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.
S E M I O B A M A
Friday, October 31, 2008
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.