Friday, January 06, 2006

[[ZEITGEIST]] Kennedy Assasination
With all this talk about on of the great conspiracies of our time solved regarding the assassination of JFK (see here and here for details) I thought it would be fun, in an extremely black comic way, to look at another Kennedy assassination. One that is closer to home this time. I'm talking of course of the media assassination of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy. I am not going to concentrate of the many stories about Kennedy's drink problems, instead I want to examine the photographs that accompany the stories and show how these photographs provide their own mythical commentary (in the Bartesian sense). In order to do this I will be utilising another of Barthes' theories, that of anchorage. Anchorage, as someone in Stanford University put this, is text (such as a caption) that provides the link between the image and its context; the text that provides relevance to the reader.

In order to cut down on the possible variables I will constrain my focus to the BBC Online News site. Let's start with the story on 5 January 2006 when news of Kennedy's confession of his drink problem broke...

Accompanying the headline "Kennedy admits battling alcohol" there is an image of a very contrite Chares snapped at a lib dem conference. Conferences are excellent locations for the candid political snap for two reasons. Firstly because the leaders of the various parties are decked out in their leadership uniform of smart suit, and usually situated just in from of an emblematic banner which helpfully established the link between party and leader. Secondly because conferences go on for such an long time that you are inevitably going to catch a moment where the partly leader is caught off guards, or in this context, off message. Especially subversive is the snap with the leader is caught looking slack in front of some kind of righteous slogan. See the picture at the top of this post for an example of this.

Next we have the image chosen to accompany a transcript of Kennedy's statement to parliament on the 6th January where he admitted his drink problem.

Here we have a steely and yet vulnerable Charles: more an an image of a little boy who is facing up to a neighbour after smashing his window than a political statesman. In terms of eliciting our denying our sympathy, there is some ambiguity in the image. While this man does not look entirely trustworthy or heroic he still seems somewhat lovable.

Now we come to today's preferred image with the headling "MPs increase pressure on Kennedy"

Do you think that the BBC already made up its mind which way this story is going to go? Here we have an image of a spectacularly tipsy and unhinged Kennedy. I particularly like the sinsiter trick of lighting him from the side in harsh light (representing the sting of sobriety perhaps?) Gone is the lovable boy of yesterday, to be replaced with the sinister drunk.

I suggest that the mythical template for choosing this image was a combination of this

(A drunk)

and this

(Charles Laughton as the Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The image in today's Times Online is even more spot on in respect of the latter...

Link: an excerpt of Rhetoric of the Image by Roland Barthes

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