A new photograph in Vanity Fair offers yet another example of the "pornification" of political culture
Vanity Fair’s short profile of MSNBC’s Morning Joe hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough ostensibly depicts them as a dynamic duo reminiscent of the great screwball comedies of the 1940s (the article references The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora). But the sassy journalist heroines popularized by Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn would have balked at a photo shoot like this one—which is both reflective of current attitudes toward professional and political women and jarringly anachronistic. The notion that women exist primarily for men’s amusement (both on and off the job) seems oh so Mad Men, yet the trend toward depicting public women (especially those whose jobs place them in the realm of politics) primarily as sex objects is alive and well in the 21st century. The pornification of political culture (a process in which some women participate willingly and others have foisted upon them after their image is conscripted) has depicted political candidates (e.g., Sarah Palin and Janice Hahn) and women voters (in viral videos like this one and this one from the 2008 campaign) as strippers.
Looks like it’s Mika’s turn. Not a stripper, you say? Well, what else do we call women who dance on tables for men’s spectatorial enjoyment? Although the brief article that accompanies this picture emphasizes both Scarborough’s and Brzezinski’s various flirtations (with each other, Roger Ailes, and—in Scarborough’s case—the American electorate), the image tells the familiar story of a man who commands the attention of others and a woman who seeks only the attention of that man.
Gaze plays an important role in this visual narrative. Just as Scarborough is identified as the dominant persona on the show that bears his moniker (he’s identified as the “host,” whereas Brzezinski is the “co-host”), his gaze is turned outward while Brzezinski’s focuses exclusively on him. Rather than sitting parallel to Scarborough, Brzezinski is placed on a table—the empty chair underscoring her status as an accessory.
When women accessorize men in this fashion, it diminishes women’s credibility while simultaneously bolstering men’s heterosexual virility and strength. It’s important to note that in addition to playing up the alleged sexual tension between Scarborough and Brzezinski, the Vanity Fair piece announces Scarborough’s potential presidential aspirations. Should he worry that a picture like this one might make him look less presidential? Sadly, no. U.S. presidentiality is so thoroughly masculinized, we’ve become accustomed to seeing our presidents surrounded by women playing supporting roles, whose presence complements men’s performances as Patriarch-in-Chief. That’s one of the reasons women candidates have trouble being perceived as authentically presidential. Conversely, should Brzezinski harbor political or professional aspirations that contradict this narrative, the image would be a significant liability.
So, why did she do it? Although I can’t claim to know her personal motivations, the Atlantic’s Liza Mundy notes the importance of “erotic capital” for women in broadcast journalism—a currency that male pundits such as Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz are not required to spend. But Brzezinski should not exclusively bear the blame that more properly belongs also to Scarborough, the Vanity Fair editorial staff, and a political culture in which women are routinely diminished, degraded, and dismissed.
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Is abortion about to doom Republicans again?
- Anti-voter-fraud Tea Party group sues the IRS
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Apple's biggest sin: Popularity
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- The Bachmann-inspired romance novel
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Nate Silver: Why the scandals aren't hurting Obama
- How to oust Michele Bachmann from Congress
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Salon is proud to feature content from BagNewsNotes. Leading LIFE.com's 2011 list of best photo blogs, it is the only site dedicated 100% to visual politics and the analysis of news images.