Sunday, May 25, 2008

Obama's European Esquire cover

One of the semi-Obamians is abroad now and so has had some different experiences in encountering images of Obama.

One striking image that has appeared abroad and not in the states is this cover of Obama on Esquire. (Apologies for the photograph and not a scan.)

As you can see, the image is a head shot with the definition of charisma in Spanish and then the caption: "Barack Obama, president of the United States (some day)."

The headshot is striking for its luminosity and the simple layout. There are no other stories previewed, which is itself notable and in sharp contrast to this month's U.S. cover of Obama. This quality and the glow of the photograph evoke timeless quality, that this photograph and layout (excepting the obvious current font of the caption) could appear in four years or have appeared 20 or even 40 years ago, especially true given the consistency of the font of the "Esquire" title. I think the magazine editors are consciously evoking other timeless politicians, suggesting that Obama transcends recent politics in some way. Oddly enough, it evokes this Esquire cover too....

The cover suggests that Obama is simply glowing with charisma, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has a Greek etymology, meaning grace or favor. The definition itself (sorry, can't translate the Spanish exactly, so the Oxford will have to do), refers to two different definitions, "a free gift or favour specially vouchsafed by God: a grace, a talent," or "the gift or power of leadership."

What does this definition have to do with the photograph? It seems to favor the first definition, as the photograph's light orientation highlights Obama's personal qualities rather than the professional, which I think could be an implicit criticism that the cover is making--the glow is flattering, but also invokes a bit of flashiness that one normally associates with advertising. In fact, one of the criticisms from Europeans I've talked to is that Obama's appeal seems to be based on this quality, especially through the rhetoric of his speeches (the word, rhetoric, itself has a Greek root, roughly meaning eloquence). As I have pointed out, evidence of his leadership and his more concrete positions is available on his website.

But as we know politics is much more than policy. So Esquire is probably on to something with this luminous version of Obama, as his personal qualities have played a significant part of his success this campaign season.

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