Footage of Roosevelt on Foot

It is almost a year ago that I was surprised that eight seconds of footage of Roosevelt in a wheelchair made it into the world news. You couldn’t even really see the wheelchair – but perhaps it was mainly an issue of it being summer.

Now a similar piece of Roosevelt footage has turned up at the Pennsylvania Historical Museum of Roosevelt walking – again exciting news, because 1) he couldn’t really walk and 2) he didn’t want to be filmed when he did use a crutch and someone’s arm. Now it turns out that such footage does however exist (the walking starts around 0:44). I am not surprised – except by how surprised other people seem. And I think it says something about why the Roosevelt icon is so good at remaining in the picture.

A detour : a few days ago, I was interviewed by Mare, the Leiden University weekly paper – if you read Dutch, you can read the result here: What strikes me with such things, is the discrepancy between my sense that really my research is about things like memory-making, storytelling, and iconification, and interviewers’ wish to hear Roosevelt anecdotes. For me, Roosevelt is a case study – a very rich and unique one, sure, but primarily a case through which to study how image creation and memory-making works. For journalists, pr and communication staff and others who help me to present parts of my research to a large audience, the attractive part to focus on is invariably Roosevelt himself, and the many anecdotes about him (particularly the personal ones: the wheelchair, the mistress etc.)

And I can’t resist them – I always oblige by producing FDR anecdotes about precisely those things – thereby contributing to the iconification I want to critically investigate. I feel somewhat embarrassed that I am apparently so bad as managing the image of my research about image management. But I also think it goes to show how relevant Roosevelt remains. Or at least, how usable. Those anecdotes work because they are about issues we are still interested in. The footage of a walking FDR is a precursor to the film footage that exists of every embarrassing moment of every celebrity in the present day. And it is something you can easily show, broadcast, retweet and explain to a general audience.

Still, it always feels a bit as though FDR steals the attention.

Over Sara Polak

Blog about my research: The World We Live In Today Is FDR's World
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Één reactie op Footage of Roosevelt on Foot

  1. Margaret Voorhees schreef:

    Dear Sara, It is always amazing to me how much image is so important in my country.
    But it was also amazing to me to discover that cousins of mine had so much antipathy
    to the idea of our Social Security that they “hate” Roosevelt. It seems very difficult in
    my country for all the politicians and public to discuss almost any issue at the core
    of what is involved: race, poverty vs race and what really causes it, guns, what the future might look like particularly related to some of these issues when not looked
    at what can happen long term. I generally chalk it up to our lack of maturity as a
    nation compared with the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. Many Americans do not want to recognize the importance unions play in planning in
    Germany or that having good welfare programs has not harmed most countries
    that have it but has probably bettered their economic standing. It is a curious
    mindset that perhaps has something to do with the idea of community or individ-
    ualism. Mgt.

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