Friday, June 11, 2010

Carly's Bad Hair Day

I've committed myself to keeping this blog about the visual culture--mainly photography in the news, but also whatever other types of visual imagery interests me. And I'm sure the definition will keep expanding. Still, I'm not sure I can justify this particular post thematically--it's really more about my loathing of a political candidate than it is about imagery. But imagery does come into play, indirectly.

Perhaps you saw the story in today's New York Times about the flap that Carly Fiorina--the new GOP senatorial candidate in California--caused when she made fun of the hair style of Senator Barbara Boxer, the Democrat that Fiorina hopes to unseat in November.

Fiorina was picked up by an open microphone at an event saying that Boxer's hairdo was old-fashioned. (When will politicians learn that microphones should be treated like bees--they can still sting you even when you think they're dead.) The catty comment produced all sorts of media angina. It left people wondering why a woman who climbed to the top of a business world dominated by men could be so superficial, and so trivial, as to make fun of an opponent's hairdo.

The Time article quotes political experts as saying the flap may cause voters to question Fiorina's character. "It is not a good way to start a woman-on-woman race by playing into stereotypes about female culture," said Bruce A. Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley. Saucer of milk, table for two....

The episode also prompted the writer of the Times piece to bring up old charges by employees of Hewlett Packard, the company that Fiorina once ran, that she was a "tart and unpleasant."

I think the questions raised by Fiorina's comments  should more properly focus on her grasp of reality. Now here I should warn you, I am going to be tart and unpleasant and deal with stereotypes of female attractiveness. (Since I'm not running for senate and am not a woman, I think I have that right.) My point is that Carly Fiorina must be out of her mind in some way to say that she is more attractive or stylish that Barbara Boxer. Or nearly any other woman.

Fiorina is, IMHO, one of the most unfortunately-faced political candidates to come along in recent years. I mean, she looks like she could compete just as well in the Belmont Stakes as in a general election. With a jaw like hers, she needs lots more hair--layers and layers of cover--instead of what she's got. I grew up on a farm, and I know how a badly-sheered sheep looks.

Yeah, that's mean. But she asked for it. And I stand by what I just said. Look at the pictures here.
                                                     Ugly duckling or mean girl?

Now onto more relevant matters. Fiorina is going to be going around for the next few months talking about how her experience in business is just what the country needs now.  But I have been following her career closely for many years--I used to work at a magazine that covered high-tech gadgets, including HP printers. And through some weird personal history I also attended her first wedding, when she married one of my best high school friends who she'd met at Stanford. (If you want to know more about her personal history, look up the outstanding piece Vanity Fair did about her several years back.)

Fiorina was a disaster at HP. She nearly destroyed the company, in fact. (Don't take my word for it. The son of the company's founder and former employees agree.) Following the standard script for CEOs playing with shareholder money in order to make self-aggrandizing mega-mergers, Fiorina engineered HP's disastrous coupling with Compaq computers. It was a business marriage made in hell. When she was finally forced out, she walked away with a golden parachute, which she is using to finance her senate run. ("Self-financing" women candidates seem to be the GOP's political answer to everything at this point. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and now the Republican candidate for governor of California, is actually boasting that she spent some $70 million of her own money during the primary. And in Connecticut, the Republican candidate for the senate is World Wresting Entertainment heiress Linda McMahon, who has pledged to spend millions from her own bank account in the upcoming race. (By the way, McMahon's hairdo is closer to  Boxer's than Fiorina's.)
                                                       Linda McMahon's hair

When you look back at Fiorina's business career, in fact, you see a history of someone who kept failing upward--always moving up and being lauded along the way for helping to break the glass ceiling that traditionally held women in business back.

It's so ironic that underneath the veneer of success apparently lay something else. Perhaps Fiorina is just an ugly duckling who simply always wanted to be one of the attractive mean girls in middle school.

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