Sunday, September 26, 2004

The archetypal girlie-man?

As if Kerry doesn't have enough troubles! Now comes the question: is Teresa Heinz Kerry the wrong icon, in the wrong campaign, at the wrong time? Is she contributing to a perception that her husband is less than macho? Naomi Wolf seems to think so. She says that Heinz Kerry is "emasculating" her husband in the campaign. This is accomplished by the particular way in which she shines the spotlight on herself, keeps her late husband's name, and projects an image that contrasts sharply with archetypally-appealing "Bush women."

Oh, where to begin? One might accept that archetypes are central, powerful elements of culture, but they haven't totally crowded out rational debate. How about a call for evidence: has Wolf surveyed American women, and examined their responses to the icons suggested by the campaign? How about a look at facts portrayed in the article: is Kerry relegated to the inner reaches of newspapers because he's archetypally emasculated, or because he has taken so long to develop a coherent message, and stopped talking to reporters for several weeks?

For me, the mystery of the duo's iconography is how a firecracker like Heinz Kerry ended up with the solemn, staid-appearing Kerry (who, at rallies, sometimes looks more like he is announcing his retirement, raher than campaigning for president). But this, to me, is fluff. The campaign's problems seem to go much deeper than gender imagery. I have at times wondered which side Heinz Kerry is on; Medpundit cited this article, describing Heinz Kerry asking her husband, in front of a reporter, if he should have therapy for "Vietnam nightmares". (Is that supposed to be an emasculating message too? It is a naive and potentially damaging message for a host of reasons, however well intentioned.) Ironically, in the same article, she is quoted as saying that politics is driven by the "immediacy of pictures." As for the spotlight, it gravitates towards Heinz Kerry, with her energy and fire. It's hard to know what she can do about that, other than excusing herself from the campaign. I'm pessimistic about archetypal engineering, and I think that attempts to manipulate one's image can backfire badly.

I think that Kerry has other archetypal challenges. Have you seen the comment to one of my posts, that calls Kerry "Lurch?" Wasn't "Lurch" the butler for the Addams family? How's that for an archetype?

(addendum: thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link to Wolf's article.)


Blogger Professor Batty said...

...Abraham Lincoln makes Kerry look like Benny Hill - When the chief issue between candidates is "likeability" (Tim Russert - NBC News) we deserve the presidentcy we get...

3:43 PM  
Blogger Ontario Emperor said...

First Ladies and First Lady candidates have been controversial for years. Remember when Betty Ford was considered say nothing of Hilary Rodham Clinton.

I haven't been following Heinz Kerry herself in this campaign, so I can't make any comments about her. On presidential families, I will only say that the Bush twins do NOT have a future in Hollywood - their delivery was terrible.

11:50 PM  
Blogger shrinkette said...

Our images are coming through so many filters now, and there are so few unscripted moments, that when anyone lets their guard down, the analysts pounce. I don't want to toss out the baby with the bathwater in Wolf's criticism, but it seems like there is a very tiny baby, and large volumes of bathwater in these arguments.

9:35 AM  

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