Pop Fashion Demagoguery

POP FASHION DEMAGOGUERY….CNN’s Jeff Greenfield recently made the bizarre suggestion that Barack Obama’s favored jacket-and-no-tie look is a “sartorial time bomb” because it reminds him of ? wait for it ? Iranian President (and famed Holocaust skeptic) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Clearly Greenfield has been watching too much CNN.

Still, it’s hardly unusual for reporters to obsess over politicians’ clothing. Bob Somerby comments:

During Campaign 2000, this same priesthood conducted an endless discussion of the two Democrats? dueling wardrobes. Bill Bradley?s unfashionable neckties and 25-year-old shoes showed his admirable ?authenticity;? Al Gore?s earth tones/cowboy boots/polo shirts/three-button suits showed his deeply troubling character. (His cowboy boots showed that he was a phony. His polo shirts showed he was targeting women. His three-button suits showed that he was a sex fiend. His earth tones showed he didn?t know who he was. When he wore casual clothes some days and formal clothes on some others, that showed he was all mixed up too. We won?t even waste our time directing you to all the archives. Our ?liberal? ?leaders? are deeply committed to not knowing what has occurred.)

Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy “Armani Suit” Pelosi can all sympathize. (And yes, as near as I can tell, “Armani Suit” must be Pelosi’s middle name or something. Not a profile goes by that doesn’t mention her attachment to Armani.)

Question: Does this demonstrate the moral frivolousness of the modern press corps, as Bob believes? Or is this mostly a reflection of human culture, which has been obsessed with demeanor and appearance ever since clothing was invented? Did the Roman press mock the subtle ecru highlights in Cato’s robes?

The latter, surely, but 24-hour cable news has turned it into the former. When fashion description was confined to occasional sentences in news stories, there was only a limited amount of damage it could do. But when cable news took over, with its addiction to images and its voracious appetite for something ? anything ? to fill up its 1,440 minutes per day, pop fashion demagoguery suddenly became a big deal indeed. That’s how you end up with deeply weird stuff like Greenfield’s take on Obama. Even Maureen Dowd would probably think twice before saying something like that in a print column, but in the cable news era thoughts that once would have been limited to the water cooler are now tossed out on prime time with abandon.

Channeling our inner idiot 24 hours a day hardly makes our lives richer. There’s a reason God gave us prefrontal cortexes, after all. But at this point I’d settle for just a modest helping of common sense.

UPDATE: Digby’s headline is better than mine.