The Corner

Michelle on The View

Okay, I watched it. Or I tried. It was hard to pay attention, frankly, because it was the same twaddle as always, which is why it never occurs to me to watch The View. Kathryn has captured perfectly the essential banality of Michelle Obama’s appearance, and the fact that Michelle (we’re on a first name basis now) is pretty good at seeming like a regular gal. In this she has proved a much quicker study than Hillary, who took a decade plus to soften up and learn to hide her contempt for small talk. The ladies did a solid, if visible job of steering her to moments where she could say pleasant, ordinary things about her kids, her breakfast habits, and her husband. After all, the goal, both in this current effort to soften her image, and in the larger Obama presidential campaign, is to make the largely white, but also Asian, Hispanic, and “other” cultures comfortable enough with the Obamas to hand over the reigns of power. (And they need to solidify the Hillary Democrats who comprise The View’s core demographic.) That is a big thing. It is a truism that the nation will not elect a candidate with whom we don’t feel some rapport, and, again, comfort. So discussing baby food, parenting, and breakfast bacon, and whether her candidate-for-president husband takes out the trash, is a way of creating bonds.

As a distant observer of fashion, but a close student of the semiotics of female power, I am a little puzzled by Michelle’s frequent choice of sleeveless dresses at official moments. She is an attractive woman, whose height gives her a commanding presence, and it is clear that she puts effort into toning those upper arms. So the dresses look good; but this is not about pretty. She is in her forties, and the sleeveless sheath is the province of younger women, and/or socialites; it works for cocktails or a barbeque, but not church or work. (And yes, she is clearly channeling Jackie Kennedy. But Jackie’s clothes — and everyone’s in the early 1960s — were a lot more grown up and sophisticated.) The sleeveless bit seems too casual, and maybe a little too revealing for the role she is currently playing, and the one to which she aspires. Successful First Ladies — and here Laura Bush is a good model — manage to convey a careful mix of distance and familiarity. Michelle’s difficult trick will be enough familiarity without going too far.

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