One can only wonder what the McCain campaign had in mind when they decided to hold a rally this weekend in Cedarburg, Wisconsin against the backdrop of a confectioner’s shop called “The Chocolate Factory,” but surely the allusion to “Willy Wonka” could not have escaped them. Lest you forget, the world of Willy Wonka is a child’s utopia, a fantasyland where trees and grass are edible, ice cream doesn’t melt, the very finest of chocolate is abundant, and all of the labor is done by the Oompa-Loompa—a dark-haired, bronze-skinned, dwarfish tribe from Loompaland, a small island in the Pacific Ocean—who work for cacao beans. And what child wouldn’t love such a world? The problem for McCain, of course, is that children don’t vote and surely adults are smart enough to know that the promises for a comparable political utopia, say a world in which an accumulated national debt of $9,674,423,286,469.86 (and growing at the rage of $1.93 billion per day) can be managed with extensive tax cuts, is no less a fantasy than Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
But then again, maybe not.
The photograph above is somewhat telling in this regard. The photographer is standing at an oblique angle to the stage from which McCain speaks; the camera is aimed not at McCain, but at the storefront that is behind him and so what we see directly are the faces of customers sitting inside The Chocolate Factory; beyond that we see a reflection of what they see, including McCain’s back and the audience that he sees and addresses. And the difference between the two audiences could not be more pronounced. Those in the front appear to be on the same plane as McCain, neither looking up at him nor down upon him; they are thus positioned visually to judge him as equal citizens. The expressions on their faces are uniformly intense, seemingly unaffected by his appeals if not in fact somewhat skeptical of them. One could imagine them asking hard questions. But of course McCain has his back to this audience and thus doesn’t see them. In the world of fantasy, ignorance is bliss. By contrast, the audience he does see—and indeed, the one he speaks down to—looks up at him with childlike adulation; and note here how the faces that are the most prominent in the reflection of the audience that stands in front of him are those of smiling children. It is hard to imagine them asking pointed questions.
Two audiences, the photograph seems to suggest, both youthful and thus pointed to the future, but one mature and reflective, the other immature and animated by its sweet tooth; one seemingly ignored by the candidate and the other cast as children easily enticed by the fantasy of endless pleasures that exact no palpable costs. And the question the photograph seems to ask is, which audience will the American people choose to be?
Photo Credit: Bryan Snyder/Reuters