Friday, October 24, 2008

The Gestural Language of John McCain

Journalists, loathe to investigate, scrutinize, analyze, or report on matters of substance, often obsess on things like "body language". The kicker is that, even when they still don't do anything substantive. There really is something to be seen in body language, especially that of John McCain. Reporters still ignore it. (Hear them speak of many politicians as friends, and we may have the explanation.)

I believe that McCain, like Nixon before him, is fighting an inclination to withdraw, or a tension between that inclination and the need to prove himself. After all, his father and grandfather were, in the American context, great successes — both admirals.

Struggling with this tension, McCain exhibits a strained effusiveness through which the real, closed McCain unavoidably emerges. He keeps his arms out like a wrestler (and he was a wrestler in high school). He's a small man, physically, so this is partly a 'puffer-fish' display — a way to make himself seem marginally larger. But it is also suggestive of a person who feels trapped and is trying to push his arms out against the box trapping him.



Other gestures are quite familiar to anyone who sees a few of his appearances — the thumbs up, the tight-fingers-together flat-handed gesture. Late comedian Chris Farley used this second gesture a lot. Not sure what it's about. Very emphatic, directive, directorial. "Look! Don't you see?! Isn't it obvious?"

These are all indicative of a severely repressed personality. This is also indicated by his early military record, from his time in the Naval Academy. He was something of a loose cannon, given to drink, etc. This a man who was struggling against a family history of control. Who knows, maybe he got shot down and chose to stay in the 'Hanoi Hilton' as part of a buried desire for death. ("buried desire for death" I make joke)

He must also feel some ambivalence over his "war hero" status. After all, what's his claim to fame? Getting shot down?! That makes you a hero? Landing in prison? And when did he get shot down? When he was bombing civilians! Operation Rolling Thunder. A war crime. So his big moment before the cameras was for something almost entirely out of his control. And he was a famous prisoner because of . . . his father and grandfather!

(That none can raise or challenge this in the pop media tells us again just how cowed the 'fourth estate' really is.)

This also puts the Palin choice is a very different light. McCain really did choose his opposite number. He chose someone who seems genuinely at ease with being out there, on display (Palin was third in the 1984 Miss Alaska 'beauty pageant'). She makes a mistake, a big one, and she justs smiles on. Similarly, McCain's first wife modeled for a time. Cindy McCain was a cheerleader (a role she continues to this day).

I almost feel sorry for the sap.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Someone recently compared the McCain-Palin campaign to a reality TV show where contestants are reduced to eating rats in order to survive. McCain doesn't really want to eat the rats, he finds the whole thing rather distasteful. Palin is more than happy to eat rats -- she's just waiting for McCain to get voted off the island.

(This was on the Rachel Maddow show, which I've decided is the only news show worth watching now.)