"Mr. Sunshine" vs. "the super sneer"

By Kevin Berger
Published October 7, 2004 12:50AM (EDT)

At first the poets said eyes are windows to the soul. Then the neuroscientists told us facial expressions are signposts of emotions -- doors to our deepest selves. So naturally consumer marketers entered the picture to read our desires and figure out how to sell us stuff.

And write books about it. As Dan Hill, president of Sensory Logic, a Minnesota marketing firm, has done. In "Body of Truth," he illuminates the indelible colors of our characters in over 40 facial expressions. With Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards doing their damndest Tuesday night to sell themselves to the American public, War Room turned to Hill for insight into what the faces of the debating candidates revealed.

Hill, who slyly describes himself as a swing voter, says the expressions of both men underscored an acrimonious, bitter and poisonous debate -- their faces showed that they do not like each other one bit.

"Cheney's mouth is contorted and he always seems to be grimacing," Hill says. "That contortion signals a lot of tension in his personality; it means he's very uptight. Most of the time he shows one of two expressions. One is when the left corner of his mouth forms a slight upward curl, which expresses an entrenched contempt. The other is an upside-down smile, which is a sign of anger, disgust and sadness."

According to Hill, there are three levels of anger seen in faces. When Edwards called President Bush's credibility on the carpet, Cheney hit level three -- "the super sneer." Although for most of the evening, Hill says, Cheney hovered around level two. "Which is still profound and includes real tightness around the mouth, where a bulge forms just below the lower lip -- a pronounced degree of anger."

While Ronald Reagan may have coined the notorious label "doom and gloom Democrats," Hill says Cheney is the very epitome of dour: "His basic disposition is doom and gloom."

Hill was surprised to see Edwards slip out of his role as Mr. Sunshine. "Traditionally, Edwards' expressions do not range widely. He's always limited himself to social smiles, genuine smiles, showing only slight traces of anger. But he went beyond that Tuesday. We saw a feisty, angry Edwards." In fact, Hill says, when Cheney challenged Kerry and Edwards' credibility as leaders, Edwards himself did a super sneer.

"That was accompanied by what I call an eyebrow knitter, where his eyebrows came together and sloped down," Hill says. "And he had snake eyes, where his eyes narrowed -- all signs of real anger coming together. I have never seen that from Edwards in public. That speaks to the level of animosity in this debate."

Hill adds: "I guess the nicest thing you could say about Cheney is that he's serious-minded. He's very sober. Beyond that, I think words like 'grim' and 'tense' are truthful about him. If Bush has a smirk, Cheney has a scowl. And we all know it how feels to be on the other end of a scowl. Edwards, on the other hand, as his wife described him, is a very optimistic person. That does characterize him. The negative side of him is that he can be glib and shallow, as he was during the end of the debate, when he was repeating himself unproductively."

How does Hill think Cheney and Edwards would do as car salesmen? How would they convince us to buy their model? "Cheney would tell you, 'I'm not a clever guy but this is the real deal. Maybe it isn't everything you wanted in a car but it's a good car.' Edwards would say, 'Your family is going to love this car and you're going to have fun driving it.'"

Kevin Berger

Kevin Berger is the former features editor at Salon.

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