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November 17, 2008

Your Turn: FDO

Obama TIME New Deal.jpg

Are the historical analogies getting a bit much, is it just the forced photo-illustration, or does this have a presumptuous tinge?

… Or, bully?

(photo illustration: Arthur Hochstein and Lon Tweeten. F.D.R.: AP. Obama: John Gress/Reuters. TIME Cover. Nov. 24, 2008. Cover story)

  • cynthia

    The Time cover is jumping the gun a bit. Obama’s “Hope” message meant just that to me–I hope he manages to accomplish what F.D.R. did during the Great Depression despite his natural centrist tendencies. When the economy tanked after the crash of ‘29 Roosevelt got millions working including artists, actors and writers. Seems like a dream given the fear of “elitism” expressed as smug, provincial, anti-intellectualism, in this, the 21st century. The cover acknowledges we, as a nation, are in for a serious economic crisis and if we are as fortunate as our predecessors Obama will meet that challenge with the courage, humor, coolness, intellectual curiosity, and inventiveness, as my second favorite president of all time did.

  • bystander

    I think this was inevitable. Paul Krugman’s November 10th column was entitled Franklin Delano Obama? The specific choice of this composition to draw the parallel is interesting, however. Most of the images I’ve seen of Obama don’t suggest quite this level of joviality. Got to go dig around in Google and see what FDR’s expression was when the original was shot. Is the comparison fully consistent?

  • bystander

    Well, not exactly. I’m comparing this Time cover to this photograph, from which I assume the analogy was drawn. I get a much different feel from the original than I do from its photo-shopped counterpart. When compared to the original, Obama looks like a clownish sort of character. Now, why doesn’t that surprise me?

  • cynthia

    This is the same image taken of FDR with Obama’s face maybe tweaked on top of FDR’s a bit. He had a big wide grin his cigarette holder jauntily poised at the corner of his mouth. A little “Penguin-like” perhaps, but in a good way. Obama may wish he could enjoy the occasional smoke, but those days are over. I wonder how many people will even get the connection. People of a certain age, history buffs….?

  • bystander
  • Nina Berman

    Is it too much to ask for the news weeklies to picture Obama as who he is without having to dress him up as someone else, a white someone else, a dead someone else, who in this picture, looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world? I mean these are serious times, but look at him on the cover. He looks like a party goer, an elitist, pleased with himself, basking in the attention, sitting pretty for a picture in his shiny new sparkling car. You can almost imagine a hot date next to him in the front seat. The constant caricature disguised as clever illustration is suffocating.

  • cynthia

    Nina, you have to look at this in its historical context. Read up on FDR and the Great Depression. Yes, FDR was an elite party boy, a millionaire when that meant something. But thanks to his wife, Eleanor, and the great minds he surrounded himself with, he transcended his background and ultimately saved the U.S. from a Communist overthrow (something the Repugs who still hate his guts will never admit). He had an air of seriousness balanced with his sense of fun and humor like Obama. Unlike Bushco with the 8 years of hysterical fear tactics, Obama has the air of a man in control of his emotions, unafraid to laugh while he governs us into an uncertain future. Mark my words, in the future the caricatures will be based on Obama’s images

  • Russ Nichols

    Please. These things can get over analyzed. Obama isn’t just black anymore. He’s the president elect of the United States of America. If McCain or any other candidate had proposed the kind of New Deal style get-America-back-to-work-again programs, that person would have been characterized as FDR.

  • Nina Berman

    Cynthia, I am well aware of the historical context. My parents were children during the Great Depression. My mother lived dirt poor, with nothing. My father’s relatives shacked up in their home because they had lost everything. I have seen hundreds of photographs from this time and have read quite a lot of the literature. I’m also well aware of Eleanor. Still, that was not the connection I made when I looked at this photo even though I recognized it was a comment on the famous FDR picture. To me I still saw a man pictured as though he didn’t have a care in the world at a time when millions of people are tumbling down. Perhaps the difference in our reactions is that I do not read images as literally as others.

  • jean

    First take: it’s awful.

  • Sarah Deere

    This cover looks backwards. One of the things I have admired about Obama is his ability to look forward. He is not FDR in any shape or form – he is…Obama.
    He will disappoint, probably, the most left among us (myself included). But he will go forward rather than backward, nor will he tread water.
    I think we will all be somewhat surprised by which direction he does go and what he sets out to accomplish.

  • cynthia

    I’m just suggesting this cover represents a possible starting point for Obama with reference to a past in our history that looked very much like what we’re facing today and Obama can feel no shame in being compared to FDR in any way shape or form. Nina, you saw millions of people tumbling down but ignore all FDR’s work programs that rescued millions of people from that fate and as I said, saved our Democracy in the process. I like the idea of a president who has the smarts to do that and the balance to have some fun, too. Even if that means smoking a cigarette and driving a car without a chauffeur.

  • ahpook

    I agree with Jean and Nina.
    To me it comes off as clownish in intent and inept in execution, with an overall effect that diminishes BHO, FDR, *and* TIME — even as photoshop-qua-photoshop, it fails.

  • cynthia

    Hmmm, I wonder how it would read if it was an illustration (not a photoshopped image) for the cover of a New Yorker issue? Clownish is Bush mugging for the cameras and doing a faux tap dance under the WH portico while waiting for his overdue visitor.

  • Books Alive

    As I commented on the 60 Minutes thread, I’m glad Obama is able to smile frequently now, unlike during the campaign. His grandmother would be pleased.
    Time may be reduced to a ploy like this while meantime Jon Alter receives kudos for his most recent book on FDR, which Obama is reading.
    May Obama continue to smile and to read, setting good example as we work to move the country forward.

  • Phil Sheehan

    Nina, I agree with you completely.
    What disturbs me — beyond the caricature implications — is a basic technical point: the imposed face does not come close to suiting the body or the pose, let alone the situation. I don’t believe there is or could be an Obama image which would work here, because the body image upon which it is situated is so thoroughly unlike the slender, athletic, youthful Obama. Where the hell, for instance, has his neck disappeared to?

  • John Lucaites

    I think both Nina and Cynthia are right. The point is that the image is an analogy … a comparison of two things that are fundamentally different in some respects but productively similar in others. The question then is how one chooses to read it. Cynthia see’s all that FDR did that was progressive, Nina see’s the elitist. Both read based on their experiences, understanding of history, and, no doubt, personal anxieties. But the picture is not “real” in any absolute sense. It was not in the 1930s and it certainly is not now (especially with the really incompetent photoshop job –or is that amateurish quality calculated … designed to suggest an affect that alerts us to the fact that we should not take all of these comparisons too seriously)? The KEY POINT is that as with all good photographs it is self-reflexive and it invites precisely this kind of dialogue.

  • Gasho

    The US is desperate for a savior. They have a candidate for savior and an example of a prior savior. We can hardly wait to be saved– we’re too impatient to let the story unfold as it will, so we (or in this case the TIME editors) use our computers and photo-editing software to produce a picture whereby we are already saved!! See? Obama saved us from ourselves! He did it!
    Like a marathon runner at the starting line, imagining himself breaking the tape with his chest — all smiles and glory. Who needs to think about the running, after all?
    Just more American instant gratification. Our coins should say: “Velox Insumo”.

  • bystander

    Whoa. Thanks, BAG! I could no more have embedded that photo than I could have survived Niagra Falls in a barrel. Good editors always make you look smarter than you are. And, I’m always in need of an editor. :-|

  • Michael (The BAG)

    bystander, you’re welcome.  It’s actually not too hard, though, to sign up for a free service like photobucket, park images there, then learn the little bit of html code to display them here — especially if it enhances the conversation to  use pictures to talk about pictures.  Because Typepad now affords this capability in the BAGnewsNotes discussion threads, I thought I’d add “the real thing” to your comment as a form of encouragement to everyone.  

  • The Heretik

    There is too much of that FDR Obama stuff going around.

  • yesterdaygone

    i’m not sure but i think the new yorker had this concept of barack as fdr first.


  • Porlock Junior

    It could be useful to look at the whole cover, including the text. After all, an analogy to the Depression just now is not something that’s weirdly contrived and disrespectful or something. (Framing: Don’t think of an elephant in the room?) The artwork is a humorous comment on it. As suggested, it’s their version of a New Yorker cover piece — but not so daring as to cartoon him as a Scary Ay-rab. (And rightly; that wouldn’t work for Time, having rather inexplicably failed to work even for the NYer.)
    I just can’t see being offended at the playboy bit. That is what FDR looked like, and the Obama version is rather more restrained. And BTW it worked for FDR.
    BTW2, my parents got out of college in the absolute pit of the Depression. Yeah, college, so they weren’t dirt poor, but somehow they were aware of the problem with there not being any jobs. Looking indomitable and taking action was good enough for their President. Porlock Senior was no member of the political left, but one can see his mature judgement of FDR 50 years later when he’d been an academic for a while; expressing his feeling toward committee meetings, he told me, “I wouldn’t serve on another committee, if the other members were God, Einstein, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt!”

  • Porlock Junior

    That Hungerford cartoon is spooky! Recognize anybody familiar in it? Not the guy on the left, but the one on the right with the beard.
    Theodore Seuss Geisel was not yet doing political cartoons when that came out, and Cy Hungerford definitely was somebody else, but the Uncle Sam is absolute quintessential Dr. Seuss.

  • yesterdaygone

    The US is desperate for a savior.
    Just more American instant gratification. Our coins should say: “Velox Insumo”.
    Posted by: Gasho

    i would hardly call putting up with eight long years waiting for this nightmare to end – instant gratification.
    if anything, we have been TOO patient. we are now paying the price for suffering and tolerating corruption and incompetence for so long. in bolivia, citizens called for a civil strike that shut down commerce after their president failed to perform a mere 6 months into office. they literally went onto the streets and tore up the asphalt piece by piece in order to disrupt traffic. the president was forced to resign in order to restore order. can you imagine americans throwing any president out of office after only 6 months?

  • yesterdaygone

    Theodore Seuss Geisel was not yet doing political cartoons when that came out, and Cy Hungerford definitely was somebody else, but the Uncle Sam is absolute quintessential Dr. Seuss.
    Posted by: Porlock Junior

    i don’t know about that. the uni channel did a retrospective of dr. seuss’ work. he had caricatures that poked fun of hitler that i’d never seen before.
    sure enough, i just checked. do a quick google of: dr. suess hitler
    and it comes up.

  • Ida

    I am concerned about the depression era analogies as well. Fair enough, people want some hope in a difficult and dismal time. I don’t know that hearkening back to the New Deal is very responsible to the many people who suffered through the Great Depression. And ‘new new’ has the feel of 2.0. Constant versioning of the same thing shows a lack of political imaginary. Thanks for this thread everyone. Very insightful.

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