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Mar 03, 2010

Probing the Body Politic

John started a discussion at BagnewsNotes yesterday about how images of hands can be used to signify political traits. Think of the clenched fist of resolve or the democratic wave of the hand. The images of Obama and Clinton are just a tiny part of the archive, however. John and I have begun collecting images of both hands and feet/shoes/boots, which, it turns out, appear in the news media every day. Why, we don’t know, but we’d like to know, which is one reason we’ll be posting examples here from time to time. One indication that these images are means of persuasion is that they are used by savvy designers. Note, for example, this poster for Michael Moore’s new movie:


It’s a visual joke, of course, and one that depends on the audience both recognizing the gloved hand as part of a specific medical practice (getting a vaginal or rectal exam) and understanding that Moore is going to perform the equivalent examination of his subject, the medical insurance complex. And if he does it with the sensitivity we have come to expect of an HMO, they have little basis for complaint. The idea that he’s going to do to them what they do to us depends on the metaphor of the body politic, which is carried by the metonym of the hand. When you think of it, the relationship between the heavy-handed insurance industry and the people is neatly captured by the visible hand and the invisible body it implies.


Probing the Body Politic


7 Responses

  1. caraf says

    I blogged a little bit last year about images of FDR’s hands:
    http://caraf.blogs.com/caraf/2006/06/over_the_weeken.html and offered this quotation from art historian David Lubin: “To the extent that a portrait is a testament to individuality, it succeeds best when showing how its protagonist is unique. It does this by following the peculiar twists and turns of character and appearance, delineating that which distinguishes the protagonist from that which does not.”

    Maybe, then, following Lubin, images of hands are physiognomic markers of sorts, indexes of individual character? This works even with Moore, I think. Clearly, they are selling the movie as *his* movie. It’s not just that it’s an image of hands, but that it’s Michael Moore’s hands, and we know how much he likes to stick it to the man. The hands fit the character.

  2. Erik J says

    Interestingly, this is not the first time Moore’s hands have been on display; the cover of his Downsize This! featured one of his hands tipping the bill of the hat. Like you mention, I have no idea what this means, but it’s there, nonetheless. Moore actually had a running joke about that cover saying that when the publisher showed him the image, the first thing he noticed was that his cuticles and fingernails had been photoshopped. Moore’s joke is that he didn’t know why the designer couldn’t have trimmed some of the baggage off of his face “while you were in there.” I think he tells this story in an episode of The Awful Truth. Although I’m sure there was some photoshopping done throughout the image, it is maybe worth wondering why that particular focus on making the hands look just right.

  3. dhawhee says

    oooh, hands. I have a lot to say about hands as a couple of the most important rhetorical body parts. Even devoted a whole class to hands in my bodies seminar, more in my gestures course. I’m pretty sure they sealed their visual importance during the Renaissance, and even earlier with all the mystical palm business. Cool stuff, this!

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