Julian Assange’s New Image: Just in Time to Talk About Those Rape Accusations

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The above photos appeared in T and the Guardian this past week. Photo: L: Max Vadukul, T Magazine. R: Carmen Valino, Guardian

A few months ago, right around the time sexual-assault charges were filed against him in Sweden, WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange decided he needed a makeover. Instead of an oily countenance and a shock of straight, white, cartoon-villain hair, Assange cleaned up and he appeared on television with a hip, shorter do. And, of all things, blond highlights. Today we learn that his lawyers have been meeting with British police to talk about arranging a discussion between them and Assange, who is hiding out somewhere in that country. Coincidentally, amid the flurry of the latest leaked diplomatic cables, we see yet another stylistic update of Assange. Photos appeared of him over the weekend in the New York Times' T fashion supplement and London's Guardian in which he looks positively cherubic.

With his newly grown stubble and newly found smile, he could be an aging boy-bander — or, perhaps, a child star made good? Look at the pictures of Neil Patrick Harris and Assange at left. Sure, they're not identical, but they definitely share an aesthetic: a sort of boyish twinkle, as though they're always poised to hand out a wink.

In an online Q&A with the Guardian on Friday, Assange said he'd originally intended for WikiLeaks to have no public face or figurehead. However, "this quickly led to tremendous distracting curiosity" about the makeup of the organization. "In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good," he said. "In that process, I have become the lightning rod. I get undue attacks on every aspect of my life, but then I also get undue credit as some kind of balancing force."

As figurehead, he has had to figure out what type of hat to wear. At first, he wore the mantle of a slippery, snakelike, and, frankly, evil-looking mastermind. Now that his personal life has come into play in such a negative light with the sexual-assault accusations, he's changed tacks: His new style isn't that of an incubus, it's that of an imp. This look says: "I'm not a predator (on women or nations), I'm just mischievous." Stirring up trouble for the naughty fun of it.

Of course, the debate stirred by WikiLeaks these past few months is serious — deadly serious, according to some. And therefore, looking at Assange's funky pop makeover and recent smiley portraits suggests that he wasn't quite prepared for the personal costs that came along with his role. Of course, it's too late for him to change course: He's a star, now — for better or for worse.