Another Close Comparison

There's something about Glenn...

The works of Glenn Close (in starring and supporting roles alike) are getting a workout from campaign observers observing the various women (in starring and supporting roles alike) on the campaign trail.

There was the Hillary-Clinton-as-the-psycho-stalker-Glenn-Close-character-from-Fatal-Attraction reference, made— and apologized for — by Rep. Steve Cohen (D, TN).

This morning, CNN’s Carol Costello ran footage of Close the Stepford Wife (from the 2004 movie) while making the important point that “critics say…Mrs. McCain look[s] like Glenn Close in the movie The Stepford Wives” because she is often seen “taking the traditional role of standing by her husband’s side at events and clapping and smiling…” (The Stepford Wife test is, of course, applied to The Women of The Campaign Trail every election year). CNN’s news hook was Cindy McCain’s photo spread in the June Vogue (Costello: “Oooh lala! Cindy McCain in Vogue looks spectacular. Feet bare, wearing size zero jeans. She projects an image quite unlike the Cindy McCain we see on the campaign trail.”)

In her report, Costello quotes the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan who wrote about McCain’s Vogue photos this past Sunday. Two Glenn Close projects were invoked in Givhan’s article, if indirectly. Givahn, too, sees the “implied message” in McCain’s Vogue photos to be: “I am not a Stepford Wife.” Further in the article Givhan observes: “Indeed, sometimes McCain doesn’t just look as though she has been made up to be camera-ready — she veers into the Norma Desmond, ready-for-my-close-up territory.” (Glenn Close, as close Close fans well know, played the tragic Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway in the ’90s).

Givhan’s point is that McCain hopes people will look at her fussed-over-so-as-not-to-look-fussy Vogue photos and think: she’s a relaxed, regular woman— like me! CNN’s Costello looks at the photos and seems to conclude exactly that. “Most of us don’t really know much about Cindy McCain except she’s really, really, rich,” reported Costello. “But if you take a peek at Vogue magazine, you may get a more well-rounded view.” And later: “What voters do know about her, she’s enormously wealthy, and she says she won’t release her tax returns ever, which says to voters you’re not one of us. Hence Vogue and the jeans.” Jeans. Vogue. VoilĂ : Your Average Woman. (Minus the fact that it’s the wrong magazine and likely the wrong brand— certainly the wrong size —jean if Average Woman is what you’re after).

Givhan is a bit more skeptical. “McCain appears to be working to shatter a public image of the pretty — but starched — accessory.” And? Candid photos being so hard to come by, Givhan writes, “one is left examining photos that are posed, the ones that have been created with a village of stylists, sittings editors, lighting experts, retouchers and advisers. Those images may not provide a window on the subject’s soul, but they do say something about the way in which she would like to be perceived.” (Givhan also has an interesting take on Michelle Obama’s ” traditional, classic and controlled” photo spread from last fall’s Vogue (“little black dresses, conservative pearls, preppy hair and restraint”). While “McCain’s image aims to excite the eyes,” Givhan writes, Obama’s is reassuring Vogue readers: “I am neither subversive nor threatening. I am not some scary ‘other.’ I am Camelot with a tan.”)

But back to my original point: Glenn Close. Lucky for campaign observers, there is no shortage of yet-unreferenced Close roles to which to refer during the six months of campaign trail still ahead. Some possibilities: Close made two appearances on The West Wing as Chief Justice Evelyn Baker Lang; she played Vice President Kathryn Bennet in the 1997 film Air Force One. She was (the voice of) Mary Todd Lincoln in a PBS documentary. All topic-appropriate when the subject is women in politics. And yet there are other Close characters, given the ones referenced by observers to date, that seem to me more likely contenders. Cruella De Vil, anyone? Hamlet’s callous Gertrude?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.