The semiotics of Larry Summers’s neckwear

By Felix Salmon
October 10, 2009
profile of Larry Summers was very good, but in many ways it's the accompanying photograph, by Martin Schoeller, which is even more intriguing: it shows the key members of Barack Obama's economic team striding purposefully away from the White House, with intense lighting from both front and back. There's a certain Reservoir Dogs feeling to it, with Christy Romer playing the Chris Penn odd-man-out role.

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Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile of Larry Summers was very good, but in many ways it’s the accompanying photograph, by Martin Schoeller, which is even more intriguing: it shows the key members of Barack Obama’s economic team striding purposefully away from the White House, with intense lighting from both front and back. There’s a certain Reservoir Dogs feeling to it, with Christy Romer playing the Chris Penn odd-man-out role.

But here’s the thing: what’s up with the men’s ties?

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They’re all purple burgundy, and although it’s hard to tell from the lighting, they’re all virtually identical shades of purple burgundy. But each one has a different density of yellow spots, from Peter Orszag, whose tie is positively teeming with the things, through to Tim Geithner, whose tie has none at all. Summers is closer to the Orszag end of the spectrum, while Jared Bernstein is closer to Geithner.

It all reminds me of nothing so much as the semiotics of shirt collars in Martin Scorsese’s Casino, where the more pointed your collar was, the more senior you were within the crime organization. But the meaning of the yellow dots, I have to say, defeats me. Does anybody have the decoder ring?

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