidates faces is probably Huckabee. He might have a titchy bit of momentum coming out of the straw poll, but it will come to nothing at all, because a man named "Huckabee" is about as credible a candidate as a man named Schicklgruber or Dzhugashvili. There's a reason people change their names to things like Hitler or Stalin when they go into politics.

Bill Peschel said...

Anyone can play the name game:

A rock god named Bruce?

A macho A-list actor named Bruce?

C'mon, pull the other one.

BlogDog said...

Blake's comment forces me to say that I've already made bumper stickers that identify myself as a "Fred State Voter."
God bless cafepress.com for such things!

D said...

To the previous Bruce, Arnold, and Ronald I'll add Sylvester.

The only name in this story that doesn't have baggage is Mitt.

Balfegor said...

The only name in this story that doesn't have baggage is Mitt.

But his real name is Willard!

F said...

I find this entire thread totally out of order. Fred

Dave said...

I look forward to the Post's exposition of John Edwards' chances given the connotations of his name:

John (n.) customer of a prostitut;

John (n.) colloquial for toilet.

peter hoh said...

As a 4th grade teacher, I dealt with many instances of children teasing each other. One of the rules I put forth was that it was no fair to tease someone about something over which they had no control. For instance, their name, the color of their skin or hair, their dominant hand, their family members, etc.

As a counter example, I made it clear that if someone was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, it would be perfectly fair to tease him or her about that.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
peter hoh said...

Theo, doesn't the full faith and credit clause make that standard policy across all 50 states?

reader_iam said...

But his real name is Willard!

And "Mitt" rhymes with "twit."

reader_iam said...

Peter Hoh: In some families (not my own nuclear one, TBTG), fanaticism about a particular sports team (for example, the Yankees) IS a family characteristic. In that situation, my impression is that there's not much choice about it!

(I, myself, am a Red Sox fan, unlike anyone else in my family--immediate or extended, an entirely different situation.)

Roger said...

Come on folks--its the dog days of august--the dreaded news gap for the MSM--congress on vacation, the pres on vacation--they are in the MSU mode. This fred story reminds a bit of the panegyric to John Anderson about 30 years ago by some equally adlepated twit at the WAPO base on the name "Anderson."
Expect more of the same until congress gets back in session.

ricpic said...

Actually, I like the name Huckabee. Sue me.