The age-worn expression, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” has plenty of similarity with how rhetoric is often conceived. When somebody says, “oh, that’s mere rhetoric,” they’re essentially saying, “you’re all style and no substance; don’t let cosmetic changes distract from the real (and often ugly) truth.”
So the recent mild-media-frenzy of Barack is paralleled with Harlot in many ways. Here’s a sequence summary: Obama uses the colloquialism in reference to McCain policy; the line gets picked up as a reference to Palin (McCain is “sexifying” his campaign by choosing her); McCain campaign releases a press statement calling the comment “sexist”; it is then put in juxtaposition with Palin’s lipstick reference at the RNC by media pundits; bloggers talk about how Obama called Palin a pig. Like a harlot who has been dressed up to resemble something respectable, a filthy pig is dressed up with cosmetics to resemble, well, anything else.
So, in honor of this close relation between the cliché and how rhetoric is popularly conceived, I’ve compiled some texts below that might serve as a jumping off point for a discussion on taking lines out of context and attempts at framing in campaigning.
Let’s start with the “original,” with some added Fox news footage at the end. I ask that you pay attention to how the remarks are contextualized and juxtaposed:
It’s rather remarkable to watch the assumptions flying about within Fox’s framing of the comment, calling it “name-calling,” “engaging the vice-president,” and “going after Palin.” Also, any thoughts on the conspiratorial rhetoric used in the news footage that follows? By juxtaposing it with some remarks about Biden, Hannity frames it as long-term plan, asking, “Do you still think there’s not a strategy here?” Also, notice that Hannity justifies the discussion itself with juxtaposition, saying the audience clearly knew what Obama was referring to in light of Palin’s recent RNC line (footage of which, please notice, was placed before Obama’s in the editing, giving it that “in-direct-response-to” feel).It’s odd they didn’t show this footage:
But even if they did show it, a lot of their claim would still stand (strangely), simply because of how they juxtaposed the comments and framed it as direct reference. Juxtaposition is everything here. More generally, the fight is over framing. Consider Barack’s follow up comments on the scenario, reframing the event as a one that’s been ripped out of context and poorly reframed by “the media”:
And just for kicks, consider Cheney’s use of the phrase as an ethos-builder, framing it as an good-ole-Western-frontier expression — something that true, red-blooded Americans say over black coffee: