Once again Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has grabbed headlines and been declared "tres cool," this time, because she wore some purple wing-tipped Mardi Gras sunglasses while swearing in Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Hammer. But we've spotted a pattern: Eyewear, it seems, is her secret weapon. Clinton's non-foreign policy related media profile has spiked several times since her launch to hipness this year with the Texts from Hillary meme, and as we pondered this, we noticed that glasses have been at the center of nearly all these scandals/memes/spurts of attention, a fact for which we shouldn't be that surprised. But first, let us briefly explain the eyeglasses that helped drive the stories.
The Mardi Gras glasses:
This is the most immediate and obvious case for our eyewear thesis: there is no story without those crazy sunglasses. (Well, she was wearing some Mardi Gras beads as well, and we guess those contributed.) As you can see below, in her remarks, Clinton reasoned that purple is the favorite color of new Assistant Secretary Hammer, and Hammer's family had come dutifully dressed in it, so she needed to get "appropriately attired." She then put on the glasses, even wearing them as she administered an oath. Thus can we, the media, note that she is "funky," "sassy," and even "funny," according to Glen Beck's website The Blaze (while they poll their readers on whether she's disrespecting the Constitution.) Clinton must realize at this point that her media presence is so flammable that even a simple prop one might purchase at the dollar store will reignite talk of her hipness.
Hillary Au Naturale:
Clinton traveled to Bangladesh prompting Drudge Report to post a photo of her donning glasses and wearing no makeup. The site labeled it "Hillary Au Naturale." Drudge successfully trolled the rest of us into pointing out that Clinton need not wear makeup all the time. She is a diplomat. Defensiveness turned to lauding as in our piece on the subject, "Hillary Clinton Looks Good, OK?" Clinton reacted rather casually, noting to CNN’s Jill Doherty, "I feel so relieved to be at the stage I'm at in my life right now, Jill, because if I want to wear my glasses, I'm wearing my glasses." This apparently extends to purple and green sunglasses. But more importantly, the unadorned eyewear underlined the basic point her defenders were making: Hillary Clinton went to Bangladesh to work.
The Text from Hillary Sunglasses:
The meme that started it all: Texts from Hillary, features the Secretary looking austere - severe, even -- donning sunglasses on an airplane and checking her Blackberry. "Have you seen how fierce Hillary is in this picture?" Adam Smith, the co-creator said when he first saw it, according to The Boston Globe. You have to imagine she wouldn't have looked very fierce at all if she weren't wearing them. "I don't think she was meaning to be cool,” Diana Walker, the original photographer says. "She just reached in her bag to get some glasses to read her BlackBerry before the plane took off for Tripoli."
Among these stories, a notable exception to our thesis is the minor tizzy we all had when the New York Post's cover highlighted photos of Clinton having a beer and dancing with the headline, "Swillary." Glasses, except for the beer variety, seem not to have played a role in that story, but hey, we're batting .750.
We shouldn't be surprised that eyewear is at the center of most of these tales. As Susan Sontag once wrote (and a New York Times column highlighted this morning,) "Whenever speech or movement or behavior or objects exhibit a certain deviation from the most direct, useful, insensible mode of expression or being in the world, we may look at them as having a 'style.'" This deviant piece of style being on Clinton's face, it is pretty noticeable and when she puts something atypical over her eyes, it defines her in a way a scrunchy might not (a fact for which her staff feels great relief.) The moments that her press profile has spiked correspond with moments her style has shifted most obviously, allowing us to make whatever point we need from the story. With "Texts," Hillary is a "fierce" secretary of state who projects power and scolds the boys. With Drudge, Hillary isn't just a face for our foreign policy, she gets to work. With the Mardi Gras gear, Hillary can have fun. Whatever your point, it's much clearer when seen through her lenses.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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