Saturday, October 3, 2009

Post 2: Polioptics

I absolutely loved Joshua King's presentation in class on Polioptics. He brought up a point that is commonly overlooked (at least by me) when it comes to the political imagery that the media presents: everything is planned. Even spontaneous photographs of the president playing with First Dog, Bo, and the family trips are all carefully orchestrated in order to present the First Family in the best possible light.

I always knew that there are people at the White House who are responsible specifically for organizing how and where the President is photographed, but I never imagined the full extent to which all of this planning occurred. Seeing all of King's diagrams and plans made it all very real to me; nothing is unplanned.
These cautionary measures taken with presidential photographs are necessary, though. Politicians, especially Barack Obama and the First Family, are under intense scrutiny in images, whether they like it or not. Clothing, for example, seems to be a really "easy target" for critics to fire at when it comes to the politicians. One thing that comes to my mind is the Michelle Obama "shorts" controversy.

So during the Obamas' summer vacation this year, the family decided to go to Yellowstone National Park for a retreat away from the hub of national politics. Of course, cameras followed them everywhere, documenting their trip and allowing the media to report on the exact goings-on of the getaway. What caused major fuss, however, was nothing political, but .... *drum roll please* First Lady Michelle Obama's shorts.

Yes, the media seemed quite surprised to see the First Lady out in public wearing shorts. I was shocked to see how quickly images of Michelle Obama wearing her shorts and t-shirt at Yellowstone were spreading throughout the news and blogosphere. The criticisms I heard seemed so outrageous to me. Were people really that surprised to see a First Lady in the 21st century out in public with shorts?

Although I personally don't mind what the First Lady chooses to wear on her summer vacation, I'm pretty sure she has a personal stylist and publicist who is aware that wearing a tanktop and shorts will spark outrage in the media. Was this photo-op planned? Although after Joshua King's presentation, I got the impression that every time the President and First Family step out in public, pretty much every photograph angle is planned, something tells me that Michelle did not expect all of this media back-lash against her wardrobe choices.

So why was it that the media and public responded harshly to Michelle's clothing? Was it really not expected or proper for a First Lady to wear shorts out in public? No similar incident comes to mind for previous First Families and this leads me to wonder .... is race involved?

After coming across this article online that went beyond citing remarks against Michelle Obama's clothing choices and referencing comments on daughter Malia's unstraightened hair as "unfit to represent America," I had to question whether or not this is merely a clothing etiquette concern or a larger race issue at hand. In my opinion, the comments made against Michelle Obama and her daughtere were inappropriate, unnecessary, and show a widespread narrowmindedness when it comes to how a First Family should look like. If this media coverage of an article of clothing wasn't expected, then the Obamas need to more carefully consider what they wear in public if they want to avoid the same press in the future. However, if Michelle stepped out in shorts intentionally knowing full well the comments she would get, then she is definitely making a bold statement on behalf of her and her family about what a 21st century First Family can look like.

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