Coattails


I have been trying to figure out for the last week and half why we want to get our pictures taken with the famous. We're projecting a false image to the world; this is a person we got to stand next to us for a millisecond and he already forgot who were were before the flash went off.

My friend M says it has to do with power. He has an ex-alderman friend whose office was littered with pictures of him next to Democratic luminaries. My little cousin M has a picture of himself and Obama from an early fundraiser. We went to a dinner honoring longtime activist Quentin Young on his 85th birthday. L's labor union bought a table and it was right next to the luminary table: Quentin, Gov. Pat Quinn, Congressmen Danny Davis and John Conyers. At one point I said to my photographer friend M: Take a picture of me with the governor.

Why did I want that? My immediate reason was to send a picture to my mother to impress her: I'm in the same place at the same time as someone you've seen on TV. Therefore.... It's the therefore that keeps tripping me up. Am I therefore important? Noteworthy? Immortal? In the know?

As it turned out, Quinn left right before dessert, so M couldn't take his picture. A few days later we had dinner with the Youngs at Greek Islands and ran into the governor again. We shook hands.

That's what politicans do; they shake hands and kiss babies. The are ingratiating. They reach out. They press the flesh. It's as if they have to touch their constituents to assure one another that they're real. I am somebody because I got my picture taken with somebody. I am a traveler because I got my picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower/Notre Dame/Leaning Tower of Pisa/Mt. Rushmore. In that case we may be creating proof: I was there. And we're creating a memento. But deep down, are we also hoping that some of the celebrity of the Grand Canyon or Hollywood Hills will rub off on us? Syllogism: Mount Vernon is important. I was at Mount Vernon, therefore I am important.

If I had a picture of myself with Obama, I would be saying: I agree with him. I endorse him. We approve of one another. We're a mutual admiration society. Or: he approves of me. The leader of the free world is on my wavelength. We were in the same space at the same time. We connected.

There seems to be something so pathetic about this. We did not really connect. We do not know one another. We don't toss around political notions. He took a picture with a voter, that's what politicians do. All a photo with Obama would prove is that we wanted to have a photo taken with him.

The picture above is of an Illinois Congressional candidate named John Laesch, who sought and obtained Quinn's endorsement when Quinn was merely lieutenant governor. Noam Chomsky also endorsed him, though they weren't shot side by side. But Laesch and Quinn are on the same plane, the same page, in the same room at the same time. A visual is quickest in conveying a message. Pat approves of John. The associative principle: If you like Pat, you'll like John. More people recognize Pat, therefore it's good for him to appear with lesser-knowns because that raises their cache. He can do that for them. The familiar next to the unfamiliar.

Can I taste your fame? Can I take it? You're not using it all right now.

***
L said the other night, Pat Quinn is such a decent guy. They're going to crush him.

5 comments:

Jonah said...

This reminds me of how upset people got when some politicians who were supposed to be enemies shook hands. I don't remember who, except that one was a Palestinian.

Cancer Bitch said...

When Nora Astorga was ambassador to the UN from Nicaragua, I heard that some men joked they were afraid to shake her hand. (She had lured a lecherous Somocista to her house so that comrades could kill him.).
She died of cervical cancer at 39, and after her death a Swiss doctor created a project named after her, to detect cervical cancer in Nicaragua.

mamawhelming said...

This reminds me of my first brush with fame, meeting then-Houston Mayor Louie Welch at the JCC when I was eight and shaking his hand. I said I would never wash that hand again!

Cancer Bitch said...

We met former mayor Fred Hoffeinz in a parking garage. The thing about famous people is that sometimes they look familiar and it takes a moment to remember where you know them from.

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