A exciting new feature on our website, New Perspectives on Illustration, written by emerging scholars, will offer fresh perspectives on published art. The outstanding analysis here by MICA graduate illustration student Kevin Valente was inspired by illustrator Barry Blitt’s “Bromance,” an August 2012 cover for The New Yorker. This fall, the Norman Rockwell Museum continues its educational collaboration with Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, and Joyce K. Schiller, Ph.D., curator of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, teach a Critical Seminar course at MICA for an outstanding group of students in the Master of Fine Arts Illustration Practice Program, chaired by award-winning illustrator Whitney Sherman. Enjoy Kevin Valente’s piece, and look for more compelling commentary on the art of illustration soon.
Barry Blitt’s “Bromance”
An Essay by Kevin Valente
Every four years, Americans are provided with endless humor and entertainment as the current Presidential candidates are critiqued, caricatured and scrutinized by the public and media. As Election Day approaches, our lives are becoming filled with countless political perspectives and witty portrayals through the use of political cartoons, illustrations, news, comedy and talk shows, YouTube skits, and radio commentary. A perfect example of a witty critique and satire by a media outlet is Barry Blitt’s (1958-) cover illustration for the September 3, 2012 issue of The New Yorker entitled Bromance.
Bromance is a pen and ink, watercolor illustration depicting the seemingly out-of-touch Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, and his running mate, extreme conservative Paul Ryan, as engaging in a sort of romance between two heterosexual men that verges on homosexuality, commonly known as a “bromance.” By titling this illustration as Bromance, Blitt creates a remarkably astute and hilarious satire of Romney and Ryan’s relationship. As two vehemently straight, anti-gay men, who believe homosexuality and gay marriage are a sin, they appear to be completely enamored with themselves on the campaign trail.
Blitt’s cover illustration not only touches upon the relationship between Romney and Ryan, but also upon their absurd perspectives. This is expressed through six different spot images in which Romney and Ryan are seen as caring and loving towards each other. The six scenes include: Romney and Ryan giving a speech, Ryan’s hand clearly seen holding Mitt’s lower back; working on an old car together shirtless, Romney is in short-shorts; Ryan reading Romney to sleep with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; the two trying to tar and feather an innocent puppy (perhaps an allusion to Romney’s shenanigans from his youth); Romney and Ryan sharing a milkshake together in the same manner that two young lovers would; and finally, Romney on Ryan’s back running around and laughing. Needless to say, this cover illustration is ripe with hypocritical criticism, as both men are known for propagating hate towards loving relationships and marriage between members of the same sex. By showing Romney and Ryan as having a bromance, especially on a magazine with a circulation of one million plus, America is asked to further contemplate the motives and actions of these two party members. Furthermore, this irony heightens the controversy and absurdity that is commonly associated with their perceived train-wreck of a campaign.
In a cultural context, Blitt’s illustration falls in line with the well conceived satires on shows such as Saturday Night Live (e.g. “Cold Opening Romney Campaign”) and the Daily Show. Much like these comedic and shrewd television shows, Bromance continues to spotlight the absurdity of having a man such as Mitt Romney — who is valued at 200 million dollars, who had a horse run in the Olympics, etc. — using a platform that promotes his image as a regular, average Joe. Romney consistently is quoted for disrespecting the American public with bourgeois statements about his life, while simultaneously proposing plans to shutdown countless government funded programs (e.g. Obamacare, Medicare, Food Stamps, etc.) that help low-income families, which represent the vast majority of the American public. Consequentially, it is hilarious to imagine Romney completing stereotypical Americana, blue-collar working class activities. It is ridiculous to see them working on a car, or even, the simple romantic idea that either man would split a milkshake, let alone in a diner, is so unbelievable it is hilarious. However, it is not until Blitt takes a turn for the dark that the most powerful allusion and critique is made. The scene where Romney and Ryan are set to tar and feather a dog aligns the two with the derelicts and emotional unstable individuals who use animal abuse for entertainment, resulting in an understanding that that these two men are completely out of touch with the American public. The entire collection of illustrations elevates the mystique of Romney and Ryan to an entirely new level of irrationality and absurdity.
Finally, like any great critique or political cartoon, Bromance as a cover illustration for The New Yorker draws many parallels to canon of political art before it. Similar to the mural of Brezhev-Honecker Kiss by Dmitri Vrubel (1960-), Blitt has taken two iconic figures of power and masculinity and satired their relationship for all to see in an extremely public forum. And although Blitt’s cover illustration is drawn with humor and cannot have the same viewership of a large scale mural, it is no the less equally as frightening, nor persuasive. In conclusion, Bromance is a wonderful example of the power an illustrator and artist has in providing a divergent point of view, while cleverly critiquing a current cultural phenomenon — the Romney Campaign — that could possibly, like the kiss between Brezhev-Honecker Kiss, change our entire world.