John has written about Lil’ Bush, referring to how the president is being photographed to emphasize a diminished stature; whether the reduction in size reflects his slide in the polls, a corresponding loss of political effectiveness, or continued moral decline may be in the eye of the beholder. John and I have each written on photographs that feature hands or feet while cutting faces or the rest of the body out of the picture. And last week I wrote about a striking illustration by Barry Blitt for the Sunday New York Times. Given these interests, imagine my reaction when I saw Blitt’s illustration in this Sunday’s Times:
There he is, a real little Bush, surrounded by the many different shoes one can see in any New York City street scene. The illustration is a stand-alone piece, moreover, as it has only a very general relationship with the Frank Rich essay for which it is a visual caption. Rich presumes Bush’s loss of credibility and focuses on the administration’s strange PR strategy of hiding behind General David Petraeus. None of this is marked in the drawing.
So what is going on? Certainly the drawing does a fine job of cutting the president down to size. (To really get the point, look at the silhouette.) The contrast with the many feet brings in more as well: Bush and the other figures represent two versions of the body politic. Bush provides the standard image of the elected official speaking to the public. In that model, the official stands in for the office that represents the body of the people. He is a single person and they are a single, unified collectivity, as if a single audience within earshot of the speaker. Obviously, Lil’ Bush isn’t up to that job. And perhaps he shouldn’t want it anyway. Instead of the president’s stock gestures (note the prominent hands), canned speech, and failed policies, we see a variety of anonymous people representing different lifestyles, going about their business briskly in different directions, without getting in each other’s way. This is a different idea of the people–a plurality that need not be One, pluribus without the unum–because they already are members (note the pun) of a liberal, pluralistic civil society.
But liberal visions need not be innocent of violence. I think the image also evokes the fantasy that one of those busy feet on the crowded street might just step on Lil’ Bush and squash him flat. You can’t blame people for thinking–or drawing–that way, but this is one example of how even the reality-based community, feet solidly on the ground, needs to be reminded that there are no simple solutions.
llustration by Barry Blitt for the New York Times, The Week in Review, July 29, 2007.