Michelle Obama a Chimpanzee?
By Elton Camp
Is it racism? Stupidity? Perhaps it’s lack of respect for a beautiful and intelligent first lady? Could it be a lame attempt at humor? Or might it be a long-established pattern in United States history that is best ignored?
Along with millions of others, I was surprised and annoyed to learn that the president’s wife was being ridiculed for her personal appearance. She wasn’t elected to anything and works without pay. How dare they? That didn’t, however, stop me from going to the Internet to see the pictures that were generating so much controversy. I don’t know how to post pictures to this site, so if you want to see them, you’ll have to Google it for yourself. Both have their lips pursed in a similar manner.
Criticism of the First Lady began even before the title came into existence, starting with Martha Washington. There were no cameras to freeeze her image in awkward moment. That wasn't an impediment to criticism. When she served as hostess on formal occasions, she only nodded to guests who curtsied as they went in to eat. By following the customs of Europe’s royal courts, she was attempting to make world leaders accord the new country respect. For her efforts, she was criticized, sometime in the press, for “royal trappings.” Even as to her clothes, when she wore satin, lace and ribbons they were criticized as “royal.” At the same time tht some asserted that she didn’t dress well enough for the office her husband held, others criticized her expensive clothes and shoes. The press reported on her everyday activities like shopping or taking her grandchildren on outings.
Dolley Madison, a wildly popular First Lady, had to accept being described as having a "thinly veiled syphilitic form" and having the “graces of a Venus.” I can imagine she’d have preferred comparison to a simian to such horrible expressions.
Mary Todd Lincoln, while subject to valid criticism on many fronts, had to endure criticism from her husband about her own front for wearing low cut gowns and from a Senator who stated that she “had her bosom on exhibition.”
Rachel Jackson was denied becoming First Lady. She died shortly before her husband assumed the presidency. It is believed that being publicly called a “whore” hastened her death. She and Andrew had married under the belief that she was divorced. That proved to be wrong and when they learned the facts, they quickly held another ceremony. That didn’t stop merciless criticism. It seems better to be called a chimpanzee than a whore.
Lucy Hayes was the first presidential wife to be called “first lady.” She and the president believed in the temperance movement, but she was ridiculed with the title, “Lemonade Lucy,” because she declined to serve alcoholic beverages at the White House.
Even very minor things seem to be viewed as fair criticism when the first lady is involved. For example, the Audubon Society criticized Ida McKinley for wearing egret feathers in her hair. The bird was an endangered species.
Ellen Wilson told reporter she spent only $400 a year on new clothes. A society matron sniffed, “And she looks it.” Wilson’s second wife, Edith, wanted her husband to resign the presidency after he had a debilitating stroke, but doctors cautioned her that it might kill him to do so. At the same time, they said he shouldn’t be bothered with governmental problems. She concluded that she knew the president’s thinking and could do as he wished. She decided what was important to bring to his attention and what wasn’t, but claimed she didn’t make independent decisions. Her reward was to be reviled as “Madam President.” Wilson’s congressional enemies and the press said the United States had a “petticoat government,” and an “acting ruler.” Whatever the facts, nobody seemed able to prove that she wasn’t doing a good job.
Jackie Kennedy was spoken against for going to church with her head covered only by a veil, for wearing sleeveless dresses, for letting her knees show, and for looking too chic. Some years before, Bess Truman had been mocked for looking too dowdy.
Rosalind Carter was reviled for wearing an old gown to her husband’s inaugural ball and Nancy Regan spoken against for wearing an expensive new one.
Now, what about the picture of Michelle and a chimpanzee? Few would dispute that humans are biologically animals. Chimps and humans share, to an extent, similar general facial features. What has led to this ridiculous comparison must be laid at the door of modern technology. If enough pictures of a person are taken, some weird facial contortions are inevitable. Try this if you have access to a TiVo or similar device. Record someone you admire talking and moving about. I used Alex Trebek and Barbara Walters. Repeatedly stop the picture and see what you can get. Freezing Alex Trebek in an instant of time can make him appear a dunce rather than the intelligent man he really is. Barbara Walters can be converted from a competent woman into something that appears quite different if you are persistent enough. That’s what happened with Michelle Obama. Get real. She doesn’t look like a chimpanzee. As far as I know, she has ignored this foolishness and I hope she’ll continue to do so, or just laugh if off if she feels she wants to respond. The rest of us need to find something more important to be concerned about. As for me, I plan to delete this story when the commotion disappears.
I guess one has, at the very least, to have skin as thick as a chimpanzee to be in public life.