Snip, snip? The symbolic clout of Sikh man nodding approval for (a) Trump or (b) Schumer

Anyone who knows anything about America in the past half century or so knows that we live in a culture that is increasingly dominated by visual images and the emotions they produce.

Images were crucial as modern print journalism evolved. It goes without saying that images are crucial in visual storytelling in television, past and present.

Today? While words matter in social media, nothing grabs people quite like that punchy, ironic, cute, infuriating or poignant image that seems to sum up (a) whatever is happening in the real world at the moment or (b) whatever we are consuming in order to be able to ignore whatever is happening in the real world at the moment.

Thus, a former GetReligionista sent the current team an email the other day -- with the simple headline, "Hmmmm" -- containing the item at the top of this post.

What's the point? The question has been asked many times: Why do so many people get confused and think that Sikhs are Muslims? Is there something compelling about the Sikh turban (the dastaar) that makes journalists think "foreign," "exotic," maybe "Arab" and, thus, "Muslim" or someone who would be accused of being a "Muslim terrorist"?

Ah, but the turban is VISUAL and it all but screams "diversity," "other world religions" and "multiculturalism."

At the moment, is the whole point -- in terms of journalism shorthand -- that a Sikh believer looks like the kind of man that the angry, fact-challenged, Islamophobic Donald Trump voter is supposed to want to (a) beat up and then (b) accuse of being a "Muslim" terrorist? 

Well, a few key facts are wrong. But, hey, the point is to make a point. Right? We can learn to handle little facts about which world religion is which later. You know, that whole "getting religion" thing is so hard to do on deadline. The Sikh guy is so much more visually compelling than an ordinary American Muslim man in a business suit.

This brings me to another early Trump-time email from a GetReligion reader who apparently had lots and lots of time to analyze mainstream television coverage of the inauguration address.

Something popped into this reader's head that is really interesting.

This is picky, so let's go slowly. Let's start with the ABC News version of the address itself. The key moment comes at the 11:30 mark, as President Trump is offering some thoughts on his view of America's place in our troubled world. The text reads like this:

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism. ...

With the second "shine" reference, the editors cut to -- you guessed it -- a thoughtful Sikh man in the audience who appears to nod (watch the video) his approval.

Later on, this reader watched the coverage from the taxpayer-supported offerings at PBS.

In this case, the key comment comes at about the 3:40 mark, during the remarks of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- offering some challenging progressive words from the opposition party.

As Schumer shares his views of what makes America great, the camera -- in this extensively edited package of reports about the day's events -- shifts away to ... what?

Well, let's be blunt here. It appears to be the same image of the Sikh man, nodding in approval, that appeared in the full ABC News coverage of the live event. Only now this human symbol of multiculturalism is nodding approval to Schumer's view of the world.

Now, it's next to impossible to freeze the two videos and get precisely the same screen shots. I took one shot at it and that was that.

Obviously, the same people were standing in roughly the same positions during the whole event. We also could be dealing with pool-camera footage that was shared in common.

But, asked the reader, is it possible that everyone in these images stood in exactly the same positions the whole time, right down to the alignment of five or six faces and heads? After all, quite a bit of time had elapsed between the early remarks of Schumer and final Trump address.

Deja vu all over again? Did the Sikh man have precisely the same expression and nod for both Trump's remarks as those of Schumer?

Ah, the bigger question is this: Does it matter that such a poignant human symbol is shown nodding approval to nationalist Trump, as opposed to the progressive Schumer?

Would PBS video editors, working after the event itself, really move the Sikh's symbolic nod from one speaker to another as a form of editorial comment?

If there are broadcast and digital editing professionals out there who can help us on this question, please leave me some comments.

As it is, I will simply say: This looks really interesting.


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