Friday, January 23, 2009

Obamas Freewheelin, A Guest Post by Ed Carpenter

One of the magical aspects of Obama's Obamaness is the ability for people to see all aspects of their lives in him. Malleable, importable, sampleable, we put him everywhere. Our guest poster, Ed Carpenter, sees Bob Dylan in Obama, especially after the photo of him and Michelle on the New York Times. Carpenter has a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He has worked as an editor and reporter for several Bay Area newspapers, before jumping
ship to the University of San Francisco, where he plies his trade writing campus news and magazine stories for the Web.

Obamas, Freewheelin’

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.

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