Marketing Pretty People: Bland is the New Hot

Seems not that long ago, I was grinding my teeth in frustration over the excessive attention given to Pelosi’s wardrobe choices, especially given that male politician’s looks and clothing are seldom probed for deeper meaning. I mean, it’s a guy in a suit. What else need be said? It seemed unfair to me that Pelosi came in for extra criticism (and extra praise, from some quarters) on something so utterly tangential to the actual job of setting a policy agenda for the House. Male politicians don’t have to deal with fluff pieces about the deeper meaning of their looks!

Well, be careful what you wish for. Because from the Edwards haircut brouhaha to Giulani’s various past appearances in, shall we say, less than conventionally male attire, male politicians are finally starting to experience a similar flavor of vapid scrutiny regarding their looks. Well, I suppose if we’re going to objectify, we might as well objectify everyone. Not that it feels like progress for reporters to dither over all the candidates’ looks instead of policy choices.

Yet even in this higly image-conscious election cycle, one contender comes in for a seemingly inordinate attention on the basis of appearance: Mitt Romney, whose sensational good looks have been compared to Adonis, seems to have charmed a number of media personalities not normally known for commenting on the attractiveness of male political figures.

At which point I find myself in desperate need of a reality check. Let’s keep things in perspective: Adonis? Please. He’s a middle aged white dude, not a male model. (Well, unless we’re talking about Sears catalog models; there, he might fit right in.)

While regularness of features is definitely a component of conventional notions of being handsome, there’s also something to be said for having a look that is distinctive. I don’t see that in Romney; he seems precisely like the type of Executive Ken doll you might find populating any number of corporate boardrooms. I fail to see what is so exceptional about his looks, unless it is that they’re exceptionally middle-of-the-road. Bland is the new hot? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

My hypothesis is that the main reason the GOP folks and their mainstream-media enablers are gushing over Romney’s looks is that he just happens to look so much better than the usual assortment of craggy, doughy troll dolls that the GOP regularly places on offer. Compared to the other GOP candidates, Romney really is a fox.

Compared to the Democratic candidates? Not such a fox. YMMV, but I wouldn’t rank him in the top three.

I’m well aware that I began by lamenting the state of politics in which we spend time obsessing over a candidate’s appearance, then proceeded to deconstruct the components of what I think make one particular candidate attractive (or unattractive) in various contexts. That’s not irony (intended or otherwise); it’s a reflection of what passes for political discourse today. Because our media saturation has reached the point where a candidate’s image is inextricably intertwined with his or her message, and indeed, the former can easily eclipse the latter. That’s because candidates aren’t just political entities; they’re branded, marketed, and sold to the public. Not only is the mainstream media ‘lookist’, they’re counting on our by-now-ingrained sense of lookism to shape the narrative of who and what these people stand for. It is much easier to toss off a quick soundbite about how a given candidate ‘looks’ or ‘feels’ presidential – whatever that means – than it is to dissect the politician’s various policy stands and examine them for an underlying since of a unified vision… or lack thereof, as the case may be.

Scratch the surface of any presidential candidate and you will find an ambitious person underneath. What remains to be seen is whether that person also happens to be prinicipled and authentic or else opportunistic and pandering. In this aspect, Romney has been attacked from the left and from the right regarding the seeming convenience with which he adopts or abandons various causes in proportion to the amount of political gain he might achieve thereby. Indeed, Romney’s appearance may be the one relatively unchanging aspect of his candidacy. No wonder those sympathetic to Romney spend so much time talking about his looks; it lets them avoid talking about a bunch of inconvenient stuff without seeming to contradict themselves repeatedly.

It’s far easier to sell the product when the packaging is pleasing, but the smart customer will wonder more about what’s inside.

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13 Comments

Filed under 12_arkades

13 responses to “Marketing Pretty People: Bland is the New Hot

  1. Melissa McEwan

    It gets worse: Chris Matthews talks about how Fred Thompson SMELLS:

    Does [Fred Thompson] have sex appeal? I’m looking at this guy and I’m trying to find out the new order of things, and what works for women and what doesn’t. Does this guy have some sort of thing going for him that I should notice? . . .

    Gene, do you think there’s a sex appeal for this guy, this sort of mature, older man, you know? He looks sort of seasoned and in charge of himself. What is this appeal? Because I keep star quality. You were throwing the word out, shining star, Ana Marie, before I checked you on it. . . .

    Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man’s shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of — a little bit of cigar smoke? You know, whatever.

    I may never stop hurling.

  2. Arkades

    It gets worse: Chris Matthews talks about how Fred Thompson SMELLS:

    The AXE bodyspray people are obviously missing a major marketing opportunity.

  3. Thank you very much! I had a lovely lunch with some lovely friends on a lovely beach which has just now gone down the shitter! But the ugly taste is still in my mouth and I fear it will stay there for quite some time. Do these assholes that write or speak this crap not realize that they are talking about someone that would have the power to destroy the world with the push of one button? And they natter away about fucking Agua Velva! Mature mans shaving cream! Who the fuck gives people like this a job in the first place? No wonder the world is in such a fucking mess when the people who run these mega billion dollar conglomerates allow people this shallow a voice and a place on the payroll. Which can only mean they are just as stupid as the asswipes they employ.

  4. Dr. Loveless

    I may never stop hurling.

    Me neither. But at least we’re no longer hearing about how Bill Frist smells like gorilla funk. We should count our blessings.

  5. Allie

    I still don’t understand why people find Mitt attractive at all. He’s not. Goes double for Fred Thompson who I just heard somebody gushing over on the radio.

    Honestly, if the race for President really is a beauty contest – Obama or Edwards or Clinton will CRUSH them.

    My new slogan: My candidate’s hotter than yours!

    N.B. For some reason, I always want to spell Obama O’bama. He’s not Irish is he?

  6. Kate Harding

    That’s because candidates aren’t just political entities; they’re branded, marketed, and sold to the public. Not only is the mainstream media ‘lookist’, they’re counting on our by-now-ingrained sense of lookism to shape the narrative of who and what these people stand for.

    Hear, hear.

  7. Pingback: University Update - Mitt Romney - Marketing Pretty People: Bland is the New Hot

  8. Brian

    The only candidate I found interesting on either side was that guy that caused an uproar at the Dem’s debate, I forgot his name. I’d always vote for such a fiery, crotchety old bastard, nevermind the crags!

  9. Pingback: Daily Round-Up at Shakesville

  10. "Fair and Balanced" Dave

    Does [Fred Thompson] have sex appeal? I’m looking at this guy and I’m trying to find out the new order of things, and what works for women and what doesn’t. Does this guy have some sort of thing going for him that I should notice? . . .

    Gene, do you think there’s a sex appeal for this guy, this sort of mature, older man, you know? He looks sort of seasoned and in charge of himself. What is this appeal? Because I keep star quality. You were throwing the word out, shining star, Ana Marie, before I checked you on it. . . .

    Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man’s shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of — a little bit of cigar smoke? You know, whatever.

    If I may borrow a quote used in the comments for another thread:

    Methinks Tweety is so far in the closet, he’s found Narnia.

  11. "Fair and Balanced" Dave

    The only candidate I found interesting on either side was that guy that caused an uproar at the Dem’s debate, I forgot his name. I’d always vote for such a fiery, crotchety old bastard, nevermind the crags!

    I believe you’re referring to former Senator Mike Gravel (pronounced “Grah vell'”). My wife had a great comment about Gravel following the last debate, “He won’t get the nomination but it’s a good to see a Democrat with some Harry Truman style fight in him.”

  12. male politicians are finally starting to experience a similar flavor of vapid scrutiny regarding their looks.
    ~
    I distinctly remember them attacking Al Gore about his bland clothing in 1999. They had some problem with beige and cream and seafoam green. In fact, it was the first issue-free presidential election that I can remember.

  13. I’ve come around a little on the wardrobe stuff. I don’t think people should be paying as much attention to Pelosi’s wardrobe as they do, and I certainly don’t think it should cut into actual policy coverage. But the fact is, she’s a great dresser. If there is an occasional puff piece about it, I’m not going to object. It says to young women (who are so often discouraged from politics) that you can be a woman with a lot of power and not have to dress like a man – that you can still be free to express yourself and have fun with color in among the suits.

    But, again, it shouldn’t come at the expense of policy coverage.

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