Back in 1958, The Royal Teens, a New Jersey singing group, scored a top ten hit with “Short Shorts.” You can see what the commotion was about on YouTube.
And it turns out that short shorts, as seen in photographs, still attract attention. The blogosphere was all abuzz last week, following the appearance of photograph on Newsweek’s November 23rd cover, featuring Sarah Palin in running shorts. Why did Newsweek run and repurpose the photo, originally shot by photographer Brian Adams for a Runner’s World magazine article, "I’m a Runner"? Was it a sexist thing to do, as Taylor Marsh contends in a Huffington Post blogpost? Was it newsstand-sales-boosting tactic for a magazine trying to grab the spotlight? Was the selection of the image ideologically driven, a not-so-oblique comment on what a controversial national figure is doing for attention? Or is it just one more example of the way images that feature celebrity skin (or flesh in general) generate a Pavlovian response?
One thing’s for sure, this seems like it’s getting to be a trend. Remember the pictures and flap this past August when Michelle Obama wore shorts on a trip to the Grand Canyon? Remember the he-manly and shirtless photographs that Vladmir Putin released to the media, also in August? And what about the widely reproduced paparazzi photos of Barack Obama’s presidential abs? Is this all just an image-world’s way of updating of The Emperor’s New Clothes? Is featuring images of world leaders minus their shirts and/or pants on a way to make them look, as US Magazine puts it, “just like us?” Either way, photography proves itself essential, once again, in building and knocking images.