By Robin Givhan
Monday, December 10, 2007
The most memorable accomplishment of the TV ad depicting Mitt Romney jogging along a tree-lined road -- huffing and schvitzing as he goes -- is assuring voters that his hair is not actually carved out of granite.
The ad, which owes no small debt for inspiration to the Nike marketing oeuvre, demonstrates to voters -- all recent evidence to the contrary -- that Romney's well-tended, sleek hair does in fact move. Thick hanks of it are plastered to his moist forehead -- an image on which the camera explicitly lingers.
Romney has been accused of having anchorman hair -- the kind of glossy perfection that lies neat and immobile atop the heads of men such as NBC's Brian Williams and movie land's Ron Burgundy. The comparison is not meant as a compliment.
The historical record includes photos of Romney surrounded by those of lesser locks walking into the wind. Everyone else's face is lashed by their hair; Romney's hair remains as tidy as a Ken doll's. When he ran with the Olympic torch in 2006, his hair remained frozen in place. Before the airing of his sweat-soaked-hair ad, the last time Romney's silken strands moved appeared to have been Oct. 10, 1994, at a Columbus Day parade in Worcester, Mass., when a mighty wind nudged them ever . . . so . . . slightly.
While the anchorman package is built around the idea of creating an authoritative, knowledgeable, trustworthy and likable presence that viewers will want to welcome into the living room, the same inferences don't hold true for politicians. Having hair so improbably perfect that the candidate must deny dyeing it is not good politics. And wearing suits with as much boxy individuality as a school uniform does nothing to lessen the sense that Romney was assembled out of widgets, screws and nuts.
Why do anchorman looks on a candidate call up negative connotations such as slick and plastic? There is the suspicion that a man with such flawless hair must spend so much time looking in the mirror that he doesn't understand what it means to engage in the kind of labor that results in calluses and frizz.
Audiences want a news anchor who is pleasant looking -- handsome even, but not distracting. They want polish, confidence and an authoritative demeanor. Anchors then try to win viewers' trust by dodging bullets, playing tough with slippery interviewees and racing toward a hurricane. Anchoring requires a bit of a Superman -- or Wonder Woman -- complex.
Candidates must emphasize their Clark Kent persona. They eat corn dogs and moose chili to prove their authenticity. They roll up their sleeves to indicate earnestness. They want to appear vigorous and energetic, but not narcissistic and full of bluster.
Voters want empathy. Hear my story. Help me! Love me! A candidate who looks too good comes across as the pretty-boy mystery date who's deemed way out of their league.
So is Romney's sweaty hair more reassuring than his anchorman hair? In politics, it counts as a shameless come-on.