"Zoom in! Zoom in! Zoom in and his career is over!"
XWL, writing of a recent Hillary Clinton photo:
Right here, that's it, this is the most significant photo taken in the year 2007. Think it will win a Pullitzer? Whichever photog snapped this photo effectively ended Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
There's no recovering from that, image isn't everything, but it counts for a lot, and her image in that photo isn't the image most Americans would want us to project as a nation. You don't have to be wrinkle free to be president, but you can't look haggard and bedraggled, either.
Which reminds me of a passage from a Neal Stephenson book. Actually two, but this is my favorite. From the political thriller Interface (Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George), a conversation in the offices of a media consultant firm:
Ogle abruptly stuck his head into the doorway and said, "You want to see a hell of a thing?"
"What is it?" Aaron said.
"The first female president of the United States, Ogle said.
"I didn't realize they had held an election."
"Mark my words. I will lay money on it, Ogle said. "C'mon."
..."I just caught this off CNN," Ogle said, waggling a thick, three-quarter-inch video cassette in the air, "and I thought y'all might like to see it."
[skipping a couple pages discussing the aesthestics of the video shot]
Earl Strong was standing on a platform. The camera shooting this footage was down below him, aimed upward so that, as backdrop, Earl Strong had mostly the ceiling of the mall. But part of the ceiling consisted of skylights, and where it didn't have skylights, it had brilliant mercury-vapor lamps. The skylights made great patches of glare and the lamps made long wavy streaks across Earl Strong's face.
"Jesus. Television cameras should be outlawed in the Sun Belt," Morris said. "Film only. How many times do I have to say it?"
Everyone in the room was laughing at Morris. But Morris had eye only for the TV set. "Whoa! Whoa! Hold up here! We have some real-life campaign drama!"
Everyone was suddenly totally silent, crowding in closer to the screen.
The camera was now aimed at a black woman who was apparently standing down below Earl Strong. She was slender, with high cheekbones, and at first glance she looked as if she might be in he rlate twenties. But on second thought, early forties was more like it. For a woman in her early forties she was a knockout. Not in an overtly sexy way. She had a nice face, with big eyes. She was wearing an overcoat that was too big, but its bulk contrasted well with her relatively sharp and slender build, with its navy-blue color suited her skin tones. Her backdrop was a wall of earl Strong supporters wearing colorful T-shirts, all of whom were hastily backing away from her; she stood in the center of an arena of fat, vivid Aryans, all facing inward, emphasizing her importance. As she spoke, she inclined her face up into the even, omnidirectional light streaming down from above; the same light that cast Earl Strong into shadow served as perfect illumination for her.
"The choreography blows my mind," Ogle said.
"I love her," Tricia Gordon said."
"She's telling the truth," Schram said. "Whatever she's saying, I believe her."
"The drama of this thing is unreal," Myron Morris said. "One woman standing alone, all these trailer-park Nazis shrinking away like rats."
Cut back to Earl Strong, now looking straight down at her so that his face was completely obscured by a sinister shadow.
Myron Morris suddenly went nuts! He fell out of his chair, dropping to his knees below the television set, and clasped his hands together as if in prayer.
"Zoom in! Zoom in! Zoom in and his career is over!" he screamed.
The camera began to zoom. Earl Strong's face grew to fill the screen, grew into a devastating extreme closeup.
"Yes! Yes! Yesss!" Morris was screaming. "Slit the bastard's throat!"
Once the backlighting had been removed by zooming in tight, the camera's electronics were able to pick up every muance of Earl Strong's face in clinical detail. A storm front of perspiration had burst through the pwder and pancake on his forehead; individual drops of it began to run down. One of them made a beeline for the corner of his eye and that eye began to blink spastically. Earl Strong's mouth was half open and his tongue had come forward, sticking half out of his as he tried to think of what to do next. A huge Caucasian blur burst up through the bottom of the frame: his hand, brushing the sweat away from his stricken eyeball, stopping on the way down to shove a thumb into a nostril and pick out something that had been troubling him there.
Morris suddenly jumped to his feet and thrust an accusing finger directly into Earl Strong's face on the screen. "Yes! You are dead! You are dead! You are dead! You are dead and buried, you inbred booger-picking little shit! We gotta find the cameraman who did that and give him a medal."
"And a decent job," Ogle said.
Back to the black woman, still standing there. Her face was alert, her jaw set, her eyes burning, but she remained solid and still, a perfect subject for the camera. The camera zoomed in a little closer but still found no imperfections. There were a few wrinkles around the eyes. It just made her look even wiser than she already did, standing next to Earl Strong.
"Ronald Reagan eat your fucking heart out," Shane Schram said.
"There's something about her face too," Ogle said.
"She's been through some heavy shit, you can tell. An American Pietà," Tricia Gordon said.
"Let's go down there and represent her," Shane Schram said.
"What's she running for?" Morris said.
"Nothing. She's a bag lady, Ogle said.
"A look of ecstatic fulfillment came over Morris's face.
"No!" he said.
"Yes," Ogle said.
"It can't be. It's too perfect," Morris said. "It is just took fucking ideal."
"She's a bag lady, and according to our polls, she knocked twenty-five points off of Earl Strong's standings today."
Morris threw up his hands. "I quit," he said. "There's no need for me. Real life is too good."
"We have to run her for something," Tricia Gordon said, staring fixedly at the TV screen.
"Excuse me," Aaron said, "but aren't you all forgetting something?"
"What's that?" Ogle said. They were all staring at him, suddenly quiet.
"We haven't heard a word the woman's said," Aaron said. "I mean, she could be a raving lunatic."
They all burst into dismissive scoffing noises. "Screw that," Shane Schram said. "Look at her face. She's solid."
"Fuck that shit," Morris said. "That's what writers are for."