Friday, October 15, 2004

How to look "Presidential"

In comments to this post, Lynn Sislo expresses frustration that her recent post on the "Presidential look" came and went with nary a bit of notice. So I checked the post out, and I have to plead "mea culpa", since I didn't notice the post either. I mean, I literally did not notice this post. And Lynn's blog, Reflections in D-minor, is not just one of my daily reads but one of my "check several times each day" blogs. Hmmmm.

Anyhow, in Lynn's post she ruminates a bit on what it means to "look Presidential", in the sense of that weird formulation of "Do you want this guy in your living room for the next four years?" I confess, I've always found this slightly odd, as if the President of the United States is something like that blond doofus who was OJ Simpson's permanent houseguest. I suppose that the "Presidential look" implies something of gravitas, some manner of seriousness or of import. But even then, it's hard to decide what is "Presidential" and what is not.

Of course, the "Presidential look" has become far more important in the TV age than it used to be. Just imagine, if you will, the electoral bloodbath that would result if either the present-day Democrats or Republicans nominated a guy who looked like this. That guy would never even get out of the Iowa caucuses today. We seem to have dueling instincts when it comes to our Presidents: on the one hand, we seem to want a guy who looks and acts with consummate dignity, where on the other hand we want a guy who "we'd like in our living room". But quite frankly, as I look over the portraits of our Presidents, there are damned few of them that I'd want to hang out with in my living room. Clinton, sure. Reagan, probably. Carter, Ford, JFK, Eisenhower, Truman. I wouldn't want either Bush in my living room. And Nixon? Fuhgeddaboudit.

(In fact, The Simpsons did a hilarious episode about this "President as neighbor" stuff, in which former President Bush -- Bush the Elder -- moves in next door to the Simpsons, and then moves away after a feud with Homer. The episode's punchline comes when Gerald Ford moves in to the now-vacant house and invites Homer over for "beer and nachos". And the two men trip and fall, shouting "D'oh!" in unison.)

And besides, we get used to our Presidents, don't we? I'm used to seeing Bush in his shirtsleeves -- so much so, in fact, that I almost think his suits look "off the rack" from JC Penney -- and I suspect that if he wins, I'll get used to John Kerry's abnormally long teeth. Of course, we don't get used to everything, and it's probably a good thing that some adviser or some such wise soul told Bill Clinton to ditch the too-short running shorts. One reason I resisted watching The West Wing when it first began, in 1999, was that I didn't think I could buy Martin Sheen as a President. Luckily, I got over that fairly shortly.

In fact, there's something: what about fictional Presidents? Which TV or movie Presidents are the most "Presidential"? I think that Michael Douglas's Andrew Shepherd in The American President is very Presidential; ditto Martin Sheen and Dennis Haysbert in 24. Morgan Freeman was a terrific President in Deep Impace; Bill Pullman in Independence Day, though, looked too small. Harrison Ford also looked too small to me as a President in Air Force One. By "small", I mean, lacking that sense of seriousness. But then, part of that could, in each case, be blamed on the movie as opposed to the actor.

Lynn also wonders if the American president should look "American". Well, I don't know what that means. I look American, don't I? But I'm reasonably certain I don't look "Presidential". Heck, I dunno. But it bugs me a bit that the Presidency has become less about policy and more about "looking the part".

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