Monday, May 22, 2006

Forgive me this little sidetrip.

I've been scrutinizing pictures of Bush for well over a year now (for blogging purposes), and it wasn't until I picked up last week's New Yorker magazine that I finally realized what it was that bothered me so viscerally about the man. Criminal sociopathology and uncanny resemblance to Cheetah aside, Bush has never struck me as a confident person. Bravado, yes. Charisma, not so much. It's the way he holds himself, the way he gesticulates, that has always triggered a general distrust in my reptile brain. I mean, in addition to the criminal sociopathology and unnerving resemblance to Cheetah, which also contributes to making my frontal, temporal, and occipital lobes burn with the heat of a thousand suns. But I digress.

In last week's issue (unfortunately, available at this point in hard copy only), Malcolm Gladwell profiled Cesar Millan, "The Dog Whisperer" from the eponymous National Geographic television show. The article starts out innocuously enough, describing Millan's background, but Gladwell starts poking around in the world of psychology and body movement.

Movement experts like Bradley use something called Laban Movement Analysis to make sense of movement, describing, for instance, how people shift their weight, or how fluid and symmetrical they are when they move, or what kind of "effort" it involves. . . [H]ow you make that motion greatly affects how your point will be interpreted by your audience. . . . Combinations of posture and gesture are called phrasing, and the great communicators are those who match their phrasing with their communicative intentions. . . .

Movement analysts tend to like watching, say, Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan; they had great phrasing. George W. Bush does not. During this year's State of the Union, Bush spent the entire speech swaying metronomically, straight down through his lower torso, a movement underscored, unfortunately, by the presence of a large vertical banner behind him. "Each shift ended with this focus that channels toward a particular place in the audience," [movement expert] Bradley said. She mimed, perfectly, the Bush gaze -- the squinty, fixated look he reserves for moments of great solemnity -- and gently swayed back and forth. "It's a little primitive, a little regressed." The combination of the look, the sway, and the gaze was, to her mind, distinctly adolescent. When people say of Bush that he seems eternally boyish, this is in part what they're referring to. He moves like a boy, which is fine, except that, unlike such movement masters as Reagan and Clinton, he can't stop moving like a boy when the occasion demands a more grown-up response.

me, me, me.
AFP/Tim Sloan

Think about it. Think of how annoyed you may get when Bush leans on the podium to make a point. Or when he touches his own chest to emphasize a point. Yes, he's a pathological liar and a textbook narcissist. But he's also physically very uncomfortable with himself, and that translates to an audience in a very subconscious way -- at least, to those people who aren't cowed blind by his sabre-rattling and warmongering.

You can read the equally fascinating-though woefully short-online interview with Gladwell at NTodd's place.

*Excerpt © 2006 The New Yorker