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January 25, 2009

Your Turn: George Washington Obama

Obama GW New Yorker.jpg

We looked at a couple of historically-inspired renditions during the transition (1, 2), but this (titled “The First”) is The New Yorker’s cover choice for Obama’s first week in office. I’m interested in your read.

(illustration: Drew Friedman. New Yorker cover. January 26, 2009)

  • J Neo Marvin

    Least grotesque Drew Friedman cartoon I’ve ever seen. Would not have recognized it as his work without the credit.

  • s(p)oy(l)ed


  • Old Mayfly

    Appropriate–here is a man who takes the Constitution as seriously as did the founders.

  • bystander

    Weird. Yet more Rorschach. Is there anything illustrators and photoshoppers won’t project on to Obama? I even ran into a black caped, black booted, silver belted, arms akimbo SuperObama with a big O in his chest. Obama as Lincoln, as FDR, as Washington, as Superman… Unconscious plea for him to represent someone’s idea of Truth, Justice, and the American Way? Another instance of someone trying to figure out who Obama really is? An attempt to cast Obama as familiar when what is desperately needed/feared is something full-on different?

  • Scarabus

    One of the biggest obstacles Obama must contend with is the variety and magnitude of the expectations being created. How would you like to have to match Washington, Lincoln, and FDR all at the same time? What’s next, a composite of Jor-el (for mature wisdom) and Superman (for power)?

  • lytom

    Why continue “selling” Obama to public? What is the motive of media pursuing that road?
    Are there not issues he should be dealing with? and should not the public be educated instead of placated? Are the issues to be decided only by the few placed on the top and leave the crowds to the entertainment arena.
    Will the public take the media’s superficial presentations and ovations and for how long?

  • cenoxo


    • Daily distractions make us forget the New all too quickly. BTW, how are things going at work?
    • Media matters. You’ve gotta keep movin’ your product (and its audience) down the road. Stop and you drop.
    • Yes. The Agenda (not to mention everyone else’s). Rome wasn’t built in 1,460 days, y’know.
    • Yes, but pats on the head are frequently fast and effective placebos. Besides, you know you want to believe them.
    • [Sigh] How many times do we have to go over this? Let them eat cake while they watch the Big Game.
    • Every d_mned day. Good old habits instilled by highly effective people are hard to break.
  • cenoxo

    Scarabus: What’s next,… Superman (for power)?
    You’re new here, aren’t you?

  • thirdeye pushpin

    we are a country that has lost its way and is in need of reevaluating the actions around our values, a period of reorientation requires inspiration. Obama’s campaign provided a template of hope and change. Now we are projecting past symbols of successful hope and change onto Obama himself. It carries the danger of not living up to ideals, but it does breathe new life into the debate of our actions as a nation.
    Lincoln, FDR and Washington all marked major transitions in our nation. Calling on our ancestors and injecting their images and resonances into our present moment via obama can be seen as a constructive way of accessing the emblems of previous successes in times of crisis.
    I like seeing Washington because it goes to the core of who we are as a nation. It also emphasizes transparency “I can not tell a lie, I have chopped down the cherry tree” If FDR is integration and renewal and lincoln is emancipation and stewardship of the republic then Washington is integrity and leadership. The public dialogue via the media with obama is calling all of these characteristics into play for the crisis in front of us.
    And while there may be the danger that it makes us lose sight of the details; after the past eight years calling into view the characteristics and values that enable us to trust a leader may be neccesary before the details and minutiae of the journey envelop us.

  • Karen H.

    All these images scream “help us” to me.

  • Nigel Lendon

    We call this T-shirt art. Simplistic one-liners that depend on iconographic inversions. Images you don’t wish to see twice. Let’s get over it and get on with it…

  • Scarabus

    Ouch! No, I’m not new here, Cenoxo; but you’re absolutely right in pointing out my medium-term memory problem. Hey. Can I at least have credit for adding Jor-el? :-)

  • JayDenver

    Yes, I know it’s a Rorschach, but even so it seems so eerily similar.
    Or am I being a tad too cynical?

  • cenoxo

    Scarabus, you deserve the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, hands down. It’s short, sweet, and to the point.
    From the wise lips of Jor-El the Father — in Superman Returns (2006) — to the eager ears of Kal-El the Son:

    Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.

    Now would be a good time for Him to show up: after all, there’s only four more years to wrap everything up.
    One question, though. Does Superman put on his own cape, or do we help him with it?

  • gmoke

    That’s a more serious face on Obama than I’ve seen before in illustrations or photographs. Great art from Drew Friedman.

  • Kevin

    Silly. Trivializing. I would expect to see it in a high school newspaper, with the 17-year-old creator thinking it ‘cool.’

  • cenoxo

    Drew Friedman’s cover of Obama the First may have also been inspired by J. R. Eyerman’s powerful 1850 daguerreotype of a younger Frederick Douglass:

    The sepia tone, background, pose, gaze, and expression are very similar.

  • vcInCA

    if we’re going to debate what meshing of images this is, i see it as a combo of the dollar bill ( & a stern obama, ala .
    Sepia tone is a must, in some sense, to even evoke g. washington (GW). i’m interested in the comparison to the dollar bill, since everyone knows/sees that image. to me, obama is sterner, more facing you/forward, even though his eyes don’t quite follow you around the room like GW’s do. his face, the wrinkles, the firm lines of the chin are all stronger than GW’s, though whether that is simply b/c its not line-etched, or whatever you call what they do to images on money, i don’t know. i do find it evocative though, of a firm commitment, of standing for ideals, of some purer faith & choice in action within government, esp considering what we’ve seen recently in government practices…

  • vcInCA

    btw, i also think that the fact that this particular pose of GW IS ON MONEY is interesting–are they obliquely saying that the strength of our economy is in his hands? or what? it is a money shot, in more ways than one.

  • demit

    Can anyone tell me what that lever-like thing is at the back of his neck? It is not a ribbon. It has a thickness, and a grooved profile, and it ends in some kind of knob. It’s not an interpretation of the ribbon in the GW engraving on the dollar bill.
    The title of the illo (“The First”) makes it pretty self-explanatory, to me, necessitating no reading of it—but what the heck is that thing??

  • Joe Radish

    The president seems to be able to handle the iconography. Good for him. He may just live up to the hype. He has one of the greatest opportunities in the history of this country to steer it in a direction that benefits the many.
    The men he is being compared to all worked within personal principles that would never have allowed them wrong their country. With the previous president greed seemed to be the overriding principle, and it seemed to inform every decision he made.
    President Obama, I’m sure, is plenty greedy. It is part of the human make up in a capitalist society, and it’s fine as long as it doesn’t rule decisions, and I don’t think it does for the new president. I think he understands that he is beholden to the voters who elected him, and that government is for helping its people thrive. I don’t think he will forget his principles.

  • sab

    I’d like it better if it actually looked more like Obama.

  • cenoxo

    vcInCa: …the fact that this particular pose of GW IS ON MONEY is interesting–are they obliquely saying that the strength of our economy is in his hands? or what?
    The buck may stop with the President, but don’t forget the flip side:

    There’s nothing oblique about it — the Father (and God) of our country is Money. Lose faith in the green, and it might as well be Kryptonite.

  • ‘tude

    demit, I am guessing it’s a hair ribbon holding back the ponytail.
    When do we let Obama be Obama as opposed to some projection of him onto a dead white guy? Or do we get four years of Obama-as-other-dude?

  • elfpix

    My New Yorker appeared last week and, as usual, I took time to sit down and read it – hoping for some valedictory commentary at the top of the Talk of the Town. Instead, the commenter of the week was already peering scarily into the next four years, comparing the cover subject to his predecessors and models. And drawing my eyes back to the cover illustration here.
    And I’ve been pushing the issue around my office ever since, trying to parse my response to the cover and the content.
    This morning, replacing the magazine on my ottoman with my feet, I looked yet again at the graphic detail of age and wear in the skin, the slight darkening of the expression due to the creases in the forehead above the nose, the deep lines of stress outside the nose and mouth, the patriarchal, nay parental, suppressed anger, the harkening to our history personified by the wig and pose and my very strong feeling that the face and the significance of the wig did not belong together, did not fit, contradicted each other, conflicted with my education, training, history, understanding, upbringing.
    And I decided that I was looking at my personal prejudice – the remnants of fear of the other which reside deep in the spirit of a little white girl born at the end of the Second War into a great American city, into a liberal, equality believing, public school going, educated and cultured family which lived and taught tolerance, acceptance, curiosity, generosity, service, community.
    But which, at a deep visceral level, could not quite make sense of a person who was clearly visually not of European extraction bedecked by that object which most strongly refers to my, and my country’s, white European heritage.

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