Semi-O wakes from its slumber to post this fascinating story on Obamania in China:
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S E M I O B A M A
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
He's a versatile guy, that Obama . . .
Okay, so granted, the president may actually be able to inhabit many spheres at once, but even he is subject to the laws of physics. If you're wondering how he can be in two places at once, it may be obvious now that the other Obama--the one speaking to reporters in D.C.--is made entirely of wax. The real one was here in San Francisco getting his groove on in the Haight.
He was a little hung over Tuesday morning (above), but his handlers took pretty good care of him.
In truth, the wax Obama was the one here in the Bay Area. It is part of a large scale wax figure exhibit in which the wax Obama kicks the wax Barry Bond's ass. Rumor has it both will be dressed up as lucha libres and on display in front of AT&T Park.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Last Sunday's cover of The New York Times Magazine featured a contemplative image of President Obama. We know he is deep in thought because of his posture.
To indicate thought, one must have some part of the hand pressed against the face, or, preferably the head. Think of Rodin's The Thinker.
Think also of Walter Benjamin. No one's author photos are more about thought than his. In fact, in one of the photos, he seems to be in pain he's thinking so hard.
So, the semiotics of this cover place Obama in the line of people who have been known to be driven more by thought than anger, more by reflection than reaction. The Benjamin photo on the right makes him look like he's debating about which wedge of cheese to put on his cracker, whereas the image of Obama creates an aura of deep thought. It takes his entire left hand to hold up his head there are so many ideas in there.
What does this mean? Well, it may tell us more about Obama than the cover itself. That is, it tells us what we think about Obama. We replicate what we already believe.
I believe I like this cover. It wavers between illustration and photorealism. Its color palette is almost washed out, and that flatness contrasts against the depth of Obama's visage. The effect is essentially positive.
Ultimately, this cover evokes a dignified, reflective, intelligent president, who may or may not be thinking about his post move.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
At $2.00 for 6 cards and a sticker, it was no great deal--my burrito was only a dollar more--but the cards have zero fat grams and are more friendly to animals.
I had high hopes for the cards.
I imagined a photo of Obama dunking over Dick Cheney; perhaps one of him making a long downfield pass to Joe Biden; I was especially looking forward to the one of Obama and Hillary doing the high-five after that wicked alley-oop ESPN keeps running on the highlight reels.
Instead, I got cards in which there were a lot of ties.
A red tie, a blue tie, more red ties. And blazers. Who puts a guy wearing a tie and a blazer on a trading card? Instead of calling these "trading cards," I propose Topps change the name to "trading favors cards," since that's what most of my scenes seem to be about.
There appear to be 90 different cards in all and 18 stickers. That seems hard to believe. Are there really 90 different images of Mr. Obama talking to other people? Topps gets points for the attempt to make "Pioneer at Harvard Law" edgy with the black and white photo of Obama in the turtleneck and leather jacket. But, those points get taken away by the half-witted "Cool Running Mates" tag.
My goal is not simply to collect all 90 cards but to rank the lamest of 90. Sure, sure, I'll also be happy to write about the "best" Obama cards, but unless Topps includes images from SemiObama, I'm not convinced we're going to learn much.
My nomination for the lamest card from this set is the "Ready for Prime Time" action shot of President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Could anything be less actiony than two heads of state in suits and ties strolling through an English garden?
Friday, April 3, 2009
Off an on throughout era Obama, we've been talking about Barack Obama as an icon. As we've said here and elsewhere, Obama's ubiquitous image and the places that image appears, makes him more than a celebrity. His visage--and the fact that we can use "visage" rather than face--connotes reverence, hope, and transformation.
Take a look at the objects below: coins, plates--even stained glass. Notice how Obama's face has replaced the traditional icon.
In addition to coins and plates and stained glass, there are even images of Obama as an actual icon (see above).
What this means is that people are locating in Obama's image the emotional and psychological qualities normally reserved for religious figures like saints. To be sure, this helped him win the election. But, the downside is that we have high expectations of saints--even higher for deities. What happens when Mr. Obama cannot answer prayers?
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland on Obama's first press conference in Europe as president.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
President Obama is the leader of the United States. That much is certain, despite the protestations of some.
Friday, March 27, 2009
This is certainly the case in Oakland, where a staggering cross-section of the Bay Area's population comes for iPods, diapers, Oakland Raiders gear, and huge packages of toilet paper. So, it should not have come as such a surprise that this wall of Obama images fronted the main isle from the entrance of the store to the electronics.
After all, Wal-Mart markets itself as a patriotic place. It appeals to blue-collar, traditional family values, and these images of Obama position him in that light. Obama not for the edgy indy crowd (a la Shephard Faiery) but mainstream Obama, mass-market Obama, populist Obama, non-threatening Obama, American Obama.
Indeed, as I was standing in the aisle, taking these photographs, a woman stopped on her way out to scold me: "That's cheating," she said. "You can't just take pictures. You have to buy them. I'm sure he can use the money." We joked about this for a while and chatted on our way out of the store, when something very interesting happened.
Both of us were carrying small bags--we had made minor purchases in the electronics department--however, when we approached the security guard at the exit she got stopped, while I walked on through with no questions whatsoever. Why did she have her bag and receipt checked? Well, she was African American, and I am not; so perhaps that provides an answer.
During the campaign, it was not uncommon to hear complaints that if Obama got elected "blacks" would "take over" or "think they would be entitled to everything." At this Wal-Mart, in Oakland, that proved not to be the case.
The most troubling detail of all? The security guard was African American.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Of course, the one question on everyone's mind is: Does he have Binghamton going all the way?
He does not. The president picks the University of North Carolina and its weepy coach over the Louisville Cardinals and their coach, Rick Pitino, who has never cried in his life.
His other final four teams, Pittsburgh and Memphis are no big shockers. In fact, the President has no real upsets in his bracket, though he does pick VCU to upend UCLA in the opening round.
Monday, March 16, 2009
This image, part of a larger article about Barack Obama's attendance at a recent Wizards-Bulls game, seems to be unprecedented in its metaness.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
As New York's Vulture column snarkily notes, the story about Barack Obama turning grey is back. We'll let them talk about the coverage. We have a more basic question--what does it mean that our president is getting grey hair?
For a guy who prides himself on projecting a stress-free demeanor, the changes above his temples are speckled evidence that perhaps the psychological and physical strains of the job — never mind the long process of winning it — are in fact taking something of a toll. (Experts say stress can contribute to whitening locks.)
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Via Talking Points Memo.
These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people -- a commitment to investing your tax dollars wisely, to put Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done," Obama said. "So when you see them on projects that your tax dollars made possible, let it be a reminder that our government -- your government -- is doing its part to put the economy back on the road of recovery.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
At the Borders in Nashua, New Hampshire, a full 13 magazines had Barack and/or Michelle Obama on the cover, 14 if you count the commemorative New York Times from the election. Looks like the press is hoping for its own Obama stimulus program.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
For me, it is the "Obama Next" graphic above. What I like about this piece is its synthetic simplicity. By "synthetic" I am referring not to something fake but to the process of synthesis. It collates patriotism (through its red, white and blue color palette), optimism ("got next"), an awareness of catch phrases and tag lines in popular culture ("Got Milk"), a very cool retro design, and a subtle yet compelling reference to race through the semiotics of basketball.
I also like that it incorporates an Obama-specific metaphor--basketball--as a form of political rhetoric. The ad reminds us that basketball is Obama's sport of choice, as opposed to Bush's more patrician, more Anglo, more exclusionary golf. Its pick-up-game lingo, "got next" also signals a generational shift, as if to say, Obama's is the next team to take the court of American politics.
As his presidency matures, we will start to write more about images of him as a president as opposed to him as a candidate, but, we couldn't resist this last bit of campaign SemiO. My hunch is he'll sink the free-throw . . .
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
As soon as 538 stops being interesting, we'll stop linking to them. But here's a George Lakoff piece (he of the noted frames theory of political communication) about how Barack Obama speaks to audiences in seven distinct ways. It's worth reading in its entirety, and it focuses on the indirect way Obama is speaking about "old values," as Lakoff puts it.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Check out The New Yorker's Bruce McCall's rendering of President Obama's Blackberry. It's like the funny parts of a Jay Leno monologue, touching on his relationships with Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden, as well as the continuing cabinet and Illinois political crises.* I like what might be an unintentional part of the humor--that Obama's special Blackberry is not special because of its security but its features. That's a fantasy anyone who uses technology has...
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Sean Quinn writes about the way Barack Obama and his press secretary use others' media rants as a contrast to their own rhetorical and governing style.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I never blogged about this at the time, because it seemed so trivial on Election Day. Every time I walk into the kitchen, I am greeted with my Obama 7-11 cup. The cups are interested in that neither features the face of the candidates--only their respective party colors.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The White House website has a photo gallery up of the process in putting together the stimulus package. The essay features a remarkable array of unremarkable photos, at least in terms of composition and the actual subjects of the photos--many are of various figures dressed in suits.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
See the hilarious story in the recent issue of The Onion that tracks the inability of the president's new cabinet to keep up with his comic book references . . .
A little more than three months ago, Barack Obama was still a candidate. Three weeks ago, he was president elect. And now he's president.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Fair use gets a new test with AP's complaint about the famous Shepard Fairey "Hope" poster.
Friday, January 30, 2009
From The New York Times and Daily Routines, a note about the way Barack Obama is working as the president. The article focuses not only on the new more casual dress code but also how Obama schedules his day.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Tamara Keith, an excellent reporter at KQED radio here in San Francisco, first filed the report for NPR back on January 16. In that report, she describes how IKEA has built a replica of the Oval Office. Talk about Democracy . . .oh wait, that's Socialism . . .
Tuesday's program built on Keith's report and mused about Obama's branding ability when it comes to business (back to Democracy; or is that Capitalism?).
Sunday, January 25, 2009
It's a nice if odd image---MLK with fingers locked, sort of leaning on Obama's shoulder like a pensive spouse, gazing out the window at the robins in the backyard. Obama, looking as though he just heard the tea kettle whistle. The composition of the sticker makes you wonder about the intention behind the positionality of the two men. Is MLK "leaning on" Obama? Is he a kind of guardian angel on his shoulder? Are they two faces on the African American Mount Rushmore?
As Obama's presidency moves from its infancy into adulthood, it will be fascinating to see how the images of him in popular culture mature as well. What other icons will he be paired with? And, will MLK get jealous?
Friday, January 23, 2009
ship to the University of San Francisco, where he plies his trade writing campus news and magazine stories for the Web.
What happened to us at the moment Barack Obama became president on January 20? Was there a cultural shift? Was it the beginning of a new social, community-based movement? Was it the simple swearing in of the next American presidential politician?
Whatever it was, it made me want to walk the six or seven blocks from work to buy a New York Times first thing on Wednesday morning, before the crowds scooped them all up. Starbucks, across the street from the drugstore where I ended up, was all ready sold out.
There, on the cover, were the smiling faces of the new first couple. I was surprised. I couldn’t recall ever seeing the president of the United States and first lady looking so happy together. (Especially in such dire times.) And as I thought about what surprised me, I realized it was just that – the togetherness.
If memory serves, only Al and Tipper’s held-a-little-too-long kiss during the 2000 presidential campaign recalls any similar evidence of a “presidential” couple in love going back to at least President Carter’s administration.
Looking at the Times’ photo brought to mind another image that was circulated widely around 1963 and again around 2001. The first was the album cover to Bob Dylan’s celebrated Freewheelin’ recording. The second was a semiotic mirroring of that album cover in the movie Vanilla Sky nearly 40 years later. Am I reaching too far? Maybe, but there is something about the promise and potential of relative youth captured in all three images. Beyond the setting, there is a craving in the way the couples cling to each other. A virility. It’s as if they are balanced on the edge of a swimming pool in winter about to plunge in – perfectly determined to make the best of it.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Similarly, clever San Franciscans have been playing with the linguistic similarities between "PRESIDio" street and "PRESIDent," creating their own semiotic indicators about the direction of the country.
Play with official signs has always been a form of peaceful (and symbolic) protest, and this is no different. It's just a sign of the times . . .
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
This was a day of revolutionary politics and revolutionary pictures. None of us will forget the swarm of bodies along the mall, the embrace of Presidents Obama and Bush, the veteran in the crowd who stood at attention, saluting through the entire address, or the image of the Obama girls taking photos of their father. It was an event that seemed to need the visual plane to register its importance.
To me, the most memorable image was the transportation of and Obama's utilization of the Lincoln Bible.
The process of retrieving and delivering the Bible is, in itself, profoundly symbolic, but watching the guards carry it like a surgeon might cradle a vital organ about to be transplanted drove home the deep historical significance of the Bible--a significance echoed by the entire day.
As a text, the Lincoln Bible is simply remarkable. It's beautiful in its simplicity; the humble design so at odds with its historic significance.
Here's hoping the new president will be able to harness the unifying power of the president whose Bible both anchored his inaugural ship and pushed it out onto the choppy waters of our America.
A few preliminary notes:
I never watched the full inauguration before, and I only have vague memories of ever seeing the swearing in. There is a lot of pomp and circumstance.
I've been reading some grumbling at the expense of the inauguration, and that this would not be the reaction if John McCain had been elected.
Monday, January 19, 2009
First there are the ubiquitous t-shirt selling places everywhere. This does not seem odd--save this is for a president (elect). The idea of a president as a cultural figure rather than just a politician is on display here (and everywhere around tourist areas). Note the references to The Matrix and Rocky here--and these are positive ones. That's different from many previous political figures; most cultural references are positive rather than mocking ones.
Below we have a reference to the "Change" part of Obama's message--brought to us in an ad for the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, including more than 850,000 government workers. The ad takes partial credit for the election and invites people to fight for "Change that works." J Ro makes a good point about how Obama's slogan and imagery have now become part of the commercial world. And we see here and in the next photo (and in the countless commemorative and inauguration issues) that corporate interests see in Obama an opportunity.
There is also the "Inauguration Super Store," which displays a variety of t shirts and other knick-knacks, including an Obama figurine.
Obviously this commercial focus comes from a mix of Obama being a compelling cultural figure, a contrast to the previous administration, and a culture much more adept at adjusting to commercial opportunities. People want to be a part of this new administration, and one of the ways they can do that is through buying. See Sunday's Curtis (which has provided a compelling narrative about Obama) for more on this phenomenon.
Next store to the Inauguration Superstore was the Zenith Gallery, which had a display of Obama art. Most of the art we have seen so far has been representational and this display is no different, save for the abstract O. Given Obama's presence as a real human being, I think it would be hard to paint Obama any other way. Seeing these paintings reminded me of the portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt painted by my great-grandfather Max Bigman, a WPA artist in the 1930s. The painting is purely representational, even in the midst of widely diverging artistic trends, as if to say here is a man who cannot be abstracted.
As we will see in 24 hours or so, an Obama presidency will be a reality. The above photos, representative of a much larger semiotic set, suggest that although the story of Obama becoming president is an inspiring narrative, it is also complicated in the way Obama and his images are reflected in political, commercial, and popular culture
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Released on January 14, the comic features a plot line sure to thrill both Obama and Spider-Man devotees. Peter Parker gets assigned to cover the inauguration but spots two identical Obamas. Savvy about these kinds of things, Parker determined that one of the Obamas must be an impostor.
How right he is!
Using basketball--I kid you not--to determine the real Obama, Spider-Man swoops in to save the day (and the president) (and the free world).
In an article from The Detroit Free Press, Steve Perri (not the lead singer for Journey) admits that this confluence of pop culture superstars transcends mere politics:
"' ...The significance of the comic outweighs whoever I voted for,' says Perri, an investment adviser who has about 1,600 Spider-Man comics. 'To have Spider-Man have such a pinnacle moment as meeting the president -- it's history.'"
There is even a fist-bump.
Stick that in your web E. D. Hill . . . .
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
canonize the image of the most celebrated president in a generation.
But such is the time we live in; such is the cache and vision of Barack Obama.
As a semiotic text, the poster neither delights nor disappoints. The iconic images of the White House and Capitol building add a layer of stuffiness to the poster, but from an aesthetic perspective, they balance out the compositional field. The seal on the other hand, really solemnizes the image. It looks to be emblazoned on Obama's chest, like a Hawthornian scarlet eagle he can neither hide nor wash off.
The V-shaped stripes--perhaps connoting his unlikely victory--quarter off the hoards of screaming fans at the first Beatles concert. In truth, Obama's popularity--his ability, Lennon and McCartney-like--who whip spectators into a frenzy has become part of his image, so to encode this detail into the poster is a shrewd move. It also apportions some of the spotlight to the populace. After all, Obama was about the grass roots, the common person. Our identity is his.
Most interesting is the hybridized Obama/Gandhi quote that mastheads the poster. Is this an intentional comparison to Mahatma? To his unflinching devotion to the poor, to his political morality, to his nearly God-like level of service and sacrifice?
If so, that's a hard row to hoe; especially in near-depression America. But, if the tag line is not so much about Obama but about us, then it creates a bizarre but pleasing triumvirate of Gandhi/Obama/Kennedy in which the responsibilities of governance lie not with the gods but with their people.
As the inauguration nears, we here at SemiObama will be your inaugural semiotics headquarters, reading both the major and the minor, the mainstream and the marginal.
Monday, January 12, 2009
You can go here to see more Obama mugs, along with shirts, bumper stickers, posters, and more.
Today, National Public Radio ran a segment on how difficult it will be for the White House and the government to control these kinds of products. The President-elect (and president) will actually have very little control over his image and his name.