Duel of the embattled visages

You know how news websites usually have a most-read stories box.  Sometimes, the Christian Science Monitor inexplicably has an old report at the number one spot.  Earlier this week, a January story critically probing Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital was on top.  The lead photo struck me as over the top in conveying the anti-business tone of the article.

Christian Science Monitor

From the side, a harsh light defines the subject’s face.  Squinty-eyed, she stares off into the distance, as if in the midst of a hardscrabble existence.  We know she’s not happy.  Maybe you can imagine the photographer coaching her, “No, not quite.  Try to look a little more . . . off-put.  Turn your head just a little more to the left.  That’s it.”

The photo surely recalls an iconic image from one of the more trying times of last century.

Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange, 1936. Wikimedia.

I wouldn’t try to question the artistic merit of Lange’s photography.  But given today’s sensibilities, to stumble upon such a spitting facsimile of her work’s form and style ought to puzzle if not disturb us.  In Lange’s time, America was reaching, in ways more benign than in other parts of the world, its own totalitarian zenith.  Government drafted artists en masse to produce, well, propaganda.  And surely, that’s what Lange’s work is: biased, and with a story to tell.  This is not bad in itself, but in our jaded, post-Vietnam, post-Iraq culture, there’s a double standard at work.

It’s routine and accepted for journalists to play up poverty as grinding.  But they can’t allow themselves to show private sector success as uplifting.  Not alarmist enough, or in tow with liberal media execs’ worldview.  When we hear or read “Bain Capital,” we expect to see grizzled profiles rather than glowing families.  Such a sustained slant is pernicious to our way of thinking, and in turn to the way we live.  At least there are those who would straighten the record.

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