Barack Obama, Michael Phelps, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jon Hamm were named GQ's men of the year. According to the accompanying article, these men were chosen, because they "blew our minds." The four are among 27 men or groups of men listed.
S E M I O B A M A
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I don't think I've ever experienced the strangeness of the world we live in now--optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. The economy is getting worse and worse, and many people couldn't be more excited about the new Obama administration.
Friday, December 19, 2008
One of the many keen observations James Poniewozik makes has to do with how popular culture deals with the semiotics of a popular black family and a popular black president--topics that have interested SemiObama from the start:
After Obama won, there was talk of a "Huxtable effect"--the idea that pop-cultural portrayals of African Americans from The Cosby Show to 24's David Palmer readied white America for a black President. But maybe there's an opposite factor at work here too--the 50 Cent effect. The impact of the Obamas comes partly from the unspoken contrast to a decades-old media archive of images of black people as problems or threats, from news to cop shows to hip-hop. Broken families, perp walks, AKs and Cristal.
Suddenly the most photographed black man in America was giving speeches and calling world leaders. Suddenly the most discussed black women in America were two adorable kids and their lawyer mom. Suddenly you had a news story involving a black man and dogs, and it wasn't Michael Vick.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Chris Cillizza ("The Fix") notes that Barack Obama is doing his best to show competence as he prepares for becoming president. As we've said before, we think this is one of the most powerful narratives that Obama has going for him--that he's going to run the government efficiently and without drama. In other words, that he is going to run the country as he ran his campaign. This is different than "running the government like a business," frequently heard as George W. Bush, armed with a Harvard MBA, took office.*
"There is something improbable about this gathering," the Illinois senator told a packed cafe auditorium of hundreds of Google employees. "What we share is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up."
Friday, December 5, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
As the Washington Post details today, the government efforts to use infrastructure spending to revive the economy might take a bit too long to ramp up, and people might spend a tax break too quickly. Of course, the economy needs both. Coffee+sugar--long-term stimulus + short-term energy. It's not an exact science...but neither is economics.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Pointing toward the future with his left hand and ready to pound the podium with his fisted right, this big eared but loveable figurine made both Gavin and his daddy think about the word "change" in a new way (if only for a moment).
Benjamin Svetkey speculates on what our president-elect might mean for the entertainment industry. My own take is that it won't mean too much immediately, unless you count news programs as entertainment--the interview with Barack and Michele Obama was one of 60 Minutes's largest audience in years. More about that later...
Sunday, November 30, 2008
One of my favorite little bits of information that has come from reading the extended accounts of the post-election was this from Newsweek:
During one of the debate preps, the lights blew, flickering on and off like a strobe light from the 1970s disco craze. Obama stood behind the podium, quietly singing the song "Disco Inferno," last popular in the heyday of "Saturday Night Fever."It's more than likely Barack Obama was humming, "Burn, Baby, Burn," the famous chorus from that song, itself a reshaping of the term used during the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965, itself stolen from the famous radio call by Magnificent Montague.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I don't have a Blackberry or an iPhone, but I suspect it won't be long until I get one; I had a phone where I could check the Internet abroad and loved it.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
As you can probably tell, this was taken on Michigan Avenue. We see Chicago-nalia, shirts, mixed with an Obama shirt.
This is from the Tribune building, current owners of the Cubs. We can see balance between McCain and Obama here, mixed with the Cubs.
There is supposed balance here, but we can see three Obama shirts compared to one McCain.
A Hebrew sign with a more typical sign.
Here is an Obama shirt within a Chicago context--a Bears shirt and an Al Capone one.
In this particular Walgreens in Hyde Park, a variety of merchandise was on sale.
I'm sure this shirt exists somewhere else outside Chicago, but it adds to the diversity of Obama wear available.
The Obama Ape image at this funky celebrity-as-ape site is almost as interesting as the thread of comments about it.
Racist or comic?
(We vote racist. No matter how many other images there are of celebrities on the site, the history behind the image is immutable.)
Friday, November 21, 2008
Since we began here at SemiObama, we have spent a lot of time discussing the covers of newspapers and magazines, despite the fact that newspapers and magazines are losing their grip on American journalism.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Nate Silver broke down the decision not to kick Joe Lieberman out of his senate committee chair. What I like about his short piece is the way he treats an event as a text, a reminder that everything, including decisions and events, are texts that can be read.
Monday, November 17, 2008
James Poniewozik looks at 60 Minutes ' packaging of its interview with Obama, a strategy that the campaign itself has undertaken in the past.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
America's newspaper of record is offering up for sale, various items with Obama's visage. We're not just talking about copies of the paper from November 5, but non-journalistic things like photos and coffee mugs. To be sure, this raises some fascinating questions about the relationship between what is news and what is capitalism.
Many media critics have noted the degree to which advertisements and the primary texts are increasingly indistinguishable from each other. For example, commercials and ads not only mirror content, they often determine it.
In the case of The New York Times peddling Obama swag, a seemingly opposite movement occurs--news becomes product. One wonders how "objective" the Times is with this commercialization of its product. Can the reporters of news become purveyors that news? Can they profit from their own stories?
It's hard to say, exactly, but we're going to keep watching this fascinating turn of events, and we ask readers to write in with their own observations.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
What's interesting about these covers is not that Barack and Michelle Obama are on them, after all, they are the President and First Lady Elect. What is fascinating are the stories they tell and the images used to tell those stories.
In both cases, the covers indicate a metaphorics of struggle, a thematic of overcoming. Note how unlike the recent covers on Time, The Economist, and Rolling Stone Obama is smiling, as if to indicate arrival. In some of the previous photos, Obama has come off as aloof or cold, but now that he's "won," it seems to be safe to represent his victory as proof of his perseverance.
Also interesting is the fact that it now seems okay to represent him less as an allegory and more as a regular guy. That he graces People and Us merely reinforces his status as someone who is able to bridge those seemingly unbridgeable worlds.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
We're happy to offer another guest post, this time from Tunji Lardner, a Nigerian journalist who lives in New York. Here, Lardner explores Obama's otherness that SemiObama has tried to chronicle these past several months.
BARACK OBAMA: White man’s dilemma.
Barack Obama. “That one” as Senator John McCain so infamously described Barack Obama in their third televised presidential debate to the glee and horror of millions of US viewers was yet another poignant punctuation mark in the racial dialogue of the ever evolving grand American narrative. But I missed it. As a non-native viewer, my initial response was to chalk up the remark to McCain being “McCain,” a crusty old curmudgeon given by turns to periodic outbursts and a mischievous disarming charm.
It was in the inevitable post debate deconstruction by TV pundits that the covet allusions were exposed, “that one” was variously interpreted to be everything from a common “Irish” expression to a subtle, condescending racist slur that most Americans, especially African-Americans would understand. Like most things, the truth must surely lie somewhere in between, and it a measure of just how ubiquitous and invidious the issue of race is in America-and even more so in this extraordinary elections-that in every word might lie a spring loaded racist pun.
It is almost clichéd to talk about race and racism in America. This artificial social construct is so embedded in the collective psyche and spirit of America, that is difficult not to preface every conversation about equality in America without the periodic listening in of the ambient humming of race, whispering its discordant tune. For non-white immigrants whose ears have not been trained to hear those racialist notes, it takes quite a while to be able to actually “hear” that ambient anthem of racism.
But over time, one hears, one sees and one actually begins to understand the covert drivers that define the issue of race in America. One such moment of clarity for me came when I watched the September Republican Convention a week after the Democrats held theirs in late August. The experience for me was like night and day, black and white, if you will. The grand theatre of a Barack Obama addressing a rainbow nation of Americans promising hope and change was a startling sight, because the implicit sense of possibility was that this man, okay, “this black man” could one day be the President of the United States of America ( POTUS). The very idea of “a black man” as arguably the most powerful human on the planet requires a cosmic recalibration and attitudinal adjustment that might be beyond the capacity of many Americans, black and white.
During the television broadcast of the aforementioned Republican Convention I sat with the rapt attention of a political neophyte new to the ways of American electoral politics. I watched the TV screen intently, trying to decipher why this other party seemed so distant from the values espoused just some days before. As speaker after speaker extolled the war time heroics of John McCain, while simultaneously deriding and mocking the perceived histrionics of Barack Obama, to the rapturous applause of an agitated sea of blanched faces, save the odd speckling of black, it suddenly hit me. In the waves and waves of party faithful, the so-called rock solid republican base, “the true face(s) of America,” the “Joe the plumber” and his archetypes, I saw something that I instantly recognized. It was something that periodically confronts and confounds us, something unsettling, deeply unsettling and troubling, something called fear.
In the faces of this group of white men, and in heeding my own caveat I hasten to add “not all white men,” I saw and fully recognized that primal surge of uncertainty about tomorrow. A feeling that I have grown familiar with for all together different reasons, but a feeling nonetheless about a novel tomorrow, with the possibility of a black man as POTUS. Even as each one swaddled in the familiar comfort of the red white and blue, must respectively confront the fear and loathing of the inevitability of change, the more concrete reality of a busted economy signaling hard times ahead, two enervating wars, the decline of American global status, begs a response.
But what, how do you respond to the unprecedented ascendancy of a very gifted American politician who clearly represents a different and new way forward, but who just happens to be black? Barack Obama’s unbearable blackness of being is at once the denouement of the grand American narrative; the plodding but inevitable fulfillment of these opening words penned with remarkable prescience on July 4, 1776 by group of very wise white men, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In rising to collectively fulfill the sacrament of it independence, America through the election of Barack Obama as President has once again displayed its “exceptionalism” and advanced the cause of humankind by providing the world with a transcendent and transformational figure that immediately challenges all the negative and divisive “isms” of our times. A Barack Obama as POTUS has an aspirational doppelganger almost literally as leader of the world in this new century. Tough assignment to be sure, but anyone who has over the last two years of his campaign discerned his preternatural self possession, calmness, and steely determination to change the world for the better can make a safe bet that at the very least he would be a much better improvement on George Bush.
But what about those hold outs, those mostly white men and some women who can’t possibly conceive of an America in which to put it bluntly, the President is a black man?
To them I paraphrase French romanticist Victor Hugo when he said, “ No army can stop an idea whose time has come.” Before the historic elections of last Tuesday there was the speculative notion that win or lose a “Barack Obama” was an idea whose time had come, and that America could and would never be the same again.
Well, the Barack Obama hypothesis is no longer an idea. It is reality. Specifically, it is “the new reality” roundly endorsed by most Americans and enthusiastically supported by the rest of the world. Judging by the unprecedented global out pouring of support for President-elect Barack Obama, it is clear that world transcendently understands the semiotics of a new type of leader for the 21st century. While some might suggest rather churlishly, that it represents the wholesale repudiation at least for now, of leadership of a certain, well, complexion, in a certain sense it is really a Darwinian re-calculation of global demographics and even democratic representation. In America proper, it presages the changing demographics of the country, suggesting that another so called “minority” president might not be such a novelty in another generation, because the old majority would by then be a “minority.” Brack Obama’s colorful heritage, being neither black nor white has finally offered the world a new color spectrum of possibilities in which white is just but one of the many colors available.
And more importantly for America, it has dislodged or even quite possibly displaced the dominant monochromic view of who is a real “American.”Americans, all Americans can now legitimately challenge that pharaonic sense of implicit entitlement and accomplishment that some white men have about their place in the America, the world and indeed the universe.
The huddled undifferentiated masses of “minorities and women,” can now begin to emerge from the shadows to challenge and hold America to the word of the founding fathers’ self evident truths. In 1831 when another French man, Alexis de Tocqueville writing about democracy in America, made the case for America’s exceptionalism. It was by one interpretation to underscore the difference and put some distance between the evolving American New World ideals and the staid European Old World views it had left behind.
In other interpretations and especially when conflated with the concept of a “manifest destiny,” even as it connotes the contentious acquisition of vast tracts land across the North American continent, it provided a unique sense of superiority and dominion over and above all others. From the right to own slaves to key elements of the Bush doctrine-the right to globally spread democratic values, as well as to preemptively strike at America’s perceived enemies, with the unilateral swagger that has mired America in Iraq, all these elements brewing in a four hundred year old melting pot have come to head with this election.
The American story is about to be re-written and the new chapters will be a more inclusive narrative that does not portray the white man as the protagonist that dominates every story line, even when not there. E PLURIBUS UNUM; out of the many shall indeed come one, one American grand narrative. In coming full circle to one, “that one” or “the one,” or “this one” or “the other” the collective reality of today is that we all live in an increasingly interdependent and delicately balanced world, in which there really is no “other.”
Thursday, November 6, 2008
As Sean Quinn over at FiveThirtyEight acknowledges, we're all tired. While he and his photographer drove all over the country making electoral reports, all we did was knock on a few doors and stand like a statue at a polling place. But it's not the physical nature of the election that has us all tuckered out, though I am suffering from a decided lack of sleep.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
One half of the semi-Obamians made his way to a polling place today in New Hampshire, where he held election signs for the Democrats. At this polling place, he was one of 11 Democrats holding signs compared to six Republicans.
After months of researching and writing about images of the junior senator Barack Obama, SemiObama has decided to endorse for president of the United States, junior senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois).
Sadly, we can't find any photos of Mr. Obama to post on our website. Check back in a few days for updates!
Monday, November 3, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Recently, a friend presented me with this piece of chocolate with Obama's image on it. It sat on her dashboard a little too long, and she was very apologetic that the image had become cracked and wrinkled.
I love the idea of Consuming Obama as Obama and the election are certainly consuming me. Consuming also reminds me of the term "grok" from Stranger in A Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein, (a book which I admit I haven't read since high school). And after reading the plot summary on Wikipedia, let me say right here that I'm making no analogies between that story and Obama. That's a wormhole I intend to avoid at all costs!
However, the definitions of "grok" are interesting.) The Oxford English Dictionary defines "grok" as "to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with...and to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment." In the past eight years, I've found little, if any, reason for empathy, sympathy or enjoyment around the activities of the Bush Administration.
Wikipedia defines "grok" as "...to share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity," and goes on to say that "In an ideological context, a grokked concept becomes part of the person who contributes to its evolution by improving the doctrine, perpetuating the myth, espousing the belief, adding detail to the social plan, refining the idea or proving the theory." This seems particulalry apt in the light that Obama's message of change is not only all-inclusive but implicitly and explicitly asks us to participate to ensure that change happens. That participation may take the form of donations of time and money now, but I wouldn't be surprised if the internet connections continue after election day.
Finally, I like the fact that the image on this particular chocolate makes Obama look old. It's easy to be worried about Obama's safety. Comparisons with Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King fuel these fears, not to mention the recent activities of some self-avowed white supremacists. When these anxieties arise, I counteract them by picturing Obama as an old man, his 8-year term as President just the beginning of a long and brilliant career as a highly respected and influential world leader.
By the way, I haven't consumed my Obama chocolate yet. I'm waiting for the morning of Novermber 5th.
Obama chocolates are made by Cosmic Chocolates in Oakland, CA. You can see the unmelted version on their website: http://www.cosmicchocolateshop.com/cosmic-icons.html.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Travel with us if you will back in time to re-live some of the earlier SemiObama T-shirt posts
Though it appears on a different site, we also recommend checking out this piece that reads Palin t-shirts. It's fascinating to see how Obama t-shirt imagery differs from the semiotics of the Palin shirts.
If Obama wins, look for new and different forms of Obama fashion arrival.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Barack Obama is a recognized sports fan. We know about his basketball, and then there was this recent article about Obama's fantasy football team, written by Rick Reilly. The article itself, like most of Reilly's stuff, was really about Reilly--after all the column is called the Life of Reilly--but it also revealed another heretofore unseen aspect of Obama's personality.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
The subject line: "Plot to Kidnap Obama"
Upon opening the email, the message was nothing but this photo:
Time Magazine recently did a piece on how economics is going to trump race in this election. I believe they are right. According to Time, some white supremacist organizations are even supporting Obama out of sheer financial desperation. Still, it's fascinating how an underground subset of Americans seem to be working through both latent and overt racism because of Obama's success in the public and political sphere.
Almost everyone knows better than to publicly cite race as a motivating factor in voting. Regardless of personal views, public pressure will force folks to censor themselves. For example, virtually no one would wear a t-shirt of this joke. However, there does seem to be a need for some to process and vent through a more innocuous, more protected medium. I suppose the consolation here is that at least people know it is publicly unacceptable to be racist, and that at least that racism gets enacted as a joke rather than as action.
The only negative repercussions of Obama getting elected is the possibility of 4-8 more years of these emails . . .the optimistic reading though is that despite these emails, we should have 4-8 more years of an Obama presidency . . .
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Everybody I know is saying, "I can't wait for it to be over," suggesting an existential weariness that goes beyond simple tiredness. I know I feel that way. So let's read this fear as a text.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Hard to say, but it's not what you would have expected for Mr. McCain's porn name--something more like Pepper Lakeshore comes to mind.
But, Mr. Obama doesn't come off much better in this version. His visage is scrunched and overly adolescent. He looks too much like a cross between Alfred E. Neuman and Nipsey Russell.
Still, in the semiotic tug-o-war within this image, the taller, lankier Obama--who also seems to be using his hips to gain leverage on Mr. Thrust--I give the edge to Mr. Parry (though not in the nickname contest).
As an individual icon, Obama's visage is now no longer noteworthy; it's even quotidian. But, when arranged in this nearly collage-type design, the various images enter into dialogue with each other. They tell us how we have seen, and perhaps even tell us how we should see Obama.
They also demonstrate the various ways Obama's face has been translated into popular culture. In this case, what emerges is overwhelming evidence for a kind of mytholigization of Obama. Many of these suggest a sort of abstract, woodcut aesthetic that evokes either propaganda or political art. However, almost none of the images are particularly "patriotic," which suggests the degree to which Obama's Obamaness transcends politics.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
A few days ago, I canvassed for Barack Obama with my friend Miles and his daughter, Sophia, already famous for their extensive participation in Hanover County near Richmond, where they live. Hanover County is a reliably Republican county, but the Obama campaign is taking nothing for granted--they hope to significantly reduce the Republican margin in the county.
Friday, October 24, 2008
This untouched image of Obama from the side is unusually intimate. It makes the viewer feel like she's about to whisper something in his ear ("Look, Karl Rove showed up without a tie!;" "salad fork is the little one;" Butthead is, in fact, the more highly evolved one").
The pursed lips and contemplative expression evoke both perplexity and determination, unlike the typical photos which read confidence and arrival.
In short, here, he looks more like us.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
From Wired Science:
Sen. Barack Obama's support for space exploration has earned him the support of advocates on Florida's "Space Coast" that call themselves Obamanauts.
I like the Obama-ing of language here, but I think the icon is the thing; the spaceship version of the logo is much cooler than the original.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
On the off chance you haven't seen the new video by Obama asking for donations, you can view it here:
Against the backdrop of a matrix of the now iconic "CHANGE" signs, a dark suited, flag-pin wearing, striped blue tie donning Obama makes a plea to last minute supporters to donate to his campaign. His strongest argument is that McCain/Palin have deployed the same strategies for this election that George W. Bush relied on in the last two.
There is only a hint of alarmism in an otherwise reasonable and persuasive pitch.
Monday, October 20, 2008
The news cycle is being ridden by Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, which naturally had us putting on our semiotic hats (they are quite stylish). The semiotics of an endorsement force us not only to look at the two parties involved in the endorsement but also the questions that the arise when receiving or giving an endorsement.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I've been meaning to write about my new bumper sticker and car magnet, but have been stumped on saying something interesting beyond the fact that I do not see a lot of Obama bumper stickers (but more than for McCain), and wondering why that is. But perhaps it's too early to declare loyalty or some trend reducing bumper sticker placement (I say that because the woman buying her sticker before me had trouble finding a place to put it).
Saturday, October 18, 2008
The folks over at The Weekly Rader offer a reading of the debates as an intentionally constructed text. Ironically, it serves as a sort of companion piece to our recent post on metaness and the debates.
In both posts, the authors provide interesting perspectives for looking at debates beyond simply thinking about who won or what is said.
"Kill him!" "Terrorist!" "Traitor!" "Sit down, boy!" "He is not one of us!" "He's an Arab," "Socialist," and "Bomb Obama!" are just a few of the audible rants of Americans, heard at McCain-Palin gatherings in recent weeks.
Wow, how we long for the good ol' days of feeling bombarded when William Horton (he was given the name "Willie" by Atwater, not his mother) was introduced to the Republicans by Al Gore in 1988 -- providing Lee Atwater and Bush 41 the race-baiting, fear-mongering fodder that resulted in the defeat of Dukakis after having the lead entering the final weeks of the 1988 campaign.
This is not to suggest the Obama campaign has been innocent of smear tactics, such as linking McCain to the anti-immigrant demagoguery of Rush Limbaugh on Spanish-speaking TV. But this did not amount to all-Mexican and all-Black crowds calling for McCain's Mississippi Irish blood.
The Right's rage against Obama has bordered on fanatical, and the dye may have been cast, regrettably, by Hillary Clinton's defeated campaign, which provided the blueprint that the McCain-Palin ticket is currently following. This tenor was stirred earlier this week by the Republicans' answer to Hillary Clinton -- Sarah Palin. McCain should take note; it did not work effectively for Sen. Clinton.
This animus we are witnessing may be owned by the Republicans, but it was brought and brought first by the Democrats during the primary campaign. Pundits called it the "kitchen sink" strategy. Indeed once Sen. Clinton's campaign was on the verge of defeat in late May -- just weeks before the 40th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination -- she reminded an editorial board in South Dakota, "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992, until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don't understand it," she said, dismissing the idea of abandoning the race at that time.
It was the fourth time which Clinton alluded to RFK's late June assassination as precedence for not suspending or ending her campaign (on March 6th she used the word "assassination" in a TIME magazine interview; on May 7th in Washington, D.C. and later in West Virginia she redacted the word, but mentioned the tragedy). After reasserting the word in late May amid much criticism, Sen. Clinton apologized.
In a January 8th interview with BET's Jeff Johnson (What's In It For Us? special), Barack Obama himself, conceded, that early reticence among older African Americans -- who witnessed the murders of JFK, MLK, and RFK -- centered on concern for his safety. It has been widely reported, but only whispered, that Barack Obama received Secret Service protection beginning in May 2007, earlier than any presidential candidate in recorded history of the Service; "I've got the best protection in the world," Obama said in a previous interview, "So stop worrying."
But Obama made the request for protection himself. On the eve of Obama's Democratic nomination acceptance speech on August 28, three "lone wolf" white supremacist meth addicts, Tharin R. Gartrell, 28; Shawn R. Adolf, 33; and Nathan D. Johnson, 32, were arrested for plotting to kill Obama. Initially, officials said there was no credible threat -- despite their possession of two rifles, one with a scope, in the car, along with walkie-talkies, a bulletproof vest and licenses in the names of other people -- but they now consider it a serious plot.
During this campaign, the world witnessed the tragic assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who like Obama, was a left-of-center political leader and equally an historic figure as the first woman to be elected head of an Islamic state.
In 1963, Texas oil tycoon Haroldson Lafayette (H.L.) Hunt publicly stated that JFK should be shot since "there was no way to get those traitors out of government except by shooting them out." His son, Nelson Bunker Hunt and others, took out a full-page advertisement in the Dallas Morning News on November 22nd accusing JFK of being a Communist sympathizer and a traitor to the nation -- precisely the charges against Obama for his ties to Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.
JFK, like Obama, was a "first" in being a serious Irish Catholic candidate (Al E. Smith lost in 1920) and his faith, like Obama's racial mix, was a perennial issue in the 1960 campaign. The Hunts also ran a propaganda machine called the International Committee for the Defense of Christian Culture and like the venomous Fox News demagogues, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, they used their radio programs Facts Forum and Life Line to spew hatred of the president before he was killed.
Martin Luther King, of course, lived with death threats every day of his public life until it was taken April 4, 1968. Like Malcolm X, it is depressingly true that in such an eerie atmosphere as the present, Barack Obama is safer abroad than he will be, should he win, in America, even as President of the United States.
Some might remember comedian Eddy Murphy's 1980s Delirious stand-up routine where he joked about whites voting for Jesse Jackson -- after a night of drinking and pranks -- only to discover the next morning, that Jackson had been elected; during his fictitious inaugural address, Jackson ran back and forth from left to right of the stage as the imagined assassins, in southern drawl, looked through a rifle scope saying, "He won't stand still, he won't stand still."
That was funny; the tenor of this political moment is not.
Politics has always been a "blood sport," and campaigns often bring out the lowest common denominator in people; the "us" against "them" trope. But there is something of a spiritual sickness in a nation where our political process has been reduced to calls of "Kill him," and something only slightly less troubling about Hillary Clinton saying, "Let's wait and see what happens."
Add the ingredient of the worst global economy since the Great Depression or the crash of 1877, and it makes for a combustible atmosphere. And in the end, if this is the course that our politics take -- again, then what voice, prey tell, do you think many people might invoke? Does the Rev. Jeremiah Wright ring a bell?
Friday, October 17, 2008
What's so interesting about both the debates and the campaign is its meta-ness and performantive aspects. We know from history that content and visual performance do not always agree--the crucial debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, where television viewers thought Kennedy won and radio listeners thought Nixon did is the most prominent example. But with the growth of so many forms of criticism and the addition of so many pundits on television and on the Internet is that performance--and its resulting commentary--have become especially prominent.
While the media focus on performance has increased over the last few election cycles, a new somewhat mitigating factor has also arisen.
By metaness I mean a focus on the process of commentary as well as the commentary itself, Metaness is often a form of transparency in that we understand the process by which information reaches us. If we are open about the way media cover candidates, we are more likely to get at a truth than by simply listening, watching, or reading straight journalism. Check out this video from Time.com--it's all about how the story is being told rather than the issues of the candidates. Political Internet journalism and blogs tend to be at the forefront of this, but I've noticed the post-debate coverage on the networks to be much more meta than in the past.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
That's right, after a brief hiatus, SemiObama makes a pledge to do a post--some kind of post--every day until the election. The semiotics of the election are ramping up. The optics of skin and age and rallies and debates are on everyone's table.
We just hope to serve up the daily dish . . .
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The small town of 55 souls is positioned just about an hour north of San Francisco on the lovely Highway 1, just a Palin's throw from the Pacific Ocean. Though Olema has not officially changed its name to Obama, Kelly Emery's sign might lead passers-by to assume the opposite.
A Marin county code allows political signs on personal property, and Emery (below) installed this one on the site of her Bed and Breakfast. So far, residents seem to be both pleased and amused by the sign, perhaps because they expect to see the senator crossing the street.
One of the things we like about this text is its seamless merging of Obama iconography and the semiotics of normal traffic signs. It sends the message that an idea of an Obama presidency has already become part of the literal and cultural landscape.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Presidential debates are confusing. On a literal level, they aren't really debates, and on a semiotic level, they are not the most diverse texts. Both candidates wear dark suits, white shirts, and ties of either red, blue, or some combination thereof. Of all the predictable elements of a debate, nothing rivals the costuming, even down to the flag lapel pin.
There are often podiums, the accoutrement of either a professor or a preacher, but presidential candidates belong to neither of those shady professions. The podiums professionalize and formalize the setting, and they provide some measure of distance between the candidates, each other, and the audience. In short, they are deadly dull.
But not as dull as the set.
This year, the set design is painfully consistent from one debate to the next, at least in terms of the confusing backdrop. Not even the longest McCain answer is as tedious as the royal blue field and the white cursive script, which we are to assume is a passage from the Constitution. The line of red stars along the bottom patriotizes the backdrop, not only by completing the American color palette but by accentuating the faux document. The problem with this set is the synergy created by its sterility and its overt patriotism. Both earnest and dull, the set evokes neither the oval office nor a board room. All it evokes is trade show booth.
As for the candidates, there is little to say. McCain comes off as stiff and a little too starchy; Obama can be too measured and not emotional enough. Check back soon for further posts on the semiotics of the performances.
But for now, consider ways in which the contrived set reinforces the contrived nature of these non-debates. Two-dimensional, flimsy, and shallow, the set seems to ask us to pay attention to those same flat, superficial traits in our candidates.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Perhaps we are unaccustomed to seeing black men in positions of power foreground religious symbolism, or perhaps we are uncomfortable with a Democratic politician advancing his own Christian faith, but either way, it seems no one really knows what to do with Obama's dogged insistence that he is 1) Christian and 2) allowed to be both Christian and liberal.
And yet, his faith is one of his more endearing qualities and one that not even his strongest detractors are able to affect. Even the parodies seem to work (as noted by the funky image on the right).
What's fascinating is how fascinated the media, the right wing, and the church going community are with Obama's belief system. Oddly enough, most regular American believers remain relatively quiet and unusually respectful, even when prominent figures, like the creepy James Dobson (with his creepier pray for rain video) set poor examples of Christian leadership. Americans don't always exhibit the most dignity when it comes to church and state, but despite the minority of folks who think he is the anti-christ, most have given Obama and his family a good deal of spiritual latitude.
What messages these images send largely depends on the reader's personal associations with crosses, churches, and African Americans. For decades, the image of a black man and a cross carried a truly horrific semiotic signification. Regardless of what you think about Obama's political (or spiritual) beliefs, you have to admit that it's absolutely redemptive the way he has reclaimed and recast that pairing.