Barack Obama

The City upon a Hill at Halftime: Detroit, Unions, and the USA

Clint Eastwood in Chrysler Super Bowl commercial

Image Credit: Screenshot from YouTube

While baseball is more my sport, I haven’t missed watching the Super Bowl for the last couple of years. If nothing else, I enjoy analyzing the Super Bowl commercials—and this year’s Chrysler commercial featuring Clint Eastwood presents an irresistible opportunity to discuss some interesting controversies. Both conservative critics like Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Goldstein and liberal ones like Michael Moore and Charles Mudede have read the commercial as promoting Obama’s reelection campaign. The ad’s copy and visuals directly connect the fates of Detroit and the auto industry with larger economic and political trends, as you can see:

Let’s Stay Together, America: Obama’s Viral Campaigns

Obama sings 'Let's Stay Together'

Image Credit: Screenshot from Youtube

While ostensibly Tuesday’s State of the Union address was President Obama’s most important speech of the week, his performance at an Apollo Theater fundraiser last Thursday stole the spotlight.  The reason for this, of course, was because he sang a few bars from Al Green’s classic song “Let’s Stay Together.”

Fox News, Obama, Osama, and the Analysis of Gaffes

Screenshot of via Salon

After the stunning news that Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the news outlets are scrambling for different things to say about the event and its coverage. One meme that has begun cropping up fits with the existing narrative about the Republican bias of Fox News. For instance, Salon displayed the screenshot of the Fox website under the headline, "Fox News congratulates Bush for bin Laden".

The First Photo Album


Obamas backstage

Photo  Credit:  Anthony Almeida

"The  First Marriage" by Jodi Kandor, The New York Times Magazine

Last Sunday the New York Times Magazine ran an extended piece on Barack and Michelle Obama's relationship titled, "The First Marriage."  The article examines the couple's negotiation of their private relationship in the public eye and considers how the presidential couple and the presidential family are expected to conform to a set of proscribed roles and the ways in which the Obamas are challenging those norms.  Accompanying the article is an extended photo-essay culled from several moments since the Obamas married in 1992.  The images are arrayed in chronological order--many are candid snapshots of the first family at milestone moments on "the road to the White House" and are captioned accordingly.  This photo-essay that mimics the form of a family photo-album provides an opportunity for thinking through the intersections of photography and the family, of the private and public, of marriage and politics.

Fallen Soldiers

At his first televised press conference last week, President Obama received a question about a controversy that, though once debated quite energetically, had seemed for a time to recede into the background as the casualty rate for U.S. soldiers has fallen. The questioner wanted to know whether the new administration would order the Pentagon to reverse its policy of forbidding the publication of photographs showing the return of fallen soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (President Obama responded by not commenting, since the policy is currently "under review.")Flag-draped coffins returning from IraqImage credit:, via Associated Press, NYT, 2/15/2009

The question, and the issue, were covered yesterday by The New York Times in a story and an editorial urging the President to overturn the policy. As the author of the former summarizes the issue, "Part of the debate that has developed turns on whether the return of soldiers is a private or public matter. While families have registered a range of opinions about allowing the news media at Dover, many have maintained that the return of a body is so deeply personal that they should be able to decide whether to keep it private." Above and beyond the questions raised by the difficult question of how to treat the images of what is essentially both a public and a private sacrifice (a soldier dying for his or her country is also lost to his or her family), the debate itself is simply a reminder of the power of images to move arguments.

Remote Sensing and the Obama Inauguration

Much was made of the crowds that attended President Obama's inauguration in Washington, DC last week.

As evidence of remote sensing's (that is, satellite image's) greater role in public consciousness, check out this image of the crowds gathered for the historic moment, shot at one-half meter resolution. (One-half, or.5, meter resolution means, more or less, that the smallest units discernible in the image are .5 x .5 meters, about the size of a person from above. The resolution is roughly equivalent on the NIIRS scale, which is the military/intelligence community's rating scale for remotely sensed image interpretability.)

Increasingly news organizations are citing remotely sensed images in their reporting. Whether this is a techno-fad or provides a legitimately new and informative perspective on events, I'd be curious to hear readers' opinions on.

inauguration photo

Image courtesy of GeoEye (click link for a larger resolution photo, as well as additional remotely sensed images)

The New

By now this is slightly old news, but in keeping with the previous post on Presidential photography, and because I thought it merited a mention here, I hope everyone has had a chance to check out the newly redesigned website:
A screengrab of the new website
Since President Obama's campaign had a reputation for design and branding savvy (much discussed on viz.), it's worth noting that the new website is similarly stylish and sleek: not surprising for a man hailed by some as the first "Digital President." Notably, the site retains layout and design elements similar to Although so far there is no "Contribute Now" button, there is a form at the top of the home page where you can sign up for email updates. The main banner includes rotating photographs and "news" updates. There is also a new feature for the White House web site: a blog. In addition to all this, there is a fairly extensive "Agenda" page, much of the content of which seems to come straight from the "Issues" page of the campaign website.

All of this is in keeping with the usual hybrid function of the White House website to serve as campaign tool (never to early to start thinking about 2012), information portal, and cog in the message machine. But this design in particular seems to aim at a couple of President Obama's stated ambitions: to get people more involved in government and to open the workings of the executive branch to more transparency. It's interesting to think about how (and whether) this redesigned website helps achieve these aims. If I were teaching in rhetoric this semester, I would certainly consider designing an assignment around these questions.

Still getting used to it

Waiting in the HEB checkout line, I stared at magazines like these lined up above the conveyor belt:

First picture is the cover of OK magazine which shows the Obama family.

Second picture is the cover of US magazine which again shows the Obama family.

Holy Man*

So earlier this week, I'm checking my news online and I come across this photo of Barack Obama:

a photo of Barack Obama standing at a podium.  The spotlight behind him gives a halo effect


New Yorker Cover Satirizing Barack and Michelle Obama The recent New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama in radical drag, as it were, hasn't been discussed here on viz. It deserves a mention, since the nature and definition of satire has been discussed on the site before.

In my opinion, it fails utterly as satire. First of all, anytime anything requires extensive explanation AS SATIRE, it probably isn't the most adept or polished attempt. This week's New York Times "Week in Review" piece, written by Lee Siegel, agrees. In it, Siegel concludes that "By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon."

I agree, and not because I think the Obamas are off-limits as targets for satire, or that they themselves think they are off-limits (a conclusion I've heard on cable news from some on the "lunatic fringe" Siegel mentions). To me, the so-called satire of the piece fails because, rather than seeming to satirize the intellectual laziness, the total divorce from reality, required to hold the views depicted here, it seems to satirize the Obamas themselves for producing those views, instead of those who maintain and perpetuate them. The message is confused, the execution, confusing. Grade: F.

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