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This is Not a Filibuster

Not a Filibuster. 2013-09-29 at 8.31.03 PM

According to the caption for this photograph we are looking at journalists and Senate staffers sleeping in a media area at the Capitol as Senator Ted Cruz delivers a 21-hour speech in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.  This was not actually a filibuster because, well, it didn’t actually keep the Senate from doing anything, as is the purpose of a filibuster; rather it was something of an illusory preview of what will no doubt be the Senator’s campaign for President in 2016.  No, this is not a photograph of a filibuster, but it  might be an interesting allegory of the contemporary, national legislative process.

The room is almost perfectly symmetrical; divided, as it were, between left and right.  The couches, which dominate the foreground of the image are turned with their backs to one another, as if to suggest that those who might sit on them have nothing to say to one another.  Indeed, as the photograph illustrates, they are configured more for sleeping than interacting.  The desk in the back left appears to be used more for storage—or perhaps eating a quick snack—than anything like work, and the pamphlet rack on the right is completely empty, as if to suggest that there is really no information to put on display—or even to consider.  The telephone booths on the far right are surely little more than an anachronism of an earlier time, perhaps even one where partisans of competing political parties actually worked with one another, at least from time to time.

The only real action in the photograph seems to be coming from the blinking television monitors mounted on the wall, one on the right and the other on the left, which frame a doorway that looks to another doorway past it, and perhaps to another beyond that and so on.  The linear perspective of cascading doorways is somewhat dizzying, almost as if to discourage the viewer from looking too closely through to the very end for fear of the abyss they might ultimately encounter.  And so while the doorway remains something of a discomforting, mysterious illusion, the eye is drawn back to the monitors which come very close to mirroring one another, perhaps suggesting something of a stabilizing effect to the whole scene; or if not that, then perhaps providing the illusory comfort that the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave provided to those who were shackled in place and encouraged to believe that they marked reality.

In short, what we might be looking at is a portrait of an outdated and an impoverished legislative infrastructure—made only for the screen—where the only thing we can be sure of is that we are being tempted by one illusion after another.

Photo Credit:  Jay Mallin/Zuma Press