Emotions in Images – When Rationality No Longer Works
Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Germany is facing an increasing number of new Covid-19 infections. Even worse, the country is recording a disturbing record of daily deaths. Chancellor Angela Merkel appeals to the public as well as the elected officials with an emotional speech to further tighten the Corona restrictions. The public-service broadcasting ARD reported on her speech and the general debate in the daily news format “Tagesthemen” and selected a preview image for Caren Miosga’s introduction which appears to show Angela Merkel praying at the lectern.
How does the German Chancellor present herself? What emotional expression does her posture imply? Clara List and Corinna Hartwig examine the meaning of this image using the method of iconographic context analysis.
The screenshot was taken during the ARD Tagesthemen on 09.12.2020. That day, the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s federal institute for public health and infectious diseases, reported 20.815 new coronavirus cases and the highest number of corona fatalities in Germany until then. That night, Caren Miosga, the woman with short blond, slightly curly hair on the left hand side of the image is moderating the “ARD Tagesthemen”.1 She is standing in the TV studio in front of a large, counter-shaped table that shimmers blue on the surface. Miosga is wearing a long-sleeved pink dress with a belt of the same color around her hips. In her hands she holds cards with the program’s logo printed on the back. The logo of “Tagesthemen” also appears as an overlay in the lower right of the picture. She has been moderating “Tagesthemen” on the channel “Das Erste” since 2007. The “Tagesthemen” is a news program that reports on the daily politics of Germany in depth. Caren Miosga is standing in front of a large, slightly oval screen that stretches almost across the entire width in the background and takes up a large part of the whole image. The photograph on the screen shows a close-up of German chancellor Angela Merkel. The size of the screen and the perspective make her appear a lot larger than life, especially compared to the moderator in the TV studio. She is wearing a red blazer, her eyes are closed and her palms are pressed together in front of her chest. Her position is slightly bent forward, standing at a black lectern. Merkel takes up most of the picture and consequently represents the center of the image.
The Hamburg born politician has been governing the country since 2005, until 2018 she was party leader of the CDU. In the course of the general debate the doctor of physics made an emotional appeal to the state premiers to press ahead with the tough negotiations. The upcoming Christmas holidays and exponentially rising case numbers were the reason for the debate in the Bundestag. Frustration resonates in Merkel’s sentences. “If we have too many contacts now before Christmas and subsequently it will have been the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we will have failed. We should not do that!”2, Merkel says.
The central element of the image is the apparently praying chancellor in a red blazer, which draws the viewer’s attention to her and pushes the TV moderator Miosga into the background. The red color of Angela Merkel’s blazer acts like a signal, a warning sign.
The folded hands and closed eyelids show the human being Angela Merkel and not the office she holds. It is not political power relations that are in the foreground, but human lives. As chancellor of Germany and former party leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the Christian faith is of great importance to her, both in politics and in private life. “I am a member of the Protestant Church, I believe in God, and religion has been my constant companion in my life“,3 Merkel said in her weekly podcast from 2012. Born a pastor’s daughter, the pandemic combines the rationality of science with the Christian image of humanity, as her stance makes clear. A rational scientist who argues for the findings of science, who believes in the power of enlightenment and evidence, is praying in days like these. She prays for confidence and perseverance, for reason and acceptance, and for all the people who have lost loved ones to the pandemic. The otherwise aloof, matter-of-fact and cool-headed politician showed herself here in an emotional, almost vulnerable way and thus underlined the urgency of her appeal.
The basis of the CDU’s policy is the Christian understanding of the human being and his/her responsibility before God. The fundamental values of freedom, solidarity and justice are derived from this basic assumption.4 The German chancellor publicly represents her faith affiliation through the praying gesture in the Bundestag. Solidarity is needed, charity and common sense, so that the numbers do not continue to rise. Angela Merkel’s red blazer however does not symbolize the Christmas spirit, it symbolizes urgency.
Written by Clara List and Corinna Hartwig
1. Tagesschau: “590 Corona-Todesfälle in Deutschland”, accessed December, 2020, https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/rki-corona-todesfaelle-101.html.
2. All translations by the authors; Tagesschau: “Bundeskanzlerin Merkel fordert in Generaldebatte strengere Corona-Auflagen”, accessed December 20, 2020, https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/video/video-794209.html.
3. Swanhild Zacharias: “So steht Merkel zum christlichen Glauben,“ PRO Christliches Medienmagazin, July 17, 2019, https://www.pro-medienmagazin.de/politik/2019/07/17/so-steht-merkel-zum-christlichen-glauben.
4. https://www.cdu.de/artikel/selbstverstaendnis-der-cdu, accessed December 20, 2020.
In all fairness and admitting that all above is correct, still AKK was the main person since she was inaugurated…