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Sempé Fi (On Covers): Pachydermatitis

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Pollux writes:

In 1814, Joseph Constantine Carpue became the first man in England to perform the procedure of rhinoplasty. He had adopted methods that had been practiced in India for thousands of years, and the whole operation took about 15 minutes. The patient was an army officer, who remarked after the operation was done, “It was no child’s play and extremely painful, but there was no use in complaining.”

A nose job can still be extremely painful, and the decision to get one should never be taken lightly. One gets a nose job for either health-related or functional reasons, or for aesthetic or cosmetic reasons. As one plastic surgery site states, “because the nose is a dominant feature of the face, it has an important role in determining overall appearance.”

The dominant feature on an elephant is of course its trunk, and serves the elephant well as an extra pair of fingers, an olfactory periscope, a drinking straw, a weapon, and a snorkel.

An elephant thus does not get a nose job on a whim. There has to be a pressing reason for a pachyderm to enter a plastic surgeon’s office: it is a question of survival.

But whose survival? Not this individual elephant’s, but that of the Republican Party, whose association with this symbolic animal dates from the 1870s.

Barry Blitt has visualized, on his May 25, 2009 cover for The New Yorker, the uncertainty that greets the Republican Party after Obama’s victory in November.

As David Brooks has remarked, the Republican Party is “just a circular firing squad, with everybody attacking each other and no coherent belief system, no leaders. You’ve got half the party waiting for Sarah Palin to come rescue them. The other half waiting for Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, to come rescue them. But no set of beliefs. Really a decayed conservative infrastructure.”

Blitt’s cover is called “Nip and Tuck,” and the general opinion amongst Republicans has been that their party needs to do a lot of nipping and tucking. But what appendages need to be nipped and which ones need to tucked?

Is it Karl Rove who needs to “crawl back to Texas, curl up beside a cactus and contemplate the ruin he has inflicted on the party”, as one panelist at the Conservative Political Action Conference remarked? Or is it Rush Limbaugh who needs to stick a pacifier into the mouths of the eight bawling babies that comprise his toxic body mass?

And what to make of the Republican commentators who are so scared of Obama’s reforms that they seem to have misplaced their history textbooks? “Creeping socialism has been taking over the country piece by piece,” one of them has written. “It is the same socialism that early Americans left Europe to escape.” Perhaps I was asleep in my American History class (Ms. Goldberg, 1st period, 11th grade) when we were discussing how the Pilgrims fled England due to the introduction of the National Health Service.

There seems to be more than one party these days sharing the name of “Republican”: the Moderates, the Extreme Rightwingers, the Palinites, the Jindalians, the Dittoheads, the Romney-vians, the Sharks, the Jets… As it happens, Blitt’s elephant is going about it the wrong way. Instead of downsizing the length of its proboscis for the benefit of the whole party (there is no “whole party”), it would make more sense for it to metamorphose into several smaller, different animals.

I would love to see Blitt, a talented illustrator, draw a Moose for the Palinites, a Crawfish for the Jindalians, a Hedgehog bristling with AK-47s for the Extremists. It will be a new symbology for a new age. But Democrats will keep the donkey. The length of our ass’s nose is just fine.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree