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September 5, 2008

The Role-Reversing, “Uppity” Atlantic Cover


Following the “TV with the sound off” test, check out this photoshopped cover of the new Atlantic with the words covered up.  Doing so, what the picture communicates is Obama (in real life, the “cool” one) as the warrior, while McCain (the actual “hot” one, who is known for being temperamental and impulsive, and often can’t keep from saying whatever noxious thing comes into his head) seems more temperate, thinking and interpersonal.

The lesson of the “Dean scream” was that the media and the right has a tendency to frame passion — if it’s coming from left-of-center — as overheated and radical.  Given Obama’s race, you have the added stereotype of the angry black man or the black militant.  And just short of that, the photomontage also plays to the “uppity” stereotype, as codified in the most remarkable way this week at the RNC by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.

The reality, of course, is just the opposite.  Far cry from the insincere “high road” theme McCain pitched in his acceptance speech, it’s the wingers like Bush and McCain who tend to be hyper-aggressive, reactionary, averse to listening and blind to boundary.  They just deflect that fact by coating the behavior under a moralistic, religious and/or patriotic veneer.

Words not withstanding (the contradiction possibly even strengthening the imagery), I’ve seen a lot of blatant mischaracterization in this campaign season, and this ranks right up there.

(h/t: Michael – image credit unavailable. The Atlantic. September 2008)

  • nadezhda

    What a weird set of connections the visual and text produce, and I don’t think it’s nearly as straight-forward as you assert.
    On the pure visual level, you’re right that there’s the “hot”/”cold” mischaracterization of the two men. That feeds into the “angry black man” problem.
    But I think they get something right in that Obama is outward-directed and looks confident with “his” message. That gets the whole gestalt of Obama’s campaign — they’ve got a message, they know who they need to reach, they’re not altering their approach by worrying or speculating about what their calaculating opponent might come up with, and they’re executing their plan.
    It’s not particularly charitable for McCain, who is only looking at Obama at an angle. McCain is in a smaller, reactive posture — he doesn’t know who he is or what he should do except in reference to Obama — and looks as much anxious, and calculating a way to slip a knife between Obama’s ribs, as cool-headed.
    As for the visual/text link — if you didn’t know the story of the two men and the campaign, who looks like “warrior”? Young, an on-the-attack action, strong, confident, etc. — Obama looks like he’s BOTH orator and warrior. McCain looks like neither.

  • donna

    Unifier? Like Bush was a uniter not a divider?
    They can run all the nasty pic they want, say what they want in the media. This thing is a ground war, and the winner will have the most boots on the ground. Let them run their sideshows with Palin, their bad speechifying, their jabs at Obama.
    People want change, and they will get it.
    McCain changes nothing. Palin, the “reformer”, left her city $20 million in debt after asking for $30 million in federal funding, and brings in more pork per capita to Alaska than any other state, in spite of their oil income.
    And won’t even speak to the press until she’s had a chance to study up. Ready to lead? I don’t think so. Not even ready to Meet the Press.

  • mcc

    Following the “TV with the sound off” test, check out this photoshopped cover of the new Atlantic with the words covered up.
    Suggested alternate text:

  • Samantha

    It’s a strange shot of Obama. Nobody looks good in a darkened profile like that, with their mouth open, looking like a mask, really. McCain I think is portrayed a little more favorably, because even though he looks angry, his facial proportions are normal, he’s more centered, and he gets the benefit of the light shining down on them. Obama has very little light. It reminds me of the darkened OJ photo.
    And can someone explain to me how Obama is reduced to “Orator?” Reagan was an actor, for gods sake, but still got respect from the press and called “the great communicator.” McCain’s tag as “warrior” also has a more positive slant.
    Like the article said, we’re just more screaming democrats to them.
    Obama, in my opinion, is a once in a lifetime figure, like Kennedy. He’s moving his party and the country in a direction and asking them to reach higher. There are plenty of other words to describe what he is. Let’s try some out:
    “Healer,” “uniter,” “moderate,” “a leader for a new generation,” “a reformer,” “a visionary,” “an unlikely hero,” “an emerging power,” “an honorable man,” “a dignified fighter,” “a warrior for the people,” “a defender of freedom,”…….and I can go on and on. But he’ll never get that kind of press.

  • black dog barking

    IMHO this looks very good for BHO. As nadezhda observes, the junior senator is getting his message out, making his points. The senator from Arizona just gets to stew, watch history pass him by. Put that famous temper on slow boil, stand back and observe from a safe distance. (Cover the furniture first.)
    The Orator / Warrior juxtaposition is pat, adds little to the discussion. BHO may be a fine speaker and he apparently contributes a lot to his speeches but he’s also set up a campaign organization outside the Democratic power structure that has and will change the way everyone plays the game. As Samantha says, ‘Orator’ ain’t the half of it.

  • ratfood

    Since the intent of the Atlantic cover clearly is to depict Obama as a strident, angry, (scary, black) man, I searched for a comparable image of a historic figure with actual militant, or at least anti-establishment tendencies. This picture of Angela Davis is quite similar.

  • jean

    I agree with nadezhda and black dog barking, but with the additional comment of Obama being prominent, on top, and McCain (POW) looking up to him, maybe for guidance? (since McC and the ‘pugs are now for change also).
    Obama does seem to have a somewhat angry expression at first glance, and I have been worried the narrative would turn to this. I think that is why the Obama campaign has not been as aggressive as progressives want. But a repeat look gives me a very confident man who is sure of himself and what he wants, and that is shown in contrast to McC who looks very tentative.
    And, looking at it again…he does look like OJ, I think there’s no getting around that. The saving grace is the wuss look on McC.

  • sfkeydel

    A letter I just sent to James Fallows:
    Dear Mr. Fallows,
    I’m a great admirer of your weblog and have enjoyed your writings on everything from politics to technology to the Beijing Olympics, which is why I was so disappointed by both the title and the cover photo that accompanies your article on the upcoming debates in the forthcoming issue of The Atlantic.
    Three problems:
    1. McCain isn’t a warrior. Yes, he was captured by the enemy in Vietnam (after an undistinguished tour of duty) and spent years as a prisoner of war, but that, in and of itself, doesn’t make him a warrior. And when one considers the type of life he has led since returning, ‘warrior’ is one of the last things that come to my mind. Opportunistic philanderer, recipient of taxpayer bailouts (Keating Five), hypocrite liege of the radical right-wing: yes. Warrior: no.
    2. Dubbing Obama as “The Orator” in apposition to calling McCain “The Warrior” does a great disservice to Obama, as it implies that McCain is a man of action, whereas Obama is just words in the ether.
    3. Obama looks very angry in the photo, playing into the stereotype of the “angry black man.” Based on your blog posts of the past week, I’m assuming that you saw his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, and I suspect that you’ve heard him in other contexts, as well. Does he really strike you as an “angry black man?”
    None of this helps get this country to a place where leaders are chosen on the basis of policies and ideas, rather than personalities and prejudice. I’d like to think that it was your editors who sandbagged you on this (I’m guessing Hitchens), and not yourself.
    Stefan Keydel

  • Roschelle

    Little known facts about Ms. Palin: 1) pushed for censorship in Alaskan libraries. 2)Sarah Palin refused the building of the bridge only after she saw it was advantageous to her politically but she kept the MONEY! all $223 mil…[talk about more of the same...uuuggghhh!]

  • mjfgates

    Obama isn’t just a scary black man, he’s a scary black man who’s coming to EAT YOU UP! Rawr!

    Yeah, you don’t get a whole lot more slanted than that photo, at least not without drawing a kaffiyeh on Obama’s head.

  • Stella

    I think it is Obama’s capacity as a warrior against the plutocracy that makes him so popular. He is a real leader who can’t be beaten by Rovian game playing. Considering the shakiness of our electoral system, it is certainly a warrior we will be needing after another November.

  • Samantha

    Yes, Ratfood. The image is strikingly similar.

  • croatoan

    I’m an Obama supporter, and I think he looks strong and confident, while McCain looks timid and scared.

  • dogfood

    The way they have drawn or photoshopped his teeth makes Obama look like a vampire. They have darkened his skin tone, especially around his mouth where it almost looks like a 5 o’clock shadow. I don’t understand the mccain image. He’s not really looking at Obama, but the they want it to appear that he is, and that he looks like someone who is thinking about how to take care of this angry, raving interloper, and will be able to do it. I think it’s clearly anti-Barack.

  • dogfood

    And the “orator vs the warrior” caption is so loaded, I’m surprised they even dared do it. The orator? Why not just say the blowhard, or the demagogue vs the protecting hero? Amazing what they do.

  • wagonjak

    Shouldn’t there be a fang on the right side of Obama’s mouth like on his left?.

  • Kit (Keep It Trill)

    The image I get in the photo: Obama is portrayed as an angry black revolutionary of days gone by, perhaps a spokesman for the Black Panthers speaking against massive police brutality, and at the same time, oblivious that he is been watched by an anti-Civil Rights predatory “Man”, perhaps a FBI head who is furious that this black man dares to demand change, and is thus plotting to take him out.
    Of course, nothing could be further from reality. Obama has never pushed a civil rights agenda. He sticks to his handbook of “there are no red states, blue states, we are all Americans…” He strives to not be a black President but a ‘peoples’ President. And publicly, John McCain is the easy going, affable town mayor type, one who should have retired long ago so he can sit in his yard and yell at kids to stay off his grass. In short, the photo is a lie.

  • Sejanus

    I agree with those who see this as a positive for Obama. He doesn’t look angry (there is no furling in the forehead), he looks calm, composed and in control. He is voicing his opinions to an unseen audience with confidence and clarity. Even McCain is turned to pay heed.
    McCain is looking slightly backward, over his shoulder. Picture them as two racers. The McCains of the world have been out in front for all of history, but this captures the moment he looks over his shoulder to see the face of the future, larger, more dominant and confident, speeding past the old world. McCain’s expression (slightly worried, a little surprised and perplexed, but also curious) captures the unease, perhaps just a dull and dim understanding of the profound change that is taking place.
    That said, President Obama (if he makes it) WON’T be all that. He’s the right choice, but let’s keep our expectations under control.

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