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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Donald Trump: I can't believe he's not butter!

Here's that much discussed picture by Jesco Denzel. It shows Angela Merkel leaning into Donald Trump. He's looking back, eyebrows raised, arms folded, implacable. It's a picture in which the great game of global power is being played out with, depending on who you talk to, either Trump or Merkel visually getting the upper hand. It's a great picture and all that that has multiple readings but I don't know. You can read about it here (thanks Paola - lots of links to alternative images on this Italian site), here and here.

What stands out to me is the lack of emotion on Trump's face. He doesn't show emotion. Here are pictures of people pretending to show Paul Eckman's six basic emotions; go on, make a wild guess as to what they are. These basic emotions are supposed to be universal.

But Trump doesn't really show emotion. When he laughs or smiles, it doesn't seem real, he doesn't cry, he doesn't get happy or sad. He goes red sometimes, but he doesn't really get angry, however much he pretends to. Instead he has a series of nervous tics; the folded arms, the downturned mouth. the raised eyebrows, the voice. And these can have multiple meanings.

That's fine, but you get the feeling that emotion is part of an inner life that he simply doesn't have. No shame and no emotion. So we see his face and we project whatever we want to think onto it. His face is a  blank gammon screen of emptiness. Perhaps that's part of the secret of his success.

I remember Oliver Sacks writing about a group of patients on an aphasia (aphasia is a condition which affects language processing) watch watching Ronald Reagan give a speech and laughing because, even though the language passed them by, the inauthenticity of his theatricality was laid bare to them. It was so transparent they could do nothing but laugh (or cry, or get angry).

I wonder what a contemporary aphasia ward would make of Trump; a man in whom the detachment between words, meaning, emotion, and performance is so complete that he somehow turns this full circle till it convinces people of his authenticity. What is the name for the condition that renders someone like Trump (or... name your political poison) digestible? Because it is a condition.

In his ability to be an emotionally blank canvas, Trump is a living embodiment of the Kuleshov effect, the cinematic effect where we project emotions onto a character or a scene depending on the sequence. This is from the original version of the Kuleshov Effect, the idea being that read in sequence we see hunger, sadness and lust in the actor.

So, having employed the finest imaging experts on the planet for this post, we can apply a kind of Kuleshov Effect to the G7 picure. Here there are three slightly different versions of the  G7 meeting picture (and it's a fun game to see if you can guess which one's the real one. It's more difficult than it looks.)

But where in one image I imagine a degree of grade 9 defiance, in the following ones I see respect and admiration. But of course it's just my imagination playing tricks on me. Really there's nothing going on beyond those nervous tics. It could mean anything and so it does.

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