Everyday Semiotics

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Spit and image

Once again closing the gate after the horses have come home, today I pause to contemplate the photograph of Eliot Spitzer that was all but ubiquitous, at least in the media sources I regularly consult, the day after after the New York Times broke it's big story March 10:

The original image of course fits the well-established-in-politics "stand by your man" photo op; but in more than one place, including in the Gazette, the image was cropped to leave out Mrs. Spitzer and focus on Eliot's Jim Carey-esque expression.

For comparison, an image of Spitzer on a good day:


Knowing a thing or two about how press photographers shoot, I know that the frown photo must have been culled by the Associated Press from a hundred or more images. A conscious decision was made to circulate this mug.

It hurts to even look at this picture, to imagine oneself moving one's jaw thus. His ears stick out. Spitzer looks like a Muppet. And his eyes, as at least one report noted in type as well as picture, are glassy. He has no doubt been crying, or is about to break down.

This is a picture that would normally be discarded. One reason press photographers take so many pictures is because people often don't photograph well, and it takes several tries to catch them at the right angle, with their eyes open and their mouths not all agog.

What inscribes this image so that it was not left out but instead moved to the top of the pile?

Clearly, this man's shame is palpable in the contortions of his face. It's a story with a bit of smut in it, and so a touch of the disgusting is appropriate. The worse the subject can be made to look, the better.

Perhaps there's something of the freak show here, too; the tradition of grotesquerie.

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