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August 24, 2008

Powell’s Obama Intro: Not From Here


With the convention results a forgone conclusion, Denver is about one thing: framing Obama.

And what makes the assignment particularly interesting — being here in person — is witnessing how much the media’s pictorial distillation of events actually mirrors its own critical sentiment toward Obama or reflects prevailing attack narratives as a counterpoint to the snapshot the campaign is unrolling.

Leading off our coverage, we thought it worthwhile to look at how traditional media is setting the table (or, perhaps, poisoning the well?) heading into the week.

I’m was particularly interested in this illustration accompanying the lead story in Sunday’s NYT Week-In-Review by our friend, Michael Powell (“American Wanderer, in All His Stripes”)I’m curious about the readership’s take on this complex and rather painterly image.  As I read it, it appears to amplify many of the negative memes already in play, particularly Obama as placeless or itinerant, and the sense that Obama is not really knowable (more like a blur).

The treatment of the flag is tricky too.  Besides the idea Obama is not a full-fledged American, it almost subliminally reflects the dual GOP attack lines of Obama the celebrity and Obama as political naif — in other words, that he’s “all star,” but he lacks “the stripes.”

(illustration: Ji Lee/ Caption alert (emphasis mine):  Rootlessness, the label that sticks to stories like Barack Obama’s, is a national trait that both attracts and repels. )

  • black dog barking

    What is more American than the countryside flying by the window at Interstate highway speeds? That we’re moving at high speed without a sense of where we’re headed pretty much describes 21st century America. We’re only left to ask again the question that Bush poses over and over — Now What?
    That flag image is pretty red-less, perhaps a conscious choice for which we’re supposed to nod knowingly. I, for one, am tired beyond sick of the Red thing and the Blue thing and how every question of any import has Red spin and Blue spin and nodding savants whose livelihood is their opinions.

  • Ti molo

    While I agree there is a concerted effort to brand him as the “other”, I believe Mc.s birthplace and own history of moving from place to place will prevent it from being applied fully. I also believe Obama has the ability to turn what is a true American quality, one that is being framed as a liability, into one of his greatest strengths. The self made man, moving across the country to find his calling.
    Reading “Team of Rivals…” D.K.Goodwin at the moment.

  • janinsanfran

    I actually think this appeals to the younger part of Obama’s constituency. He really does represent a generational shift and everyone whose understanding of our situation is set in the unyielding concrete of past perceptions will sometimes feel swept past by a mysterious force.
    I’m in that older cohort, but I’m (usually) willing to give the possibility of fresh possibilities some credence. For awhile. :-)

  • michael o. allen

    I enjoyed immensely Mr. Powell’s well researched and well written piece. My only quibble is that it may be over-written, especially the opening section.
    What Mr. Powell claims as a uniquely American trait is actually a universal one. It transcends every culture. It is the linchpin of every fairy tale, adventure, or fantasy, from “Beowulf” to “Harry Potter” and everything in between.
    Every society fears-lionizes the stranger who by dint of talent, vision, unique strength, or magical power overcomes to lead.
    After this immensely enjoyable, yet strained, opening, the piece settles down and reaches some surprising conclusions:
    Of the two nominees, Sen. John McCain has been the more itinerant or peripatetic figure, with Obama the more rooted one. Obama is the one who sought out community and has been stayed in one place for two decades. He is the one who is not divorced and has raised a family with his wife while Mr. McCain abandoned one family to marry a much younger and wealthier woman.

  • Ida

    I agree with Black Dog that this image is almost beatnik in its reference to roaming the American roads. The color pallet and style are very fresh and remind me of current graphic design trends. This supports janinsanfran’s suggested the image appeals to Obama’s younger constituency. The image is fresh and leaves me with a feeling of coming discovery and new stripes to paint the country with.

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