S E M I O B A M A
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
In this version, Obama comes off as almost godlike, looming over the middle-class readers of Time Magazine. Neither smiling nor frowning, neither arrogant nor obsequious, neither warm nor cold, Mr. Obama appears delicately bathed in angelic light as he pokes his head out from the darkness of eight years of the Bush administration. Halo or heaven's glow? It doesn't seem to matter. Either way, the effect lightens Obama's skin tone, making Harris' comparison to the O. J. version a sort of inverted mirror of the racialized past. If Time tried to make O. J. look more evil, are they now trying to make Sentator Obama look more holy?
The editors pretend to attempt to draw attention away from Obama and put it on the Democrats via the headline. But, when have 18 point letters trumped a big photo?
Ultimately, the question is, does the Obama on this cover look spooky or reassuring? Your reaction to that question may have less to do with the Time cover and more to do with the lens through which you are already looking.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Robin Givlin, the fashion critic of The Washington Post, writes about the Obama campaign's relationship with the fashion industry.
Friday, August 15, 2008
No one we know. In fact, Obama supporters have reinvented the political t-shirt. There are so many Obama tees out there, it's hard to keep up.
One of our favorites is the homeboy t-shirt to the left. Sure, his haircut looks a little too much like Bill Kristol's, but no one would ever mistake Kristol for a homeboy. We like the wood carved look of this shirt, and the Branson font is so downmarket it's upmarket. SemiObama Grade: A-
I call the shirt to the right the German postage stamp. I'm sure the designers would prefer to think of this one as the "Yes We Can" shirt, but we like "Ja, Bitte!" The small sun bursts shining up make Obama look royal, especially against the background that resembles a regal crest. SemiObama Grade: B+
One of the strangest is the Che/Obama shirt. I love how the advertisers make sure you see the enlarged Che icon, just so you won't think the "O" contains Obama's image. I wonder what the intentional connection is between Che and Obama. Liberation? Concern for the poor? Charisma? Cigars? My main critique of the film version of The Motorcycle Diaries was its silence on Che's post-revolution record as a thug, so over-romanticizing Che here costs the shirt SemiObama points. SemiObama Grade: C
The coolest shirt is the Bad Ass Obama shirt, a la Mr. T. We pity the fool who doesn't like this logo. Sure, it's an easy comment on race, power, and, most importantly, bling, but that doesn't make it predictable. Evocative of the iron-on decals of the 70s, the shirt is quietly political but loudly humorous. SemiObama Grade: A
The political t-shirt is an underexamined genre. More personal than a bumper sticker and more sassy than a sign, the political t-shirt combines both fashion and politics--two atypical spheres. Compared to the John McCain shirts, which tend to be largely textual and overly earnest, the Obama shirts skew toward the visual and the humorous, no doubt a reflection of of the candidates themselves. That said, we wait, anxiously, for the first Vice-President shirts of 2008.
Until the VP t-shirts hit the streets, though, we close today's post with some also-rans.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Mostly, I get pro-Obama emails, alerting me to cool sites, which I'm always happy to receive. And, not surprisingly, I am often the recipient of anti-Obama missives, reminding me, I suppose, of the passionate Obama resistance movement, invisible but intense, out there in the remote reaches of cyberspace. Mostly, these are innocuous notes with links to crazy sites, some of which we've linked to here. Occasional critique comes across the transom, which, again, I'm happy to receive.
The jokes, however--at least the racist ones--don't make me happy. They make this small place inside my stomach feel like I've swallowed a shot put. It's one of the few times my strong advocacy of free speech goes smashmouth up against my notion of ethics, civil rights, and hate discourse. Early on, SemiObama did a post on some of the racist Obama images floating around on the Internet. We figured part of reading Obama semiotics involved taking on even the most incendiary images.
I got that same shot put feeling today, when an email appeared in my inbox. With a subject line that read "Horrifying Knock-Knock Joke," it proved to be an email I both wanted and didn't want to ignore.
Indeed, it was a knock-knock joke encoded in a PowerPoint format. The entire joke took up five slides, each of which contained the standard knock-knock formula that I'll replicate below with simple dialogue, except for the punchline, which is visual. It went like this:
[click the right arrow on and it brings up this punch line]
First the good news: The caricature could have been much worse. Let's be honest about that. But, even better, it would appear that even the KKK predicts an Obama victory in November.
Now the bad news: It seems that despite the nearly universal acknowledgement of Obama's intellectual acumen (and even John McCain's admission of his eloquence), some still think group stereotypes trump individual transcendence. It's not surprising, sure, but it is annoying. Tiger Woods experienced it; Hank Aaron even worse. MLK, one of the most articulate American of the 20th century, worst of all.
Most reassuring is the joke's lameness, it's lack of teeth, despite the fact that it tries very hard to draw attention to Obama's teeth--a detail that continues to puzzle.
What I find interesting about this final slide is the coupling of the visual racial stereotype with the lexical one. The joke needs both to be "funny." Thankfully, the joke isn't funny. It's just racist. There is nothing singularly Obama-specific about it at all. The entire joke hinges totally and completely on race which is why it fails.
Effective propaganda is scary; lame propaganda just makes its practitioners look stupid. As far as SemiObama is concerned, it's pretty clear which this is.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Thanks to Matt Hedstrom and Andrew Sullivan for alerting us to this really funny site of Obama "porn." Like SemiObama, it is interested in images of Obama--both real and invented--in popular and internet culture.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
The Washington Post earlier this week had an article about the way Obama's office runs, similar to the articles Rolling Stone and Time ran earlier this year, though with a little more of the traditional journalism's "good points and bad points" model (aka "fairness" and "objectivity").
Saturday, August 2, 2008
This article focuses on the way John McCain is using coded symbols against Barack Obama.