Friday, July 18, 2008

Obama Sidewalk Tattoo

Location: Chestnut Street, San Francisco, outside the Apple Store

Hundreds of people got a very good look at this unusual Obama image on Friday, July 11, when too many of us stood in line outside the Apple Store to get the new iPhone. Why I chose to do be in line is the topic of a different and much less interesting post, but, one of the things that made the experience noteworthy was the positive reaction people had to this Sidewalk Obama.

Though it may have been me reading this into the moment, people got pretty interested as they moved closer to and stood around this graphic-based black and white tattoo, set in relief on the busy sidewalk. Most in line seemed to equate the excitement and anticipation of the new iPhone with Obama's candidacy. Both are about innovation, both are about change, both are about the future, and both are about a new generation.

This sidewalk image is particularly interesting because it's almost missable. It is subtle but clearly impressed into the cement. One reason it works is because it is transgressive without being obnoxious (like Obama himself?).

Again, like the Obey posters, this sidewalk tattoo is a wonderful merging of fringe and mainstream semiotics. As I write in a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, these rogue images of Obama do fascinating cultural work because they send all sorts of provocative messages about who supports Obama, how his support gets manifested, and why images of him are important to pay attention to.

I wondered, as I shuffled past Sidewalk Obama, how many people like me had snapped a photo of it with their old camera phones eager to download that image on to the newer, cooler version.


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