Can You Trust Your Eyes?

Have you ever asked yourself why you feel some sense of magnetism toward physically attractive people? When a beautiful, elegantly attired woman enters a room, men will often pause just long enough to ogle, if only in admiration. The same can be said about an Adonis-like male who radiates a sensory stimulus among the females in a social setting. The ability to attract the opposite sex is part of the primeval instinct that runs deep in our genetic code. Anthropologists say it's related to our survival instinct because the amorous interest between the genders perpetuates the species.

Yet, physical attributes are subjective; some people place a higher priority on substance than on symmetry. A man may prefer a woman who's more interesting because of her work, her education, her commitment to family and/or her willingness to put others above herself. Similarly, a woman may feel that a man who spends a lot of time preening and pampering himself may have little time left to be a good provider and husband. 

Nevertheless, physical attraction plays a definite role in all walks of life, including politics. Before the advent of televised debates, most people only saw candidates in printed photos or grainy newsreels. In 1960, when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon appeared in the first televised debate in Chicago, it set a precedent for all future campaigns. Nixon, who had been the vice-president under Eisenhower for the past 8 years, was the more experienced of the 2 and was considered to be an excellent debater.

In retrospect, he was probably naïve when it came to the role that his demeanor and countenance would play in the image projected across the country. Even before the cameras rolled, observers noted the striking differences between the two would-be presidents. Realizing the debate would be in black and white, Kennedy had selected a dark navy blue suit, while Nixon was wearing a conservative grey suit that gave him a pale, almost sickly complexion. 

His opponent however, whose aides were more aware of the power of this new medium, had prepared their man for the cameras. Senator Kennedy's  staffers made sure that makeup was applied that would enhance and accentuate his tan and give him a healthier, more vibrant appearance. In addition, the senator had just finished a short, restful vacation. Nixon, on the other hand, had just been released from a hospital where he had been treated for a leg injury. Moreover, he decided to forego any makeup that might have improved his looks. The hot television lights honed in on Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow that would have been minimized by a little dab of powder. Moreover, beads of sweat appeared above his upper lip, giving him the appearance of nervousness. Kennedy looked more confident, more capable and, as was well documented later, more attractive to women voters.

Since the debate was broadcast on radio too, it provided an excellent opportunity to judge the effectiveness of this new, electronic tool. Most radio listeners were left with the impression that Nixon was the winner because of his substantive answers and superior knowledge of issues. His foreign policy experience came through as evidence that he was more qualified for the highest office. But, those who could view the looks and gestures of the two men had a very different perspective. They seemed to focus not so much on what was said, but on who said it. Reviewers said Kennedy was cool under pressure, relaxed in his answers and focused his eyes on the camera, giving the impression that he was speaking directly to the audience sitting in their living rooms at home.

Given the fact that Kennedy won by about a tenth of a percent, it's not difficult to conclude that Nixon, the better known and vastly more experienced candidate, was the first casualty of a new political landscape that had just descended on the American scene. Historians have no doubt that JFK's handsome, confident persona gave him enough votes to edge out his opponent. Today, we can assume that most Americans have matured since then and have a much more sophisticated approach to decision-making. Furthermore, they have multiple viewings and close-ups that show every pimple, wart and spasmodic tic in living color. All of which should give us confidence in their judgment because most of the leading candidates from each party are not exactly heartthrobs. Still, if Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Angelina Jolie were to throw their respective hats in the ring, I'd be afraid, very afraid. 

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
Have you ever asked yourself why you feel some sense of magnetism toward physically attractive people? When a beautiful, elegantly attired woman enters a room, men will often pause just long enough to ogle, if only in admiration. The same can be said about an Adonis-like male who radiates a sensory stimulus among the females in a social setting. The ability to attract the opposite sex is part of the primeval instinct that runs deep in our genetic code. Anthropologists say it's related to our survival instinct because the amorous interest between the genders perpetuates the species.

Yet, physical attributes are subjective; some people place a higher priority on substance than on symmetry. A man may prefer a woman who's more interesting because of her work, her education, her commitment to family and/or her willingness to put others above herself. Similarly, a woman may feel that a man who spends a lot of time preening and pampering himself may have little time left to be a good provider and husband. 

Nevertheless, physical attraction plays a definite role in all walks of life, including politics. Before the advent of televised debates, most people only saw candidates in printed photos or grainy newsreels. In 1960, when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon appeared in the first televised debate in Chicago, it set a precedent for all future campaigns. Nixon, who had been the vice-president under Eisenhower for the past 8 years, was the more experienced of the 2 and was considered to be an excellent debater.

In retrospect, he was probably naïve when it came to the role that his demeanor and countenance would play in the image projected across the country. Even before the cameras rolled, observers noted the striking differences between the two would-be presidents. Realizing the debate would be in black and white, Kennedy had selected a dark navy blue suit, while Nixon was wearing a conservative grey suit that gave him a pale, almost sickly complexion. 

His opponent however, whose aides were more aware of the power of this new medium, had prepared their man for the cameras. Senator Kennedy's  staffers made sure that makeup was applied that would enhance and accentuate his tan and give him a healthier, more vibrant appearance. In addition, the senator had just finished a short, restful vacation. Nixon, on the other hand, had just been released from a hospital where he had been treated for a leg injury. Moreover, he decided to forego any makeup that might have improved his looks. The hot television lights honed in on Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow that would have been minimized by a little dab of powder. Moreover, beads of sweat appeared above his upper lip, giving him the appearance of nervousness. Kennedy looked more confident, more capable and, as was well documented later, more attractive to women voters.

Since the debate was broadcast on radio too, it provided an excellent opportunity to judge the effectiveness of this new, electronic tool. Most radio listeners were left with the impression that Nixon was the winner because of his substantive answers and superior knowledge of issues. His foreign policy experience came through as evidence that he was more qualified for the highest office. But, those who could view the looks and gestures of the two men had a very different perspective. They seemed to focus not so much on what was said, but on who said it. Reviewers said Kennedy was cool under pressure, relaxed in his answers and focused his eyes on the camera, giving the impression that he was speaking directly to the audience sitting in their living rooms at home.

Given the fact that Kennedy won by about a tenth of a percent, it's not difficult to conclude that Nixon, the better known and vastly more experienced candidate, was the first casualty of a new political landscape that had just descended on the American scene. Historians have no doubt that JFK's handsome, confident persona gave him enough votes to edge out his opponent. Today, we can assume that most Americans have matured since then and have a much more sophisticated approach to decision-making. Furthermore, they have multiple viewings and close-ups that show every pimple, wart and spasmodic tic in living color. All of which should give us confidence in their judgment because most of the leading candidates from each party are not exactly heartthrobs. Still, if Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Angelina Jolie were to throw their respective hats in the ring, I'd be afraid, very afraid. 

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.