Aviator Joe is back – just in time to take his near-victory lap.
Forget Dark Brandon’s glowing eyes. As President Joseph R. Biden Jr. returns to Washington, D.C., to enter the White House to sign the Cut Inflation Act of 2022 into law, it’s his Ray-Ban 3025 – the dark sunglasses at teardrop metal frame that he made his signature — which once again seem like the emblem of the man.
Although the airmen and the big smile, public service personality that’s cool they represent never exactly left, they retreated to the background, relegated mostly to bike rides and similar low-eyed appearances as the president battled Covid (politics, variants, his own case), the war in Ukraine, inflation and other grim issues. At the outdoor G7 family photo in June, he went tieless (like everyone else) and airmanless. At the White House Easter Egg Roll, the first since the pandemic, the glasses were also gone.
But since Mr Biden emerged from his Covid isolation in the sun earlier this month, airmen have been the center of his face: as he proclaims his negative status in a speech from Rose Garden, during his trip with the first lady in Eastern Kentucky to investigate flood damage, while vacationing in South Carolina. Symbolic, once again, of a president who, as John Harwood wrote for CNN, “suddenly looks different.”
It’s attitude above all else (even taking into account the summer glow). He’s not just wearing sunglasses now. He wears sunglasses.
“You know Joe Biden is having a good day when he wears his airmen,” said Lis Smith, the author of the recent book “Any Given Tuesday” and the political strategist who helped craft Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. See, for example, Mr. Biden’s appearance last April when he, Vice President Kamala Harris and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared on the South Lawn after the Senate confirmed Ms. Jackson as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
“You know he’s having a good month when you see him day in and day out wearing his airmen,” Ms Smith continued. “It’s a sign that he’s on a roll right now.”
That the re-emergence happened on the heels of another great aviator re-emergence and achievement, that of Tom Cruise in “Top Gun: Maverick”, is probably no coincidence. After all, as Jimmy Kimmel said when the president was his guest in June, Mr. Biden “is to aviator sunglasses what Tom Cruise is to aviator sunglasses.” Both men – or rather their iconic characters – wear the same style (albeit sometimes with different frames) and have done so for decades. Since the first “Top Gun”, in 1986, and, according to a White House spokeswoman, since Mr. Biden was a lifeguard at the university.
Mr Biden even used his as a stand-in to announce his first Instagram post in 2014, which didn’t feature his face but his Ray-Bans tossed on his desk. When he played himself (as vice president) in a White House correspondent’s dinner sketch inspired by “Veep” that same year, he did it with his Ray-Bans, a leather jacket and his Corvette – but the glasses took center stage.
Since Mr. Biden took office, the glasses have been part of his diplomatic gift set, presented to political peers such as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (both during the Mr. Biden’s trip to Asia in May), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada (during the North American Three Amigos summit in November 2021) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (after meeting in Geneva in 2021).
More recently, another pair of Ray-Bans helped propel “Top Gun: Maverick” to the top of the box office, challenged conventional wisdom that Covid and streaming had buried the summer blockbuster, and played a vital role in a story featuring an aging but even more effective hero. Someone better for all his experience. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
They represent, “I’m a cool guy, but I’m a responsible person, and I’m going to wave the American flag and save you,” said “Veep” consultant and founder and CEO Tammy Haddad. by Haddad Media. It is a familiar, comfortable semiology, which refers to the myths of the silent generation and the promise of Mr. Biden.
“People loved seeing Cruise back in his fliers and reacting,” Ms. Haddad said. “The president is following the same path hoping for the same results.”
Especially given the story of success and continued vigor that the West Wing tries to convey (“continuous vigor” being pretty much synonymous with “Tom Cruise”). As a style, aviators are, according to GQ, “ageless and eternal.”
This may seem reductive and superficial, but it is also part of how we interpret the world. We’ve been steeped in the growing osmosis between Hollywood, social media and politics over the past six years, dating back to Trump administration reality TV and culminating in the dramatic arc of the recent 6 January, produced by James Goldston, the former president of ABC News.
After two months of seeing Mr. Cruise’s giant smile beneath his Ray-Bans in adverts and posters, and being inundated with headlines and tweets proclaiming his superpowers, there’s an almost Pavlovian reaction to seeing the same glasses on Mr. Biden. Such images push our subliminal buttons and play on associations, whether we are aware of it or not. This is basic human psychology.
It’s not, says Ms. Smith, that they’re an “accessory,” but that they’re a true expression of a certain archetype. “It’s vintage Joe Biden,” she said.
Besides, what better way, really, for anyone to suggest they’re flying high?