Friday, June 27, 2008

Se-ME-Obama, or Why I Am Having a Difficult Time Wearing the Barack Obama T-shirt I Really Like

The following post is more about the semiotics of me, rather than Barack Obama, and that's entirely within the way both semiotics and politics work--we often process phenomena through our own lenses as well more general lenses (for example, the Democratic Party, Northeasterner, class, gender) 

As myfriends will tell you, I am obsessed with t-shirts. I routinely collect them, have strict rules for buying them, and rank their popularity in my head.

I am a proud owner of this t-shirt, given to me by a Obama supporter before I had committed to a candidate. While I have worn this shirt a number of times, never have I worn it as my primary shirt (i.e., I have worn it under sweaters and such). As a supporter, I was thinking about why this might be.

First of all, I am in Europe. And as a foreigner, I already feel self-conscious and always a little like I am performing. If I wore the shirt, I would be received well--Obama is very popular here. But I don't wear many American t-shirts here. Wearing American clothing would make me more visible than I already perceive myself to be. In other words, I want to be an anonymous text and wearing the shirt would make me less so. When I return to the states in a few weeks, I will undoubtedly wear the shirt more frequently, especially in my safely Democratic state.

And it's not the design per se. I like the color of the shirt, and I am fond of the rendering of Obama, as well as the font of the print. It's simple, minimally adorned, and classic in design. It's 100 percent cotton. It's really the type of shirt I like the most.

The issue is the presence of someone else's face on my body. It feels a little like I might be subscribing to a cult of personality, rather than my more straightforwardly political reason for voting for Obama--I prefer his policies over John McCain's. I will grant that the secondary effects of Obama's personality and his intelligence, the enthusiasm of young voters, also appeal to me. But as I have told my students more than once, I vote for the party more than I vote for any individual candidate. That's why I bought my John Kerry t-shirt in the last presidential election, though I preferred other candidates in the primaries.*

Still, if wearing the t-shirt can have any possible effect on encouraging people to vote or even having a discussion about politics, I might be inclined to break it out pretty often this summer and fall. Or I'll perhaps just go here and buy another one.


*I looked for an image of the cool retro shirt that I will hopefully break out after the November elections....but no luck. How fleeting is political gear!

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