Creatures of Politics: Media, Message, and the American Presidency

By Michael Lempert; Michael Silverstein | Go to book overview

Six
THE MESSAGE IN HAND

That politicians can sway audiences through gesture is an old conceit, as the writings of the first-century Roman rhetorician Quintilian, for instance, attest. Quintilian offered copious advice on how orators should use their hands and manage their bodies, and made it sound as if these signs had stable meanings and predictable effects: “To strike the thigh, a gesture which Cleon is supposed to have first practiced at Athens, is not only common, but suits the expression of indignant feeling and excites the attention of the audience” (Book 11: 374). The contemporary scholarly literature on gesture has had precious little to say about this venerable subject, and what has been said has been eclipsed by a mass of op-edstyled musings by journalists and political commentators, with the occasional cameo played by the more sober, if often dubiously trained, “body language expert.” These musings range from the waggish (e.g., a shot at Sen. John McCain’s “twitchy finger air quotes” [Muller 2008]) to the incendiary (e.g., accusations that Obama slyly flipped off Hillary Clinton in April 2008 when he scratched his cheek with his middle finger [Malcolm 2008]). And there’s always ample satire, like the Huffington Post’s Matt Mendelsohn’s piece from late October 2008, which poked fun at McCain’s proclivity for air quotes: “McCain Injures Fingers Making Quotation Marks Sign, Suspends Campaign.” “Today,” complains Jürgen Streeck in one of the few, careful case studies of political gesture, “most publicized pronouncements on the matter have the quality of pop psychology or pop

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Creatures of Politics: Media, Message, and the American Presidency
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface & Acknowledgments xi
  • One - Introduction- "Message" Is the Medium 1
  • Two - Getting It "Ju … St Right!" 58
  • Three - Addressing "The Issues" 105
  • Four - Ethno-Blooperology 122
  • Five - Unflipping the Flop 144
  • Six - The Message in Hand 170
  • Seven - What Goes around … 200
  • Notes 231
  • References 245
  • Index 257
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