I found two photographs of politicians in classrooms this week. I was struck by the similarities – and differences – between them.
The Secretary of State for Education looks awkward as he leans forward on his chair, off balance, as though he could fall any moment. His hand is cupped around his ear in an exaggerated attempt to make out what the children are saying. He towers above the children, trying to bring himself down to their level but unable to do so. He wears his jacket as though his visit is only fleeting. His expression is clownish and self-conscious. The girl nearest to him is amused by this funny man in her classroom, knowing that he isn’t really listening but is putting on a show for the benefit of the cameras. The other children don’t know how to react; they want to do the right thing and look beyond the frame for help and guidance.
The President commands respect as he leans back in his chair, stable and relaxed. His hand is raised in the air in an exaggerated attempt to provide the right answer to a question. He towers above the children, but is acting as one of them. His jacket is off and shirtsleeves rolled up as though he is settled in to the lesson. His expression is earnest and intent. The boy nearest to him is amused at this funny man in his classroom, knowing that he has the answer but is putting on a show for the benefit of the cameras. The other children don’t know how to react; they want to do the right thing and look beyond the frame for help and guidance.
I don’t know whether this juxtaposition says more about the superiority of American politicians in manufacturing a photo-op, or more about the superiority of this particular American politician. What I do know is that Michael Gove looks ridiculous, and Barack Obama looks…great.