Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Inaugural Poster

When it was first announced that Shepard Fairey would be designing President-elect Obama's inaugural poster, it was the first time this institutional semiotic project was given to someone whose iconography is all about fringe. It is amazing to consider that a guy who got his start doing radical street art would, just a few years later,
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.


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