“California is beautiful to look at, but you can’t be a part of it like you can in Michigan.” – Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor (2003-2010) and current California resident
Under the great rotunda of the Michigan State Capitol, the portraits of the men and women that have held the state’s most esteemed title – governor – shine timelessly under halos of artificial light, their faces, their bodies straining under layers of caked paint to tell us something about who they were and what they stood for. Restrained by the dignity of office, a book or cross and maybe a small prop were the only indulgences entertained to express any individuality. In effect, the austere, predictable portrayals emphasized the institution over the person.
Well, that was all true, at least, until Jennifer Granholm (Democrat) came along.
A quick glance at her portrait reveals a candy store of propaganda that would’ve made Lenin or Mao blush, an obliteration of any sense of modesty. She stares at a window just out of our view, one hand on her hip and the other on a globe; on the table next to her, there’s a miniature windmill, a model car, and a graduate cap; behind her, a Spirit of Detroit statue rests beneath a painting of the Ford River Rouge Complex; oh, and we mustn’t forget the shovel leaned against her bookshelf, ready for the next groundbreaking ceremony. If you aren’t choking on the symbolism yet, need I mention the portrait of her family, the flowers, or how her boyish haircut and pantsuit is juxtaposed with some tall black heels?
The ultimate goal, I’m sure, was to portray Granholm as the perfect leader, foresighted in every way, an ideal blend of career woman and house mom. Still, was commissioning an I Spy: Agitprop Edition portrait by Ferndale, Michigan artist Charles Pompilius for permanent display in the Michigan State Capitol really the best way to go about that, or does it perhaps display a dangerous level of narcissism on her part?
I guess that’s up to you to decide. But I do want to pose one last question: is it just me, or do today’s leaders remind you a bit of Nero or Caligula, “fiddling” while everything Rome stood for burns? Think about it. Immediately, in my mind, I picture a kaleidoscopic collage of Barack Obama bragging about Osama Bin Laden’s death while simultaneously dancing like Psy in “Gangnam Style” and writing his invite to Jay-Z and Beyoncé to co-star in his inauguration, followed by him consenting to the CIA’s request for permission to collect and analyze every phone call or text sent through Verizon Wireless.
Perhaps what’s scariest about the above image is that besides the chronology of events, it’s practically reality. These are the people inhabiting our most cherished, time-honored institutions.
But hey, what are you gonna do about it? As Jennifer Granholm said about her likeness and its trappings at the Michigan State Capitol, “It’s a portrait that encompasses all of you.”