Monday, October 20, 2008

Image: and how it can be interpreted

I borrow the title from an article today's Independent written by Archie Bland who chatted to me about the issues on Friday. The article argues that a bad photo, or more broadly television appearance, can make or break a campaign. Quoting PR consultant Mark Borkowski, the thesis is that "If you ever stop thinking about how you look, you can get caught out." And this is the problem with such images of William Hague in a baseball cap on an amusement park ride, the strange image of John McCain tongue out groping for his seat that has gone viral online and across the media, Miliband and that banana, John Redwood miming badly to the Welsh National Anthem well we could go on. But the key about these images is if they sit comfortably with the voters frame of reference. Basically we all possess a range of perceptions about every public figure, these are called schema. If US voters have a John McCain schema that includes old and frail then these images will build up that perception and could be reasons why they should not elect him as president (this is the point I make in the article about Hague's perceived immaturity, the picture of him as a boy stuck and reduced his credibility). However this negative may be seen as an aberration from the schema, that this is not really him and he cannot be judged by a photo capturing him when off guard, hence then the voter will reject the inference. So while Borkowski is absolutely right about the importance of image the decoding of any image is also a function of existing attitudes and perceptions. For voters in the US, and particularly those floating voters in the swing states do perceive McCain as "a frail old geezer staring fiercely at the backside of the man striding confidently away from him, making a last, desperate play for the vote of the lizards" then the picture will compound that image if not it will be ignored and filed as rather nasty media hype of an off guard aberration by a man who has the qualities to be a President. So the key lesson is not just don't look stupid (though that helps) but don't look stupid in a way that plays to existing prejudices

1 comment:

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