Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

The HBO President

Politico and New York magazine's excellent Daily Intel have rundowns of Barack Obama and his family's television habits. 

His love for The Wire and television sports is already well-known--he mentioned The Wire as his favorite show a few times on the campaign trail, and he was featured on ESPN on a Barackatology segment, where he picked the NCAA tournament. (For the record, he picked a lot of chalk, and of course, he ended up picking the champion, North Carolina.)

Two shows are signaled out by the two articles: Entourage and Gossip Girl. For the uninitiated, Entourage is about a movie star who bring three of his friends, one of them himself a former star, to California with him as he tries to make it big. The show is based loosely on Mark Wahlberg's life and the agent is based on Ari Emanuel, the brother of Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel

But the familial relationship is not why Obama watches the show--like everyone else, it has to be the fantasy aspect of an existence lived by a different set of rules and standards. Though the show has legitimate drama and tension, the underlying message to me is the fantasy of American men living in a world of work and play without female guidance or less sinisterly, the positive but complicated nature of male friendship. Of course, it's about the glamour of Hollywood too.

There might be some parallels between life in the White House, though it's not exclusively a male-oriented world, and gritty details of running government seems essentially less romantic. 

Gossip Girl is at its essence about class, and the difficulties class relationships cause among a relatively undifferentiated group of privileged prep school students. And it's about the essential seriousness of high school, and of course, adults watching it see the parallels between it and their own complicated lives, which remind them of high school. 

There might be some parallels between life in the White House, though it's not exclusively a male-oriented world, and gritty details of running government seems essentially less romantic. The fact that Obama loves Entourage is just another piece of evidence that confirms his essential masculinity. Combine that with at least a reference to Gossip Girl, also shows his desire to keep up with pop culture. 

Though their popularity exclude them from true cult status, the fervent nature of followers of Gossip Girl--New York spends many column inches each week confirming its authenticity--and Entourage point to popular culture watchers--count our president among them--that at least knowing about the shows is crucial. 


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Topps Trading Cards

Last week, I purchased my first pack of the "Inaugural Edition President Obama" Topps trading cards. It was a big day. Within five minutes I had purchased both a gigantic burrito and a slim but exciting sleeve of Obama Topps.

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

More on Obama as Icon

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

Roundup on Obama in Europe

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland on Obama's first press conference in Europe as president.

A short piece on why the president won't weigh in on European football, er, soccer, er, football.

The Los Angeles Times on Obama's promise to listen and lead.

The Telegraph's (London) Philip Sherwell on the problems that Obama might face in Europe.

More from us soon!