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I have been seeing many articles on myths about Ronald Reagan recently in newspapers. I don’t know why Reagan is mentioned so often these days. I guess it is related with American people’s growing frustration with the leadership of President Obama in handling health care and budget cuts issues.

Today's Washington Post carries the article titled "Five Myths about Ronald Reagan", in which I found the phrase "his colossus with gilded pecs, red-painted smile and an NRA-approved pistol in each manly fist".

It seems his acolytes led by Salah Palin are eager to reestablish Reagan’s patriarch image among American public. Does pec here mean muscular pectoral muscles? I understand red-painted nail, but what does "red-painted smile" mean? To me, it doesn't fit to his mascular image. And why his statue should have a gun?

The headline is followed by the following lines:

The sentimental colossus his acolytes are trying to erect today, with gilded pecs, red-painted smile and an NRA-approved pistol in each manly fist, bears no resemblance to the man I knew: in private a person of no ego and little charisma, in public a statesman of formidable purpose.

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I think @Robusto answered this well, but I'll just note that I think you're reading too much into the timing of Reagan articles. I don't think it's directly related to frustration, It's mostly simply the fact that what would have been his 100th birthday recently passed. The article in question is critical of people who would co-opt Reagan's image to put forward their own agendas. –  ghoppe Feb 23 '11 at 22:16

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The full paragraph is quoted as

It has been argued that Ronald Reagan was a myth himself, a construct of his own and other people's imaginings, rather than an extraordinary American about whom some untruths are told. The sentimental colossus his acolytes are trying to erect today, with gilded pecs, red-painted smile and an NRA-approved pistol in each manly fist, bears no resemblance to the man I knew: in private a person of no ego and little charisma, in public a statesman of formidable purpose.

The colossus here is a figurative statue, not a real one. What the author is saying here is that the image the Reagan fans are trying to present is one that did not closely match reality.

  • "gilded pecs": Yes, these would be pectoral muscles, such as would be depicted on a comic-book hero.

  • "red-painted smile": This is another cartoonish image, emphasizing that the makeup on this character does not match real life.

  • "an NRA-approved pistol in each manly fist": comic-book superheroes are often depicted with weapons at the ready.

The author is contrasting these outsized and comically false images (which the author claims Sarah Palin and her followers paint with their rhetoric) with the humble, private person the author actually knew in real life.

The author, Edmund Morris, it should be noted, is a famous biographer who wrote a highly acclaimed biography of Ronald Reagan himself.

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Rusto-san. Thank you early reply. I realy feel the need for understanding American pop culture ranging to comics and animé in reading English newspapers and magazines. I know Edmond Morris by name, but don’t thik I’ve read his book. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 23 '11 at 2:10
    
(red-painted smile refers to lipstick) NRA = national rifle association, which is a powerful political group dedicated to protecting the 2nd amendment of the constitution of the USA which protects "the right to bear arms." –  horatio Feb 23 '11 at 15:31
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@Yoichi Oishi: FYI, at least here in the US, anime (which we spell without the accent mark) refers almost exclusively to Japanese animation. I think the word you're looking for is cartoon. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is anime; South Park is not. –  derobert Feb 24 '11 at 6:01

I am not sure about the details. I can only take an educated guess:

  • Those who are trying to profit from associating themselves with the memory of this often-revered president are describing him in terms that would normally apply to a god. The Colossus of Rhodes was a giant statue of the Greek god of the sun, Helios.

  • The red-painted smile is the least obvious one. My guess would be (I could be wrong) that this refers to Palin: I believe she is often seen wearing red lipstick. It is her goal to make people believe she resembles Reagan; that is why she tries to portray him in a way that resembles herself, even though putting her red lipstick on him makes the image most incredible.

  • The pecs are his pectoral muscles, a sign of manliness and power; his "acolytes" feel that strength and manliness are part of any hero or god, and this should be visible in the image of his statue. Gilding them takes the image even further over the top, like the gilded statues of saints.

  • The acolytes intended are probably mostly against gun control, hence they want to depict him as a gun lover.

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