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September 28, 2010

Obama, the Rolling Stone Cover, and Playing from Behind

It’s not a distinctive photo, by any means, but it’s noteworthy, and attracting attention, for a couple reasons.

First, is the timing. If anything characterizes Obama (just like John MacEnroe in the old days), it’s that he tends to play best from behind (1, 2).  It’s probably been a week or two now that pundits have been questioning the conventional wisdom that the GOP and the Tea Party will romp in the mid-terms.  It’s only the past week, however, that Obama has started the big PR push — and this cover helps crystallize a sober “oh, perhaps we shouldn’t have written off Obama so quickly” dejavu.

A couple of other elements.  It’s vintage Obama tacking to the center-right with the red tie.  There isn’t a chance in the world he would have worn a different color.* Playing off the red letters above, juxtaposed with the “hope white” Colonnade only drives home a picture of a determined, but more importantly, a not-angry, not-crazy and not-dangerous looking President.

If you recall, Obama thrashed McCain primarily because, coming out of the Bush madness, O seemed to John and Jane Q. Public — forget what the spinmeisters were saying — like the far more steady, thoughtful and, frankly, sane alternative.   With the Tea Party’s standard bearers looking more and more radical and wild-eyed (and determined to make the election a referendum on Obama himself), this photo of the President, calm and grounded outside the Oval Office, is all the more impactful for the lack of drama or pizzaz.

* Of the three previous Obama Rolling Stone covers (not including the Shepard Fairey retake on his campaign poster), Obama is only wearing a blue tie in one, which was July 10th, ‘08, a month before the Democratic convention.  Here’s October 08 and the March 08 endorsement illustration.

Obama in Command: 
The Rolling Stone Interview

  • charliereece

    One element you missed is in the text on the right side of the image. Just above the “THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TEA PARTY” is the text “WHAT’S NUTS” — I don’t know if this was an accident or not, but the juxtaposition jumped out at me.

  • robert e

    But it is a distinctive image–for RS. Atypical of most RS covers, including previous Obama ones, this image would be appropriate for a business magazine (Forbes et al). Quite sober, businesslike, and in control, as you say.

    Per charliereece, let’s not ignore the associated-by-proximity text, which I think matters where text and images are presented together.

    But let’s go further and look at all of it:

    He’s prominently framed by the title “Obama Fights Back” and “The Hot List 2010″ and by the iconic Rolling Stone logo (which humbly defers to The Man). Thus dwarfed, outnumbered and surrounded, the “Tea Party” has no chance (and anyway is subordinate to “The Truth”). And what’s the other text about? “Comeback” and “new classic”.

    It seems all of a piece. And it is in fact one cover–one unit–at some level perceived in gestalt, especially by rushing commuters and casual browsers as they quickly scan newsstands and magazine racks.

    • Michael Shaw

      Thanks. I only peripherally noticed the rest of the cover. The scale of “OBAMA FIGHTS BACK” certainly is formidable parallel with the Tea.

  • jonst

    “Obama Fights Back”. Against who? Part of his own base? Let’s see what good it does Democrats. Who attacks their own base? Dems.

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