Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Magazine Count

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

My Favorite Campaign Image

SemiObama posted a lot of images during the campaign. I mean, a lot. We ranked t-shirts, judged coffee mugs, compared Obama dolls, and even discussed the various forms of New York Times Obama swag, but we never really talked about our favorite pro-Obama image.

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

Lakoff via 538 on The Obama Code

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

Obama's Blackberry

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...


*My students and I once watched a Leno monologue as part of a humor class I was teaching and determined that there were always a few funny jokes. It was the frequency that was the issue.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

538 on Obama Adminstration's rhetoric tactics

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.

Media discourse is itself an interpretative text--that words themselves are part of a larger text that encompass not only the directed speech toward Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli but larger audiences as well.  So while the reply might seem specific, the message, as Silver notes, is larger.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Remainders: The Obama/McCain 7-11 Cup Election

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.

I was reminded of this after the stimulus vote, when only three Republicans in the Senate and zero in the House voted for the bill. I guess the 7-11 folks were onto something: it's all about party.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shepard Fairey on Charlie Rose

The artist who created famous Obama hope icon talks about it on Charlie Rose (via Slate).

Mr. Process

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. 

The most interesting photos are of Rahm Emanuel on his cell phone while Obama closes his eyes; a photo of a woman raising her hand; and Obama moving toward the stage for his press conference.

By unremarkable, I don't mean that the photos aren't cool or good photographic quality; it's just that government in action essentially means a lot of people sitting around and having meetings, hardly the subject of dramatic photos.

The photos say more as a collective whole, which is that Obama met with a variety of groups in order to negotiate/sell the bill; the photos include a dinner with the Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats, a casual moment with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Obama with his hand on the back of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as they look at the Oval Office window.

 As Jed Lawson suggests, the images tell the story "of a President who reached out to his political opponents to give them an opportunity to do the right thing."

In other words, the photos suggest process--and notable is the White House's careful documentation of process. We've talked before about Obama and his focus on the way to get things done as well as getting things done. 

 Ron Brownstein suggests that Obama "appears increasingly focused on ends, not means." While it's true that passing the stimulus bill was the most important thing, Obama seemed to believe getting there by demonstrating a willingness to listen to Republicans and fiscal conservatives in his own party was an important part of the project of getting the bill passed.

Process during the election meant voters were helping Obama win election by calling, knocking on doors, raising money, and emailing. 

Now we see Obama as the center of the drama, shaking hands, having meetings, and so forth in his efforts to demonstrate to the country he 's not only appealing to those who elected him but those who he serves--the whole country. 


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jack Shafer/Zadie Smith on Obama

Jack Shafer sums up and adds his commentary to Zadie Smith's piece on Obama's speaking habits. Both pieces are worth reading, and I especially like Smith's idea of "Dream City." 

Indeed, Obama is really not from anywhere in particular, but he has strong roots in Kansas, Hawaii, California, New York City, Boston, Chicago (and Springfield), and Washington, D.C. He has relatives all over the world. Such geographic diffuseness, shared too by John McCain and Hillary Clinton, Obama's two main rivals for the presidency, can only lead to a bigger sense of the relationship between geography and identity, a definitive plus when being a politician.

It also helps being a person. This country is big and while it contains a core culture, the differences between us can also be significant, enhanced by tone and dialect and masked by common language. At the same time, we're a mobile society, and so where we're from is sometimes a difficult determination. I think that's why McCain, Clinton, and Obama have never really suffered being outsiders in the states from which they made their big political leaps. 


Friday, February 13, 2009

On speaking

The press conference has become an important part of any president's experience; presidents are judged by how many press conferences they hold, who they call on, and most importantly how they answer. As an aside, press conferences are no longer press conferences--reporters are now the media not the press, and it's not really a conference either. 

In any case, here's how press conferences work: A man or woman stands in front of a lot of reporters, who are trying to achieve a few things. They want to get information through direct interrogation. They want to look smart. And they are hoping most of all that the question they ask leads to "news"--which means information that the subject of the press conference was not going to reveal.

The subject of the press conference wants to look smart, seem open and willing to talk casually and formally at the same time, and most of all, not tell the reporters anything he or she did not want to say. In other words, it's both a chance for information exchange and a bit of a test of wills.

It's clearly performance on both sides, and the performance is for the subject, reporters, and a variety of audiences, all of whom have rooting interests in the outcome. 

In this case, the "news," defined as something new or noteworthy, was more meta--Obama had a good press conference and made his case to the American public. That news has little to do with the substance of press conference but rather its context and style. Indeed, the biggest "news" that seemed to come out of the press conference was the fact that Obama called on a Huffington Post reporter, the type of meta-news that the Internet loves. 

The evaluations of Obama's conference make sense if you see the bigger picture. One reporter, John Dickerson said he sounded like a professor. I think it's been a while since Dickerson has been in school--what professor stands in front of the room and takes questions from his students like that--wearing an expensive suit? And why is being a professor a bad thing? (Note: I'm a professor and I think it's a good thing.)

But Dickerson's observation speaks to the larger point that Obama had answers to the questions, as a professor is supposed to.

I agree with Jon Stewart--it was nice to hear answers in complete sentences. And it was an important milestone in a president's term: the first news conference and one in which he seemed relatively comfortable. In the first test of wills, Obama clearly won. But the reporters won too by having lots of written material for their stories.


Friday, February 6, 2009

One of our favorite Onion photos

President Obama as comic-obsessed Commander-(or should we say Conan-der)-in-Chief.

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 . . .

Obama as president, not candidate

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. 

What's interesting from semiotic point of view is that he has become much less prominent as a cultural phenomenon as opposed to a political one. Interesting popular culture renditions of Obama undoubtedly are still being produced at a rapid rate, but they are not breaking through to mainstream media outlets, as they were before his inauguration. And media outlets are undoubtedly selling fewer commemorative issues; I suspect the sales of the Franklin Mint coins are going down too. 

One reason is obvious--the economy is dire straights, and media attention is focused on the battles between Republicans and Democrats, and to a lesser extent between the administration and Congress. 

But there is another reason. A candidacy is all about possibility--what the candidate might do and should do. The possibilities lend themselves to myth-making, and indeed, part of a good campaign is telling a good story. But once a president is elected, a president can do things, and the practical trumps the theoretical. 

Now that Obama is president, the symbols still matter, but not as much as fixing the economy.