The Cliché: In the first hours after Newsweek tweeted it's controversial cover featuring a deer in the headlights Michele Bachmann, it quickly garnered criticism from conservatives and women. Gawker's Lauri Apple almost immediately noted "They don't call her CrazyEyes for nothing." One of the most prominent conservative critics, Michelle Malkin, attributed it to "the conservative crazy eyes cliche." The media seemed to like the phrase. Searching for an easy way to refer to the cover, most media outlets settled on some variation of "the 'crazy eyes' Newsweek cover." See for instance, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Week, The Daily Mail, and us: "Michele Bachmann Unfazed by 'Crazy Eyes' Newsweek Cover"
Where it's from: Actually the "Crazy Eyes" headline isn't as new as it seems -- When Gawker's Apple noted that "they call her crazy eyes," she was literally referring to an old epithet for Bachmann long thrown around the liberal blogs and comment boards: "Michelle 'Crazy Eyes' Bachmann" or "Ole Crazy Eyes" or simply "Crazy Eyes" for short. People commented on Bachmann's, uh, arresting stare by that name as early as 2009. The name plays on a familiar pop culture trope, where "crazy eyed" characters have long existed. There's Krazee-Eyez Killa on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Crazy Eye Margo on Scrubs, and Crazy Eyes in the film Mr. Deeds. Notice, however, all those characters are men. A 2006 episode of How I Met Your Mother brought the "crazy eye" label to twenty-something bro culture as a term for unstable women. Barney, the show's resident bro as played by Neil Patrick Harris, counsels his friend Marshall not to date an otherwise attractive woman because she has "crazy eyes." Once a man learns to recognize the crazy eyes in a girl, the womanizing Barney preaches, he will save himself a lifetime of pain. In 2009, the comic strip Dilbert entered the fray with its own "otherwise attractive" crazy-eyed female co-worker.
Why it's catching on: We'll give everyone credit for almost always keeping the words 'crazy eyes' between quote marks, though we won't go so far as to say we think they knew exactly who they were quoting. It's certainly crystallizes what everyone thought was noteworthy about Newsweek's cover.
Why else? Calling it the "crazy eyes" cover seems like a subtle way for the media to adopt the style of liberal blogs. Though most of the stories focus on people who are condemning the Newsweek cover, we'd venture to say that the lasting impact of this episode is to cement the Bachmann and "Crazy Eyes" epithet, fairly or not.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.