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October 9, 2013

Shabby Road: Obama on the Cover of the Shutdown Album

Obama Stamford CT Abbey Road

He roller-coaster, he got early warning
He got muddy water, he one mojo filter
He say “One and one and one is three”
Got to be good-looking cos he’s so hard to see
Come together right now over me

– from Come Together, The Beatles, September 1969

Monday, we ran a post by Robert Hariman, a preeminent visual analysts of public culture, articulating how there wasn’t a visual of the Washington shutdown that had any relevance. On Sunday, my friend Craig Brownstein – one of the country’s leading practitioners of political communications and a force behind the Puck Buddies Twitter feed – went a similar, if more hilariously daft direction. Craig likened Pres. Obama’s populist photo op last week — involving a very public walk from the White House to a neighborhood sandwich shop – to an image that needs no introduction.

Given the power of visual analogy, however, as the Beatles last physical envelope (and one that spawned viral rumors of death), the comparison invites at least soft comparison to the current mess. (If I understand it right, “Come Together” was also inspired by Timothy Leary’s campaign for Governor of California.)

And what do I pull out of Brownstein’s hilarious free association?

Two things: first, reinforcing Harriman’s observation, is that, remarkably, and with the viability of our governing apparatus supposedly hanging in the balance, the lack of photos for the ages (or images that stick at all) suggest little political weight or historical gravity to the situation. To the contrary, it’s more a opportunity for grasping and ridicule. (In spite of true damage and horrible precedent, I’m not sure what that tells us besides the fact the disaster skipped tragedy and transitioned directly to farce.)

At the same time, what the picture indicates is Obama continued ability to somewhat drive the visual narrative along. Whether that’s because “he come grooving up slowly,” or “he bag production,” or “he one mojo filter,” I can’t tell you. Honestly, I’m jaded enough by the administration’s visually playing the common man chord, it doesn’t carry much authenticity to me. At the same time, however, the president just getting outdoors, foraging for a sandwich, and stepping into the zebra stripe with the rest of us is as close to coming together — it’s as much rockin’ it amidst the forgetability as we can probably expect.

(photo: Susan Walsh/AP. caption: President Barack Obama walks back to the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, after leaving to get lunch at a neighborhood eatery.)

  • LanceThruster

    Cool pic…Bamz is the 5th Beatle.

    Ringo:
    [to Clang after he has taken off the ring and put it on Clang]
    Get sacrificed! I don’t subscribe to your religion!

    Algernon:
    [about Professor Foot]
    It’s more than my job’s worth to stop him when he’s like this. He’s out to rule the world… if he can get a government grant.

    George:
    [referring to Ringo's finger]
    Hey, there might be some insurance.

    John:
    I wouldn’t think of such a thing!

    [whispering]

    John:
    Find out, eh?

  • Scarabus

    I’ve been thinking the answer might be to think in terms of a photo essay or a composite rather than a single iconic image. After all, “guvmint” is an abstraction. What we often do is resort to metonymy: “‘Washington’ says…,” for example. But that wouldn’t do the trick here, would it.

    Can’t pretend to have an answer, but an idea I’m working on focuses on the fact that government is people. Shutting down government is shutting down the lives of individual people. So if you want to see an image of “guvmint,” then you need to see an assemblage of millions of individual persons.

    I’m thinking of titling a post to my blog: “Want to see a photo of the government you’ve shut down?” And then showing a minuscule sample zoomed in on from amidst a crowd of millions. Yeah. Not ready for prime time. :-)

    Point is that if you’re looking for a single image, then you’re looking for one that will represent thousands of occupations, thousands of facilities, and millions of uniquely individual persons.

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