Time might just be the most restrained news organization in the world. The magazine has been, apparently for more than a year, in possession of a cache of photographs of vice-presidential candidate (and card-carrying member of the GOP “brain trust”) Paul Ryan posing, clad in backwards baseball cap, with a set of weights. Each picture is more ridiculous than the next. I can’t decide which is my favorite: the one where he’s doing a pretty good facial impression of Screech from Saved by the Bell, or the one where he’s saying, “Shhh, baby, don’t talk” to the photographer? The one where he’s making slow, sensual love to the hand weight? But probably the best part is that Time closed their slideshow with Ryan in a sober suit, a jolting reminder that he’s supposed to be a figure of gravity, not ridicule. Oops: Already, Internet wags have mashed up Onion Joe Biden with Time Paul Ryan, as if both were existing in the same parodic universe. There’s also a Twitter feed supposedly manned by Paul Ryan’s bicep.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a Republican vice-presidential candidate has been photographed in workout gear. Sarah Palin was famously and roundly mocked for a spread she did in Runner’s World. That photoshoot was particularly damaging because it seemed to confirm certain things people already thought about Sarah Palin: that she was unserious, and that she was vain. Neither of those is the storyline about Paul Ryan. (Plus, it must be said: he’s a dude, and despite the fact that his photoshoot is far, far more cheesecake than hers, it simply won’t be received in the same way.) And so, despite the fact that he posed for this (as a sitting congressman) in a national affairs magazine, not an exercise-focused publication, I suspect the ridicule will largely blow over with occasional resurfacings, a la Scott Browns sexy Cosmo spread (which I personally do my best to resurface via linkage as often as possible). Someday, however, when future historians are seeking to understand the creature that was the American politician of the 21st century, I hope they stumble across these photographs, a beautifully artistic metaphor for the disfiguring, contorting role of the ego in our politics.