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Condi, Cleopatra, and the performance of celebrity.

Condoleeza Rice dismisses 30 Rock's humiliated Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin): "Take that, Turkey." Zhe diss comes after a classical "battle of the bands," his flute no match for her agile piano solos. (1) In this dual role as Donaghy's former girlfriend and as herself, Condi is relaxed and elegant as she shoos Jack from her book-lined office. Decked in a spiffy grey tweed Chanel mini-dress and pearls, her smile is more than a little mischievous, reaching beyond him to us, her TV audience. "You'd better leave, Jack, before this gets too weird." And it is a little weird. On the surface, Rice's 2011 appearance on 30 Rock as Jack Donaghy's former girlfriend would seem to be random, even more so than AI Gore's appearance as a Climate Change superhero a few seasons before. What might George W. Bush's former Secretary of State and most trusted member of his cabinet be doing playing a cameo on a show created, directed by, and starring the notoriously liberal Tina Fey? Perhaps Fey is cutting Rice some slack despite their ideological differences in acknowledgment of Rice's success in withstanding the pressures of a male-dominated administration, a struggle similar to that which Fey explores in her own 2011 best-selling memoir of her career as a writer, performer, and director in the male-dominated comedy world, Bossypants. (2) Maybe Rice was a little too good for her former boss, the episode suggests. The plotline gives a chance to level a criticism at the former administration while also praising Rice. On the show, Jack Donaghy is forced to call on Rice's expertise--despite the fact that things ended badly with her when his journalist girlfriend Avery is kidnapped by Kim Jong-il. (Jack confesses, among other things, that he'd broken up with Rice by text.) Was Rice underappreciated by the Bush administration? Did she run intellectual circles around Bush, Rumsfield, and her other colleagues in the same way she runs circles around Jack in the scene? Freed for the moment from the panic of September 11, the shared responsibility of Katrina's mishandling, those missing weapons of mass destruction, and other events that have been sore spots for Bush's presidency, Rice is allowed the upper hand, as well as a sense of humor and her own nerdy beauty (insisting to Jack, for example, that Mars Attacks is the best movie of all time). Here, Fey would seem to be expressing a desire that others might also have--to know Rice. What would Condoleeza Rice sound like if she were truly a free agent, without the boundaries of past political loyalties or the pressures of history? Would she be less distanced, more familiar? Would she be funny?

Like other examples of Rice's icononicity, her distance as well as her spectacularity as a beautiful black woman are often at play. Rice's name was first mentioned on the show as the neoconservative Jack Donaghy's down-low inamorata in 30 Rock's first season, in 2006. In Season One's "The Break-Up" episode, we discover that Jack is having an undercover affair with an unnamed "highranking African American in George Bush's Administration," as he tells Liz Lemon (Fey). A little later, we hear Jack exchanging love coos with his Condi over the phone but never see her. The two break up because "Condi" doesn't have enough time to spend on their relationship and apparently won't appear in public with him. It's clear, though, that Donaghy still holds a torch for her, and in a mock-courtly flourish he threatens to kick Vladimir Putin's teeth in for daring to touch the small of her back during a diplomatic visit. Condoleeza Rice is the perfect former undercover lover for Jack Donaghy, who is politically connected and a bit of a rake, as well. Single, beautiful, poised and a person of great accomplishment, Rice is an insider in the world that uber-conservative Donaghy most admires. And she is seemingly unattainable--a perfect way to stage Donaghy's own ambitions. Rice serves as an idealized icon of Republican celebrity and glamor, inaccessible and yet the subject of fantasy. Here, Fey and the other 30 Rock writers might well be bringing a satiric eye to past rumors that Rice was George W. Bush's own down-low inamorata (reinforced by Rice's purported real-time slip of the tongue in calling Bush her "husband" at a Washington, D. C. dinner party), and to the national pastime of matching her with other powerful leaders, including Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay, Moammar Kadafi, and, yes, even Vladamir Putin.

Rice's dominant image as undercover lover of powerful men--despite her impressive intellecual accumen and accomplishment (political science professor, former Stanford Provost, ranked four times one of Time's 100 most influential people)--is one of the several ways that she's linked to the iconicity of Shakespeare's Cleopatra. In Shakespeare's, as well as others' writing of her, Cleopatra is a source of desire, distraction, and excess for the already betrothed Mark Antony:
   Nay, but this dotage of our General's
   O'erflows the measure: those his goodly eyes,
   That o'er the flies and musters of the war
   Have flowed like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
   The office and devotion of their view
   Upon a tawny front. (1.1.1-6) (3)

In Shakespeare's play, Cleopatra's tawniness becomes synomous with her desirability as well as her potential danger to distract. This link between racial difference and sexual power informs the unspoken but still lurking aspect of titillation behind the Condoleeza and George W. Bush rumor. Yet in the same play that Cleopatra is seen hopping in the marketplace among the rabble with her Antony, Cleopatra is also Queen, Egypt itself, larger-than-life image of beauty, sexuality and power. There is often the sensation in Antony and Cleopatra that we are watching an icon at work, the idea of a woman, rather than flesh and blood.

While the image of Rice as undercover lover might seem to be in contradiction with her as prim, proper icon of Republican womanhood, I'd like to suggest that these images are really two sides of the same coin--symptoms of the anxiety surrounding Rice as a primarily political figure, as an agent rather than an object of power.

I have to admit that I've shared this anxiety as well. I've wanted to see Condoleezza Rice as the face of power but not necessarily as its source. As I've followed Rice's career, I've wanted to read her choice to work for the Bush administration either as the pawn in a cynical game by others--to put a friendly and brown, feminine face on the War on Terror--or even better as an infiltrator, subverting the structures of power from within on the highest levels. As I've read her post-Bush Administration memoir, No Higher Honor, I've scanned the pages for admissions of shame and disidentification, despite the clear allegiance of the title. (4) I underlined in red pen the glimmers of the personal in her writing, phrases like 'Tm still mad at myself," (5) or even her admission when first meeting George W., "I liked him." (6) I found myself returning to the front cover photo to find accessibility and yes, likeability in her eyes, her crow's feet, her gap-toothed smile that reminds me a little of my sister's.

In this essay, I will explore the links bewteen Condi and Cleopatra, two hypervisible and hypernotorious women haunted by rumor, speculation, and fetishization. Both have bodies whose sexual desires and presentation of racial identity are the subject of avid speculation. Both are wielders of incredible political responsibility, while at the same time serving as figureheads, sometimes at risk of being dismissed as eye candy. Both pique and ultimately resist our knowledge of their political motives. How might we reconcile the desire to "know" Condi and Cleopatra with our admiration for their tantalizing public masks? How might we untangle the desire to watch some unplanned exposure of private self--celebrity shaming--with the desire for political analysis and accountability? In what ways does the machinery of celebrity work in tandem with the mechanisms of neoliberalism and the contemporary postcolonial condition to mystify workings of power, challenging an analysis of conscience or accountability? And what happens after Condoleezza becomes the property of the public? As a still living icon, can she control the narratives that her iconicity suggests in a way that Cleopatra, now a fully fictionalized historical figure, cannot?

If, as many Shakespeareans have documented, the Bard has been appropriated to talk back to empire, (7) we might also think about the ways that Shakespeare's characters and narratives, freed from the immediate context of their surroundings, offer themselves not only to moments of resistance, but also potentially as tools of distraction to resistance in this particular cultural moment. Paul Gilroy suggests that while one of the positive aspects of the postcolonial condition has been the appropriation and annexation of creative space for formerly colonized subjects to "Strike back" against empire through music, literature and other forms of art, (8) yet this acting up and talking back have been countered by the diminishment of rights post-September 11, along with the effective dismantling of the welfare state and the public good through privatization. These forms of oppression appear in the midst of a (revised) discourse of multiculturalism, inclusion, tolerance, and global progress. (9) The juxtaposition of these two states of being, Gilroy suggests, produces a state of melancholia characterized by distraction as much as dis-ease. I'd like to suggest that we can use the Cleopatra icon, as embodied by Condoleezza Rice, as a means to bring to light the political uses of distraction, as well as the dynamics of collaboration, cooptation, and erasure that are an aspect of our current postcolonial state. From the rumors of Condi's love life to the opportunity to laugh with her on 30 Rock, Rice has continued to serve as a source of distraction, despite the seriousness of her role. Her inclusion in Bush's cabinet, and her highly spectacular presence in press conferences, diplomatic appearances, and elsewhere promotes the ideal of a post-racial present in a way that anticipates uses of the Obamas' image--a distraction perhaps from still salient critiques of white supremacy and racism.

During Rice's service under the Bush administration, as well as afterwards, our culture has been more focused on Rice's mysterious love life than on her political strategy and her shared responsibility for some of the most controversial world events of the twenty-first century thus far. Indeed, we might question whether the sexualization of Rice's role is a mere distraction from her political agency or an acknowledgment of the ways that bodies and desires are part of the political equation. During the Bush administration, Rice's love life has been a concern of both conservative and leftist writers and activists. In his nationally syndicated comic, The Boondagcks, Aaron McGruder suggests that finding Rice a boyfriend might be the solution to world problems. "Maybe if there was a man of the world who Condoleezza truly loved, she wouldn't be so hell-bent to destroy it," McGruder's precocious young character Caesar suggests. (10) On conservative fan sites, she is an image of grace and sexiness, and the sign of Bush's openness to racial difference--Bush's on-duty trophy wife. In these sites, she, like Shakespeare's Cleopatra, is praised for her powerful entrances and her ability to capture the attention of the room. For the organization CODE PINK, a feminist organization that uses the performative tactics of groups like ACT UP and Queer Nation to bring attention to issues like militarization, abortion rights, and queer rights, Rice is betrayer, the coopted black woman, a Malinche figure who has sometimes been seen as a projection of Bush's power. Now that Bush's term is over and she has stepped down from this public position, Condoleezza has emerged as the human face of the former administration's otherwise invisible diplomacy. If when she was in office we were discouraged from examining her motives, her ambitions, and perhaps her contradictions, her memoir No Higher Honor gives her space to voice some of these questions. These aspects of Rice's iconicity not only distract us from her agency as an actor in complex world politics; they reflect the ways that women of color are often reduced to their sexualized and spectacular bodies in the public eye. We might see parallels to the attention given to Michelle Obama's well-developed biceps in the early days of Obama's presidency, a distraction from the anxiety of having a black couple in the White House, perhaps.

Such projections of desire have a history in representations of women marked as other, nationally and racially. As I've returned again and again to the Cleopatra icon, I've sought to explore through her what we can discover about the performance of difference, here especially feminine difference in the face of power. I find glimmers in Shakespeare's portrait, and even more siginifcantly in Cleopatra icons that come later in her popular history, the performance of the experience of being an object of desire. From Elizabeth Taylor's excess to Tamara Dobson's haughty uprightness in the blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones, Cleopatra, like Rice, exhibits a kind of double consciousness, a mask that covers a self-awareness of her own story and the ways that she serves as a pleasure source for others, particularly through the gaze. For each of these Cleopatras, this masked self-awareness is a key strategy for negotiating the powers around her, and for gaining her own power.

A second link, then, between Condoleezza and Cleopatra might be their masking, the element of the unknown in terms of their motivations and loyalties--and the ways that rumor, speculation, and attention to beauty participate in that masking. As I've written in my earlier study of the Cleopatra Icon, Shakespeare's Cleopatra inspires in those who love her the desire to know her. (11) An image always still in formation, Cleopatra slides out of the poet's and scholar's grasp. Enobarbus says that
   Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
   Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
   The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
   Where most she satisfies. (2.2.240-43)

It is not for nothing that Shakespeare's most memorable description of Cleopatra is put in the mouth of one of his most articulate cynics about both love and politics. While I've spent some time thinking about Cleopatra and her powers of invention, I've often wondered but never fully explored the moments in Shakespeare's drama where her motivations seem to be the most elusive. Why exactly does Cleopatra appear to flee battle when fighting with Antony on the seas? Has she convinced Antony to fight a sea battle because this is where her own military strength lies? What do we make of the omen that swallows have built nests in her sails? Has Cleopatra made negotiations with Octavius Caesar to protect her own interests even before the battle is lost? In Plutarch's Lives, one of Shakespeare's sources, Cleopatra is explicitly self-serving in her strategy, bartering for the protection of Isis's tomb and for her hold on Egypt even before the battle is lost. Shakespeare complicates the picture of Cleopatra's loyalty with descriptions of her desirability and eroticism. Might Cleopatra's masking have something directly to do with her role as a "notorious" figure of desire? At those moments where we might most want to know what she's thinking and what she wants, we find out instead what others want and fear of her. She is and continues to be the screen onto which others project their desires.

For Rice, this element of the unknown has eased some since Bush has left office. Rice has been able to talk about at least some of her responses to major decisions and problems of the era in her memoir. She reflects on the significance of her role as the first black Secretary of State. She acknowledges regrets, as well as differences she had with Bush and others on some major decisions. For example, on her decision to go shopping during the first hours of Hurricane Katrina, she admits that she was regrettably tone-deaf:
   Clearly the response of the federal government was slower than the
   President himself wanted it to be, and there were many missteps,
   both in perception and in reality. I'm still mad at myself for only
   belatedly understanding my own role and responsibilities in the
   crisis. (12)

But even as she carefully documents her role in some of the Bush administration's biggest decisions, from the first hours of September 11 to the decision to invade Iraq, there are still gaps in our knowing. In particular, the memoir still leaves us guessing about the motivations of her loyalty to Bush, her reasons--political, ethical and otherwise--for supporting his administration from the beginning.

To some degree the masked nature of Cleopatra icons and of Condoleeza Rice as she has emerged as an icon is an aspect of the way that celebrities circulate in mass media. In his book Celebrity, Chris Rojek writes that "The public presentation of self is always a staged activity, in which the human actor presents a 'front' or 'face' to others while keeping a significant portion of the self in reserve." (13) In the case of celebrity, the public split between the I (one's own sense of self) and the Me (the self seen by others) is both disturbing and tantalizing. From Charlie Sheen's downward spiral to John Travolta's recent outing and sex scandal, the collapse and humiliation of the celebrity promise for the fan an entry into the intimate lives of these distant figures and perhaps a democratic leveling. And as celebrity becomes increasingly ubiquitous, and our ways of watching, processing, and reconfiguring celebrity performances become even more numerous and innovative (from tabloids to blogs to YouTube Videos), the breakdown of the celebrity has become even more interactive and aesthetically heightened. The audience now has an important and more visible role in shaping the drama of celebrity shaming. Yet we might also identify a counterforce to this mass-media induced desire to know: the viability of celebrificaiton, and especially political celebrificaiton, as a means of distraction and obscurantism.

In Antony and Cleopatra, even before the heightened political ambiguity in the play's second half, Shakespeare describes the experience of loving and wanting to know Cleopatra as akin to the experience of the fan, yearning to understand the gap in knowledge, the crux between the public and private selves. This desire to know leads to an undoing of the self. Enobarbus reports that he once watched Cleopatra
   Hop forty paces through the public street.
   And having lost her breath, she spoke, and panted
   That she did make defect perfection,
   And, breathless, power breathe forth. (2.2.228-32)

Shakespeare expertly describes the state of being a fan, of desiring connection with the "I," the personal, and of enjoying or taking part in the physical essence of the celebrity, here the absence of breath. Likewise, the fan orients his body to that of the celebrity, seeks the knowledge of the unknown through little bits and pieces of the star: an autograph, a lock of hair, or perhaps a sex tape. The fan seeks knowledge of the celebrity by attempting to become that person; the fan might dress in the same fashions as the star or wear the same hairstyle or buy the same pets, all to capture somehow that elusive mojo. Yet in this age of celebrity overexposure, the fan might well be self-conscious or even cynical, well aware of the workings of celebrity. He or she might know that our knowledge of the star is as elusive as that puff of air. Yet celebrities can still make that absence into a kind of power. Cleopatra pants and we pant. Cleopatra's breathless playacting at being one of us, one of the people of the street, changes the shape of the air, so that we are suspended from the everyday. We are forced to either reorient our relationship to that air or suffocate.

Cleopatra is an expert manipulator of the hunger that she produces, most dramatically in her manipulation of her own death and her threats of blinding herself. If she blinds herself--she threatens to scratch out her eyes at the news of the marriage of Fulvia and at the idea of being put on display by Octavius Caesar--she can no longer particpate in the exchange of looks. The desire for the star can now only go one way. Looked at, she can never return our gaze, our fear of fears. Creating desire from the threat of lack is the strategy of the striptease; the promise of exposure coupled with the fear that there might not ever be enough.

And Rice, too, has been an excellent strategist of the abstract wedded with the physical: Condi, lover of football, that ballet of bodies; scholar of the arms race, that surreal counting of how many ways we can destroy ourselves a million times over. Despite my political disagreements with her, I suspect that she has been underestimated by many as an effective scholar of the wedding of strategy and slight of hand.

Like Cleopatra, Condoleezza Rice has continued to capture her audience's attention through her elusiveness, her containment, and an element of mystery. But unlike the highly eroticized Cleopatra, Rice, the prototypical Southern Black Lady, a neocon preacher's daughter, policy wonk, classical pianist, and amateur ice skater, goes against the grain of widely circulated representations of black female sexuality as highly theatrical and accessible--a point made much of by both fans and foes. As Lisa B. Thompson writes, Rice's performance of an idealized middle-class black womanhood has meant the shielding of her own desires and body from the eyes of outsiders: "This performance relies heavily upon aggressive shielding of the body; concealing sexuality; and foregrounding morality, intelligence and civility as a way to counter negative stereotypes." (14) This tension between the image of prim striver and the black woman as always already "knowable" informs Rice's celebrity and, I'd argue, her political success.

The tantalizing prospect of seeing behind Rice's mask becomes a key selling point for Elizabeth Bumiller's 2007 biography Condoleeaza Rice: An American Life. Bumiller promises in her introduction that we will learn about the flesh-and-blood woman behind the myth:
   In recent years Rice's life story has taken on elements of myth,
   promoted in part by Rice herself. The official narrative is one of
   a precocious child, nurtured by adoring, ambitious parents, who
   threw off the yoke of her forebears and marched from one triumph to
   the next. Like most myths, this one contains elements of truth, but
   is far from the real story. Rice, like everyone else, had moments
   of doubt, disappointment and real crisis. She was not an
   academically brilliant student. She liked parties, dated football
   players, and spent part of her college years floundering. As
   provost at Stanford, she so antagonized the faculty that the
   Department of Labor began an investigation, still ongoing, into
   discrimination at the university against women. ... (15)

Even more significantly, Bumiller promises us to show us the real Rice behind the image of loyal follower of Bush, especially in the politically sensitive moments immediately following September 11. She suggests that
   Rice is a collected and controlled presence in public, but her life
   has been extraordinarily turbulent underneath. Her years at the
   White House and State Department have been marked by battles over
   policy and ideology, not only with Donald Rumsfeld, the former
   defense secretary who was her well-known nemesis, but with the
   powerful and secretive Cheney, a far more formidable adversary.

I'd argue that the suppression of conflict, desire, bad taste, and certainly goofiness in Rice's public image is shaped by the politics of 1960s racial uplift (Rice was born and raised in Birmingham, the only child of a powerful minister and a society matron), the aesthetics of middle-class black conservatism in an age of affirmative action, the folksy everyman tone of the Bush administration, and its contradictory lack of transparency of policy: Disappointingly, while Bumiller does present a complicated image of Rice as both product of the civil rights movement and only child of black middle-class strivers (and in fact a whole generation of strivers), she does less to particularize the political Rice. The biography sticks mostly to Rice's public face: her increasingly important role in the post-9/11 White House, deciphering and translating often conflicting intelligence reports for Bush, eventually becoming one of the administration's most visible international diplomats and the "chief saleswoman" to the public for the war in Iraq and specifically the existence of those Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Rice's mask seems to work both to provide an image of feminine strength and success of the black female striver and to suggest the transcendence of individual biography for the national good. In fan sites and postings on YouTube, we can see exploited the tension between Rice as a representation of widely circulating and therefore available black female sexuality and as a mask of containment and respectability of style and body. Many spoof her "squareness" and unhipness by either making her rap or dance. One video juxtaposes a prim and proper Rice in jonquil yellow Jackie O suit, nodding hesitatingly while (apparently) listening to a nearby concert given by dancehall rapper Shaggy. (17) A more politically heightened offshoot of this genre uses the supposed contradictoriness of Rice's image as a warning sign of her complicity with power. reimagines a Condoleeza who, questioned by Barbara Boxer, gets "pissed" and transforms into "Condolicious." (18) As "Condolicious," Rice raps about the "Haters" who critique the war in Iraq, and who gossip about her lovers (here, Bush and Mary Cheney). Alternately blowing kisses (like Lil' Kim) to Fox News and then breaking into a mean robot in skin-tight fatigues, "Condolicious" is as unapologetically righteous as Queen Latifah in a power suit: "Neo Con. Word Is Bond. Make Iraq like Vietnam."

A second category is the fan video, produced by groups like "Rice for President" (19) and "We Love Condi.Com." (20) These videos juxtapose slightly sexually suggestive images of Rice in diplomatic mode (kissing, hugging, apparently nuzzling world leaders) with old-fashioned cheesy love songs by white performers like Elvis, Kenny Rogers, and Connie Francis. These videos seem to yearn from afar for Condi's hip to be squareness, sometimes without irony, although one video interrupts its old-fashioned praise of her beauty to call attention to her "lovely legs and thighs. Encore!" There are of course some videos that promise more explicit findings. A "Condoleezza Rice" sex tape features a photoshopped Rice enjoying toe sucking time with a young stud in a hot tub, (21) and many others make use of "unguarded moments" of intimacy with Bush. (22) Many of the Bush-Loves-Condi videos are clearly critical of both (i.e., "Condi & George Love in the War on Terror"), (23) but the critique is mostly gentle. I was only able to find a few videos that contained sustained critiques of Rice and her policies. (24) So while Rice's YouTube celebrity exploits the juxtaposition of Rice's respectability with her visibility as a black woman, these tensions seem to distract both fans and detractors from any sustained questioning of her policies or her role as a strategist.

Mary Louise Pratt has argued that narratives of romance, sexuality, and sentiment have been used to obscure the workings of power from Pocohantas to La Malinche to Bartholemd de las Casas. (25) And certainly the proliferation of innuendo about a Condi/ Bush romance might be seen to fit into this mold. If we think of the significance of Bush's choice of Rice as only a matter of sexual titillation or Rice's loyalty as only a matter of romance, we fail to see Rice as both postcolonial subject and actor/agent. This narrative is part of the tradition of the sexualization of the go-between, in which the dark woman falls in love and betrays her people. Yet Rice also reminds us of the need for a new political language and the outdating of postcolonial frameworks that fail to acknowledge the roles of leaders of color in the construction of a neoliberal state.

In No Higher Honor, Rice speaks of the impact that her very person has had on the ways that we think of U. S. history. She describes looking up at Benjamin Franklin's portrait as she is sworn in as Secretary of State:
   What would he have thought of this great-granddaughter of slaves
   and child of Jim Crow Birmingham pledging to defend the
   constitution of the United States, which had infamously counted her
   ancestors "three-fifths" of a man? Somehow, I wanted to believe,
   Franklin would have liked history's turn toward justice and taken
   my appointment in stride. (26)

With Rice, Powell, and now the Obamas at the helm, we see leaders of color admitted into the highest ranks of power, while the ghosts of former history still haunt.

The story grows more complicated as we reconsider the image of Rice as an insider/outsider body at the same time that she had become the gatekeeper of the fight against the War on Terror, especially in terms of torture. In particular, we might consider how the "War on Terror" (and protest againt it) has been used as a means of monitoring good and bad political subjects on a transnational scale. During George W. Bush's term, Rice's mostly successful maneuvering ofU. S. discourses of black female respectability put her in the complex and perhaps troubling position of the most visible figurehead for his foreign policies, and in particular his policies on torture, the surveillance of good and bad bodies. This continues to haunt Rice, and her justifications of these politicies are taken up further in No Higher Honor. And while Rice uses that space to disagree with some of her strategic decisions (she admits, for example, that she dearly had not done enough to warn against the threat of al Qaeda right before the 9/11 attacks), she does not recant Bush's policies on torture. (27) We might think of the case of Condoleezza as an example of the state of postmodern melancholia and the challenge of cosmopolitianism that Paul Gilroy suggests is part and parcel of the postcolonial and postmodern condition, writ large.

Rice's mask, constructed both by her own performance of black womanhood and the particular dynamics of loyalty and protectionism of the Bush administration, has been quite successful overall in creating a political Teflon coating, distancing Rice from the administration's most controversial decisions, despite Rice's central role in policy formation and execution as national security advisor and Secretary of State. In a Washington Post-ABC News Poll conducted in 2008, when opposition to the Iraq War was approaching its height, Rice enjoyed a "Favorable-Unfavorable" rating of nearly two to one. (28) Indeed, Rice's negotiation of power and harnessing of an ideal of the transcendence of identity has been held up as a potential new model of politics for the future. New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear has coined the word "Condishly" to describe an aesthetics and packaging of female leadership that emphasizes loyalty and the defense of national interests while "transcending" gender and race. (29) Another blogger uses the phrase "Condi-like" to describe Sarah Palin's effective if morally questionable and mercurial rise to potential power. (An example from the blog Jabberous, "What did you think ofGov. Palin? Did she reach Condi-like heights of being a good looking Republican woman who likes guns, beer and killing wildlife?") (30)

In 2007, the New York Post became the site of the staging of a very odd and interesting moment (not the first time). The paper features a series of antiwar protesters from CODE PINK confronting Condoleezza Rice during a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing where Rice was set to testify about a "two-state" Solution in the Middle East. (31) CODE PINK successfully interrupted Rice's testimony and surrounded her with red-painted raised hands to confront her as a "war criminal," caught "redhanded." The photographs from this protest have become some of CODE PINK's most widely circulated images, still used on their site as a sign of their success. I find the photographs very revealing as two contrasting performances of politicized femininity: CODE PINK, borrowing the image of hysterical womanhood (and bloodiness), appropriating it for their own uses as a sign of critique; and Rice, masked facial expression, body folding in on itself to avoid the taint of the paint. Rice effectively avoids getting blood on her hands and avoids meeting the eyes of the protesters or the camera. The New York Post is ambiguous in its presentation of who is hero and who is victim. We might think of this image as an example, among many, of how Rice's body is the staging point for several political debates even as she seems to efface herself.

As I think about my own gaze on her, wanting to see in that carefully coiffed hair and spit-shined image another facet of the history of black resistance to racism (Rice did after all come from the same neighborhood as Angela Davis!), I've grown suspicious or at least more aware of my own desire to read Rice's mask as another kind of sly civility. Am I just as guilty as others of projecting my desires on her? Like Cleopatra, Rice presents a disturbing category crisis--she presents a "gap in nature," producing desire and labor where she seems to yield none. Both are more than mere blank or screen of projection--they create the conditions of performance and are therefore the sites of productivity and knowledge. What might take even more bravery is to look hard at the knowledge she represents.


(1.) "'30 Rock': Condoleezza Rice is Jack Donaghy's Ex-Girlfriend (VIDEO)," story and link to video first televised March 24, 2011, posted by The Huntington Post, March 29, 2011, updated June 29, 2011, 5 5 27.html.

(2.) Tina Fey, Bossypants (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011).

(3.) All references to Shakespeare's works are from The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford Edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997).

(4.) Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington 'New York: Crown Publishers, 2011).

(5.) Ibid., 399.

(6.) Ibid., 2.

(7.) The rich body of recent work on the use of Shakespeare to talk back to empire includes Jyotsna Singh's "Othello's Identity, Postcolonial Theory and Contemporary African Rewritings of Othello," in Women, Race and Writing in the Early Modern Period, ed. Margo Hendricks and Paticia Parker (New York: Routledge, 1993), 287-99; Singh's "Caliban versus Miranda: Race and Gender Conflicts in Postcolonial Rewritings of The Tempest," in Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture." Emerging Subjects, ed. Valerie Traub, Lindsay Kaplan, and Dympna Callaghan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 191-209; Thomas Cartelli's Repositioning Shakespeare: National Formations, Postcolonial Appropriations (New York: Routledge, 1999); Post-Colonial Shakespeares, ed. Ania Loomba (New York: Routledge, 2005); Natasha Distiller's South Africa, Shakespeare and Post-Colonial Culture (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005); Martin Orkin's Local Shakespeares: Praximation andPower (New York: Routledge, 2007); and Peter Erickson's Citing Shakespeare: The Reinterpretation of Race in Contemporary Literature and Art (New York: Palgrave, 2007).

(8.) See, for example, Gilroy's discussion of appropriation in "There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack" The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

(9.) Paul Gilroy, PostcolonialMelancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 8-9.

(10.) The episode, which circulated in 250 newspapers worldwide, ran in early October 2003. The Washington Post suspended and then reinstated the strip, defended by Post Ombudsman Michael Getler, "Putting 'The Boondocks' in the Dock," The Washington Post, Sunday, October 19, 2003, B06.

(11.) Francesca Royster, Becoming Cleopatra: The Shifting Image of an Icon (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 1-2.

(12.) Rice, 399.

(13.) Chris Rojek, Celebrit7 (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), 11.

(14.) Lisa Thompson, Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 2.

(15.) Elizabeth Bumiller, Condoleezza Rice: An American Life (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2009), xxii.

(16.) Ibid., xxii.

(17.) "Condi Rice Jams to Shaggy at DC Concert," Youtube video, 1:30, posted by sethjohnson, June 19, 2007,

(18.) "Condi Rice Raps," YouTube video, 2:05, posted by vlogkarate, February 6, 2007, C0 f2dHJ6A18.

(19.) Rice for President," a Yahoo group, has posted several videos. "Condi Rice Raps- Need for SpeedMost Wanted for President," YouTube video, 1:28, posted by GUILIANIvsRICE, September 10, 2007, 1 &list= PLC88B 108ED71 F35D4&feature=results_video. More recently, the group has supported Rice as Mitt Romney's running mate in the 2012 presidential elections.

(20.) See, for example, "Oh Condi. We Need you Today," YouTube video, 1:14, posted by We Love Con & September 5, 2007,

(21.) "Freaky Con&" Youtube video posted by Yasl2, May 28, 2007, watch?v=P3 rsx-lG2L8 &feature= fvsr.

(22.) See "Condi and George: A Love Story," Youtube video, 4:15, set to Dan Hill's song "Sometimes When We Touch," and posted by ramarie, Februay 25, 2007, watch?v=88nv0kdlyPM.

(23.) "Condi & George: Love in the War on Terror," Youtube video, 3:44, posted by apnsw, October 13, 2007,

(24.) Several of these focus on Rice's testimony to the 9/11 Commission, including "Condoleezza Rice Lying About Terror Threat to 9/11 Commission," YouTube video, 7:25, posted by MrLiestoUs, May 12, 2011,

(25.) Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992).

(26.) Rice, 302.

(27.) Ibid., xvii.

(28.) Hendrick Hertzberg, "Condiment: Comment," The New Yorker (online edition), March 17, 2008, talk hertzberg.

(29.) Here, the phrase is used to describe a conservative female candidate for Japan's Prime Minister, Yuriko Koike. Dana Goodyear, "Postcard from Los Angeles (and some notes from Japan): Female Politician Stew," The New Yorker (online edition), September 12, 2008, ss 0=1.

(30.) Mark Martin, "For the Children," Jabberous, September 9, 2008,

(31.) Cynthia R. Fagan, "Protester Attacks Condoleezza Rice on Capitol Hill,"New York Post (online edition), posted October 24, 2007,

Francesca T. Royster, DePaul University
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Title Annotation:Condoleeza Rice
Author:Royster, Francesca T.
Publication:The Upstart Crow
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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