Monday, May 26, 2008

McCain's Memorial Day Political Iconography

Today is Memorial Day in the US. Doubtful there was any "coverage" by our local media here. But given the recent importance we've been placing on visual analysis, iconic studies, and semiotics I thought this image, featured today on the mainpage of John McCain's campaign website, might be interesting to toss around.

I've recently been re-reading Robert Hariman's and John Louis Lucaites' exceptional book, No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture and Liberal Democracy.

Chapter 4, "Performing Civic Identity," specifically explores the iconic image of the flag raising at Iwo Jima.

Hariman and Lucaites argue that the flag raising image creates three simultaneous civic narratives based on three deeply embedded ideological traditions within America's political and cultural history. I'm pulling this from memory so please correct me if I don't get it exactly right.
1. civic republicanism
2. egalitarianism
3. nationalism

From the photo above, its obvious that the man holding the flag is none other than John McCain. Given that John McCain's campaign has embraced militaristic and nationalistic themes for his campaign an image like this is not unique for McCain on its first read.

However, I couldn't help seeing this image in relation to the iconic Iwo Jima photo. There's McCain, standing atop a barren hilltop amongst an eerily similar barren landscape like that depicted in the Iwo Jima.

What do you think? Is McCain relying on the cultural memory of the Iwo Jima image here?
If so, does the image meet any of the three qualities listed above? For Hariman and Lucaites the Iwo Jima worked and continues to work because it simultaneously embodies all three of those traits which can be read by different and competing identities within the body politic. For me, any expression of egalitarianism or popular liberal democracy is removed from the context in the McCain photo. Its even difficult to read a civic republican virtue into the visual narrative. I'm left with a libertarian ultra-individualistic patriotism as the sole narrative. Perhaps the creators thought a lone McCain would strengthen the "maverick" meme. I don't know, I think this image fails terribly in comparison to the original, if that is what it was based upon.

What do you think?