Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
The candidate as hero, if not near god-like, is a predictable piece of political branding. Of course a part of the hero myth is that he / she is really just an average Joe / Jane, when it comes to understanding We the Electorate. Campaigns engage in such spinning, as do surrogates, supporters and fans. Lots of fans. Turning the “not my guy / gal” into the villain, if not devil-like, character is just as common, of course.
The fact that such depictions keep appearing says more about We the Electorate than anything else. Why do we, (I’m generalizing here) not only accept but approve and participate in such exaggerations?
The latest in what to me seem like visual, outsized Odes to Obama appears on the cover of the August 2012 edition of The Advocate, as seen above. Here is what the “inscription” at the bottom of that photo says:
“President Obama’s declared support for the right of same-sex couples to marry caused a seismic shift in American politics. Never will the country be the same.”
While the “declared (personal) support” certainly did get attention, I think they have the timing wrong. The “seismic shift” had already happened, over decades and because of the hard work by advocates and activists. Obama’s personal declaration was a confirmation, which was a good thing, and no doubt encouraged others to do the same. But the “shift” had already happened. Not in a carefully planned, close election year, dramatic statement, but over long years and many steps by many people, whose heroically enhanced pictures will never appear on a cover of a national magazine.
Before The Advocates’ Obama-as-Lincoln photo, accompanied by the even more over-the-top headline, “In Obama We Trust,” the May 21, 2012 edition of Newsweek brought us the rainbow halo-d Obama.
Ms magazine provided the first – at least that I know about on a national level – such “our hero” portrayal with their January 26, 2009, cover:
Obama has been Superman, god or saint, and now Abraham Lincoln. Black Agenda Report has a post, accompanied by a Mt. Rushmore parody, entitled “Obama Bound for Mount Rushmore?” BAR has been a consistent and strong critic of Obama. In this piece, for example, Glen Ford writes, “If Obama belongs in a pantheon, it’s a Republican one.”
Remember the “Let Obama be Obama” line? I’ve noticed it being used again. And I have the same reaction as earlier: Obama IS being Obama. Whether any one of us likes or dislikes his decisions, he’s being who he is. That means, of course, different things to different people. In general, though, I think it does him more harm than good to be compared to an updated comic book super hero, a god-like or saint-like being, or Lincoln. Or a Nobel Peace prize laureate …
Of course Obama is by no means the first president to be so treated. And of course, there are also the over-the-top representations from those who dislike a president. Whether the hero or the villain portrayal, this is all more about We the Electorate than, in this case, Obama. As a generalization, we seem hell or heaven bent to keep seeing a Savior in Chief, or a Devil in Chief; the Hero in Chief, or the Villain in Chief.
I’m guessing this is just another piece of the Two Party puzzle. You have your Blue pieces and your Red pieces, and you know how to put them together in, according to your Left or Right perspective, God-Like or Devil-Like images. Having purple pieces introduced is irritating enough, but you damned well don’t want anyone confusing things with green or pink or violet or chartreuse or even, Deity or Non-Deity help us, pieces with multiple colors.
Final thought: If, as I’m still guessing, Obama wins a second term, how will the creators of covers top Superman, Halo’d Deity/Saint and Lincoln? Hmm. Maybe Obama as Reagan?