The revelation that another Family Values legislator has been a serial adulterer is sure to bring out the best in all of us: gleeful smugness about the hypocrisy of the Right and hypocritical replies that the media are trafficking in human pain. Well, the media are trafficking in human pain, but whose? Not Senator David Vitter’s (R-La.) pain–or, if they are, he had it coming. But what about his wife? Well, she may have asked for public humiliation as well, given past comments reported at Wikipedia, but as a politician’s spouse she is easily set up, then and now. My question is, what are the images of the Senator and his wife showing us about her role as a political wife? I saw three images in succession: one in the NYT, another in the Chicago Tribune, and the first AP image that surfaced with a Google search. Together they neatly set out three distinct roles:
First, the one we know so well, the cipher:
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Loyal, but not happy about it, but trying not to show it, and succeeding well enough but also indicating inadvertently that there really is a person in there, someone who can be bored (much of the time) or even hurt (although that is under wraps today). Diana had made this role into an art form.
Then, the 90’s figure, the victim:
(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
This image from the Trib shows the pain, the humiliation, the terrible cost she has had to pay for signing on with this guy. This is the image I first saw, and it had me feeling for her.
But then I read the Times story, which reported that both the Senator and Wendy lashed out at the media. And sure enough, there’s another photo that fits with that attitude:
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
So we have a third role, the ally. And my sympathy went south.
A spouse can be all three at once, of course, but the different images lead us down different paths, emotionally and politically.
Update: For another posting on the first image, go to David Vitter trots out wife to cover for him at Pandagon; on the second image, go to The Pained Political Wife at Cheat-Seeking Missiles.
Is it possible that she is just blinking in the second picture? Do papers and/or photo services have policies about not running pictures of people blinking, or other misleading pictures?
It is possible, and there is at least one other photo taken just around the time of this one, and it doesn’t look as bad in part because her eyes are open. Thus, if you look only at the eyes, it is plausible that the image is misleading, that we are seeing only a blink, but if you look at the rest of the face it seems more likely that difficult emotions are being suppressed. In any case, the Trib chose this one from the set, probably because of what they thought it signified. They may have been selecting not so much to be true to the moment but rather to depict a role that they thought was the truth of the matter.
I wrote the post on the second picture thinking that it did catch Wendy Vitter at an instant where she did not look the same as she did in the other photos taken by the AP photographer. I didn’t get into the ethics of using such a photo, although I think it is unethical. What triggered the post was that this unnatural photo may well have been truly the most natural of all, capturing by accident the feelings she really felt, but was hiding.
[…] performances of political theater. This photo is one of many that we can classify as portraits of the political wife. I saw the image for the first time yesterday afternoon and it stayed with me through the rest of […]