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Gayle King: symbolic meaning behind 'fly of color' landing on Pence at debate

"You saw the fly going, 'Say what?'" opined the "CBS This Morning" co-host and longtime sidekick of Oprah Winfrey.

Updated: October 8, 2020 - 2:17pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Somewhere in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the most famous fly in the world.

During Wednesday night's vice presidential debate, that fly landed on Mike Pence's head and perched there for more than two minutes.

In keeping with the world of 2020, the two-hour debate — which featured much substance and real policy discussions — was reduced to "the fly."

"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King, longtime sidekick of Oprah Winfrey and former president Barack Obama, saw deep symbolic meaning behind the fly.

"At one point when they were talking about systematic racism, I think this is interesting timing that a fly would land on Mike Pence's head at that particular time when he said that there really wasn't systemic racism," King said. "You saw the fly going, 'Say what?' I mean, it was very interesting, that was, I don't want to call that a highlight, but that was certainly a memorable moment."

The hosts for the morning show discussed more on the debate, but King's mind couldn't get off that fly.

"I still keep going back to that fly because you know, number one, I've never seen anything like that," King went on. "It was a fly of color, too, that came at a very opportune time, and that is the 'Saturday Night Live' skit — skit waiting to happen on Saturday. Can't wait to see it."

King wasn't alone in giving deep meaning to the presence of the fly. "Life imitates art, and so a fly landed on Mike Pence's head," the Washington Post wrote in its Style section. Penetrating further into the iconography and semiotics of the humble housefly in Western art, the paper continued:

"If you were a liberal viewer, or perhaps an art historian, the fly that alighted on Vice President Pence's hair during Wednesday night's debate was a bit on the nose. Throughout the history of western painting, imagery of flies can symbolize death, rot, decay, corruption and 'painting's power to deceive the eye,' says Celeste Brusati, professor emerita of art history at the University of Michigan. And there was one, sitting on the vice president's head, just as he was talking about his and the president's support for law enforcement.

Several news outlets, including the Post, published essays from the perspective of the fly. The Post's piece featured this "conversation" between the writer and the fly:

"I'm trying to imagine what it must have felt like to spend the fraction of your life that you have spent listening to Mike Pence claim that justice was served for Breonna Taylor and insisting that it was 'not true' that the president had failed to condemn white supremacists. I can't imagine it. I guess that's not really a question.


The White House reportedly has a big fly problem. Is that where you hail from?


The campaign of Joe Biden also jumped in, offering flyswatters for sale — which quickly sold out.