Thursday, September 04, 2008

Understanding Sarah Palin's glasses

Advertising Age has polled its market-savvy readers about which of the two campaigns is doing the better job of marketing its candidates.

No idle question, that. Marketing is what presidential campaigns are all about. Like soap, deodorant, video games and the Iraq War.

With Advertising Age’s spot-on query and Sarah Palin in mind, I was reminded of one of Marshall McLuhan’s barrage of disconnected observations in his classic “Understanding Media.”

But before moving on to McLuhan, let it be noted that of the four candidates on the two tickets, Palin is different in one obvious respect: she wears glasses.

Oh, and she is a woman.

Wrote McLuhan in his chapter “Media Hot and Cold,” “The principle that distinguishes hot and cold media is perfectly embodied in the folk wisdom: ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.’ (The quote is also attributed to Dorothy Parker.) Glasses intensify the outward-going vision, and fill in the feminine image exceedingly, Marion the Librarian notwithstanding. Dark glasses, on the other hand, create the inscrutable and inaccessible image that invites a great deal of participation and completion (by the viewer).”

Before we get carried away with off-target connotations of “hot,” (as in “hotty”), we need to be reminded that, in McLuhan’s words, “A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in ‘high definition.’ High definition is the state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, ‘high definition.’ A cartoon is ‘low definition,’ simply because very little visual information is provided….”

There’s more, of course. With McLuhan there was always more — a LOT more. And a lot of it was contradictory or sheer bunk. For instance, in recent years, we’ve seen plenty of high-definition cartoons and low-definition photographs.

Back to vice presidential candidate Palin, who is being marketed to a demographic that worships “cool.” With her glasses, Sarah, according to McLuhan is unfashionably hot and “exceedingly” well defined, at least until she replaces her specs with shades, at which point she becomes “cool” and compelling.

Sadly, I have to disagree. Palin has the appearance of models you see in the designer “eye apparel” ads. She is clearly so good-looking that not even glasses can detract from her looks. And you immediately wonder how that could be. In an instant you are trying to figure out what she would look like without glasses on. She is, in short, visually undefined and involving — the very essence of McLuhan’s “cool.”

Remember, this is all about marketing, getting your attention, attracting your interest, stimulating desire (I find myself mentally wanting to see her without her glasses on — and yes, with her hair down) and to commit to her personally (never mind that she doesn’t believe in global warming, evolution or sex education.)

From a marketing perspective (is there any other?) my fear is that Palin’s appearance has transported hordes of cool-crazed voters down the road to buy-in.

And Joe Biden (and John McCain, ne “dead man campaigning”)?

You’ve got to be kidding.

And Barack Obama?

Stay tuned.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

She should have spent the extra $25 on anti-reflective lens coating.

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or does anyone else think Palins glasses are just for effect?

Look at most folk wearing glasses and catch the line that the side of their face makes as it passes behind the lens. You'll see a sudden change in the line as the lens distorts the image.

Palin's lenses don't make any difference as far as I can see. Could they really be plain lenses to make her look "intellectual"?

Just wondered. Sad if it's true as it'd make her so shallow and supeficial to need a crutch like that

5:09 PM  

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