A Photo Op Gone Awry

The political aides and PR consultants of British prime minister David Cameron are usually very astute in arranging photo opportunities. Who could forgot the amazing footage of Cameron playing Ping Pong alongside Barack Obama at a school for children from low-income families in London. Cameron welcomed Obama in May 2011 to reinforce the transatlantic ‘special relationship’. As a result, rather than playing against each other, Cameron doubles up with Obama as they play against two school kids. Cameron might have been slightly overzealous when he high fives Obama on the odd point they scored against the kids, but in essence it was precisely the type of photo op Cameron and Obama were set out to deliver.

These photo ops are highly stage managed and orchestrated events for the assembled media. The angle of the camera, the height of the camera, the distance of the camera to the main subject, the use of artificial or ambient light and the use of personal microphones or sound booms is carefully considered in support of an ideological agenda. So it was the case on the 14th of June 2011 when David Cameron, his deputy Nick Clegg and the Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley visited Guy’s hospital in London. The visit coincided with the governments announcement of a recently modified and highly controversial National Health Service reform bill. The emphasis in this reformed bill, it is argued, is on patient care. In other words, the patient is on the top of the agenda.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron at Guy’s hospital

As a result of this re-found emphasis on patient care, the photo op on that day, naturally, would involve a patient. Both Cameron and his deputy Clegg are filmed and photographed as they somewhat casually speak to a hospital patient in his bed. In line with hospital requirements to avoid the spreading of viruses, Cameron and Clegg have rolled up their sleeves and have taken off their ties. Their bright white shirts evokes the image of a doctor’s coat. Here, clearly, prime minister and his deputy briefly perform the role of doctor and head nurse deeply concerned for the well-being of their patient. The added benefit of choosing to speak to an elderly patient, as opposed to a younger person, is that the government projects an image of caring for pensioners – precisely the type of person who paid a life’s worth of taxes and who now deserves to be taken care of when ill.

Dr. David Nunn disrupting a photo op

Yet, precisely because the photo op is so carefully stage managed, it is also prone for accidents. To the utter surprise of everyone, a man claiming to be the most senior surgeon in charge storms into the room by shouting ‘sorry, sorry, sorry …’. By pointing at the camera crews’ long sleeves and ties, he continues: ‘Why is that we are all told to walk around like this and these people…?’ As the regulations clearly state, no long sleeves and ties are allowed in the vicinity of the patient. The man bursting into the room and shouting at TV crews is an absolute photo op and PR disaster. Cameron and Clegg’s near identical facial expression is one of disbelief and bewilderment. The patient meanwhile displays a rather nervous smile. Cameron seeks to diffuse the situation by telling the assembled members of the press: ‘Why don’t we erm, why don’t we, why don’t you disappear… I agree.. out… because we’ve all taken our ties off.’ The perturbed and bow tie wearing surgeon meanwhile (his name is Dr. David Nunn), angrily gesticulates at the TV crews and shouts ‘I’m not having it, now OUT.’ Watch the incident unfold on this Youtube clip:

Dr. David Nunn’s now infamous disruption of the photo op is noteworthy. He is, by totally defying the usual respect and professional distance associated with the photo op, disassembling the very ideological foundation of the event itself. In a matter of a few seconds, all over sudden its not Cameron and Clegg that are in charge, but David Nunn – as he points out the most ‘senior surgeon’ on the ward. Nunn effectively calls an end to the photo op by ordering the TV crews out of the ward. The bizareness of the situation is reinforced by the cameras beginning to shake as their operators head for the exit. If we compare the photo op to (political) theatre, Nunn’s intervention calls to mind the radicalism of the German playwright and director Bertholt Brecht. In his plays, Brecht invited to audience to take a critical view of the action on the stage. Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. Similarly, David Nunn effectively highlighted the constructed nature of the photo op itself and as a result, it turns into a farce. In other words, the photo op loses its very purpose once its constructed nature is uncovered. David Nunn, apparently a brilliant hip replacement surgeon, reminds us in comical fashion how fragile the political stage can be.

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4 thoughts on “A Photo Op Gone Awry

  1. Hi Marco!

    Although my thoughts are not directly connected to your post, I would like to share my reflections with you and your readers.

    My first point is that Cameron by being the only white person in the ping pong room makes him the ‘Other’, regardless of the powerful position he holds as the PM. At the same time, this also underlines the multiculturalism of the city of London. But does the fact that the school is for children of low-income families also testify the racial inequalities that still exist in the U.K, especially regarding opportunities in education?

    Furthermore, the ‘special relationship’ you are referring to is not only reflected by the fact that Obama and Cameron play on the same side of the table as a team, but also from the banner on the wall that reads ‘Globe Academy’, with all the connotations that these words can bring up in relation to U.S and U.K politics and policies.

    Lastly, does the fact that both Obama and Cameron are left-handed signify anything about their politics in a pragmatic sense? Certainly, Obama was equated with the notions of ‘change’ and ‘hope’ words quite progressive and far from conservatism. However, his supporters are still awaiting their hopes to be realised in some sense. On the other hand, Cameron ‘dared’ to make a coalition government with the Lib. Democrats (the same applies to them) something which not only signified a change in British politics (for the better or worse), but also testified the need to change the previous government, no matter the political cost. As far as society’s cost is concerned, we will have to wait and see, although we have the first impression from the recent education ‘reform’.

  2. Amazing for the doc to stand up. A reminder that we do not live in feudal societies anymore, but unfortunately we need such instances to remind us that the sycophancy with which we suck up to authority especially politicians.

  3. It’s a shame that I just know about this blog. Wonderful blog and posts. And as a media studies student, I found your insights poignant and hilarious at times. The way you stretch grand theories seem to poke fun at our all too serious institutions. Thanks!

  4. The machinations of the state are always dark. The Consultant was, shortly after, put on “gardening leave”..

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