Monday, January 19, 2009

Washington photos

We'll write a lot more about the inauguration in the next few days, but it's worth noting that the city of Washington is more than ready for its new president to show up. Recently, one of the semi-Obamians had a chance to go to Washington D.C. Not surprisingly, semiotic cues regarding the coming inauguration of Barack Obama were in abundance. 

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.

On the other side of the bus stop is an ad for BET television, which also claims participation in Obama's election.

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


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