Mitt Romney made a real facial expression today when he was greeted by boos while addressing the NAACP. This is really important news, because Romney nearly always keeps his face in a tight, closed-mouth smile, the subject of many photo posts speculating what might be going on in his head. Romney's reserved demeanor, and mirthless laugh in the words of James Lipton, must have something to do with the increasingly urgent demands from conservatives that Romney "define himself," that he explain to Americans who he really is. There's so much talk about the "real Romney" that The New Republic's Alec MacGillis wondered Tuesday whether there is any realer Romney at all. (What if, he asks, Romney is just not "all that deep?") And so that's why Romney's lucky that his speech to the NAACP Wednesday resulted in a blessing wrapped inside an embarrassment. He got booed.
For comparison, at left is how Romney's face usually looks in public. (Photos via Reuters.) Again and again, his face looks the same, and Internet bloggers, who spend their workdays gchatting instead of talking to live humans, have betrayed their mild Asperger's and latent anxieties by being unable to pin down exactly what that expression says. BuzzFeed contributor karyna, perhaps one who once experienced a few unrequited crushes, diagnosed the look as "Mitt Romney Looking Longingly At People." As a person who hated high school, I, on the other hand, saw boredom and contempt.
And that's why today's real expression is so magical. In writing about the Adult Video News awards, David Foster Wallace explained the thrill that comes with seeing public performers show real feeling on their faces.
Much of the cold, dead, mechanical quality of adult films is attributable, really, to the performers' faces. These are faces that usually appear bored or blank or workmanlike but are in fact simply hidden, the self locked away someplace far behind the eyes. Surely this hiddenness is the way a human being who's giving away the very most private parts of himself preserves some sense of dignity and autonomy -- he denies us true expression. …
But it's also true that occasionally, in a hard-core scene, the hidden self appears. It's sort of the opposite of acting. You can see the porn performer's whole face change as self-consciousness (in most females) or crazed blankness (in most males) yields to some genuinely felt erotic joy… The effect on the viewer is electric. And the adult performers who can do this a lot -- allow themselves to feel and enjoy what's taking place, cameras or no -- become huge, legendary stars. The 1980s Ginger Lynn and Keisha could do this, and now sometimes Jill Kelly and Rocco Siffredi can. Jenna Jameson and T.T. Boy cannot. They remain just bodies.
Romney's problem is that so far, he's been bored and workmanlike. But today he let his real self show.