Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the Obama image

When I was in grad school, I had grandiose ideas of writing a dissertation on images in African-American literature. I was curious about actual images present alongside text and described images, i.e. a photograph described within the written text. And although there was definitely a space for such an idea, I simply had an idea with no way to come with an intelligent argument, let alone time, energy or stamina to attempt such a Herculean, impossible feat.

So when I (barely, though barely is still passing) passed my comprehensive exams, I took several months and thought about the decision I had made the moment I walked out of those horrendous exams hysterical: I was finished with this program. I didn't have it in me to continue; I quit pursuing a PhD as all of my friends stayed on.

Yet, I never quit my love of art and literature. And I'm still very curious about images. I use images with teaching as much as I can. I have the students search for images to symbolize themes and ideas within the text. As I become a better teacher, I will have them analyze their choices and write more about the images they choose. Right now, I'm not there yet, partly due to laziness/lack of energy and because my gorge rises at their writing. (It's probably time for me to move onto something else soon. again.)

Anyways, this is supposed to be about my attraction to images.

Several weeks ago, as I was driving, I saw this sign for a fight party with what looked like Barack Obama's picture in the middle. I couldn't understand what I thought I was seeing, so I convinced myself I wasn't seeing it. Until, a few days later, I scrutinized the sign more closely and vowed to bring my camera the next time I took this route, because no one would believe me. As I snapped away from my car, Elijah, my oldest son asked, "why are you taking a picture of that sign?"

I said, "that's a picture of Barack Obama on a sign for a fight."
He telepathically heard what I was thinking and spoke what I had kept silent, "What does Barack Obama have to do with the fight?"
I answered, "I don't know, that's why I'm taking the picture."

Has Obama's greatness and presence in our global scene taken on a new meaning in which we need to keep Obama in our day-to-day living, hold onto him tightly so he won't float away? Are we using his image to garner support for our trivialities? There is an image of brown-skinned woman with hair poofed a little in front like Michelle's and the ad says, "Obama wants moms to go back to school." At a quick glance, the woman looks like Michelle and the advertisers are using the name, the image to sell their product. As I searched for the image I found this one in which Obama's on face is used to sell this online education program.

The reason why I quit the PhD program is I can't come up with a good enough argument to sustain a long piece of writing on this subject. However, I'm intrigued by the use of the Obamas' images in American culture today. I visited a home where the children and grandchildren's pictures were framed and sitting along the mantel and the last picture in the sequence was a framed print of the Obama family. I recognize this as an outward expression of a beaming inner pride. It's a "they are ours," statement. Yet, they are human and I fear what will happen when we put Obama (and family) on this untouchable pedestal. What then does he become? In what ways will our expectations be unrealistic and how will disappointment creep in?

We've co-opted this man's face and used it to advertise small scale fight parties, education programs and to include in our own social and familial circles. And although, I'm proud and sometimes I look at him, at her and can't believe they are in that position or think wow she looks like me, of course she is beautiful and I am.. not ugly. Sometimes, I feel possessive too about this family, "they are mine," as you can see below; I'm thrilled that Michelle is pleased to be in my presence. I specifically chose to pose with her and not Obama, because she is more mine than he. But obviously, I'm not doing anything with this image other than having fun. However, I fear the use of the faces and name for promotion, for familial ties is taking a step down a dangerous path, in my opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Like you and Elijah, I don't get the connection between Obama and the fight. I tried to manufacture some (e.g., appeal to a specific audience, Obama as controversy), but nothing really makes sense. Maybe there's something to your ideas regarding ownership--a mutual ownership/endorsement. The fight carries Obama's image and therefore endorsed by him in some way. Maybe the "mom-education" ad is similar in that Obama carries the mark of the stimulus packages (even if Bush began them); so his image appears as endorsement re: the use of stimulus funds for education. (Okay, there's a whole race thing in this idea of Obama as the "stimulus president," but I'll save that for later.)

    So what does an Obama "endorsement" mean (if his image is actually intended to function in this way)? Is it a way to define community? Does it make the activity legitimate?