KATHLENE M. writes:
My nine-year-old son and I have noticed that modern day pictures of presidents — since at least Kennedy — tend to have ridiculous smiles on their faces, undermining the stature of the position. I’ve sent three different images so you can see what we mean. (Nixon and Kennedy have goofy grins in one of the group images.)
I’ve also noticed that, since at least George W. Bush, presidents love to crack jokes at various events (like the White House journalists dinner) as if they’re part of a comedy entertainment show. Hollywood has probably had an effect on this since the 1980′s when there almost always is a one-line quipping sidekick for the protagonist (e.g., “Beverly Hills Cop” and many movies since then).
Is this part of the dumbing down of America, making the seriousness of our times more palatable and funny to the sheeple? Or is this a reflection of something else?
Some of the earlier presidents are smiling mildly. As a dentist pointed out here, people were much less inclined to show their teeth before the era of modern dentistry. But, that can’t fully explain the un-serious expressions and wide grins since the fifties.
I think we are seeing the influence of the universal franchise here. The earlier presidents were appealing to men with serious responsibilities. Voters had the burden of property and supporting their families and workers. They were disinclined to want permissive handouts from the government because they ultimately would have to pay for them. They would have had no interest in a compassionate president. In fact, that would be the last thing they would want.
Things changed completely. The later presidents — even Nixon — are saying, “I am a truly nice guy.” As Jim Kalb says, democratic tyranny is soft and likeable.
—- Comments —-
Thank you, Laura, for your insight about the universal franchise which I had not considered. When the universal franchise is combined with the influence of television on the voting public and our national obsession with image, your explanation is very plausible.
I wonder if this will eventually change as people turn more to blogs and twitter feeds for information, and less to television news and manipulated images. How many people are as turned off as I am by pictures of President Obama smiling and joking during his campaign stops while our country faces serious problems?
Yes, it is annoying, but Mitt smiles a lot too.