Fallen Soldiers

At his first televised press conference last week, President Obama received a question about a controversy that, though once debated quite energetically, had seemed for a time to recede into the background as the casualty rate for U.S. soldiers has fallen. The questioner wanted to know whether the new administration would order the Pentagon to reverse its policy of forbidding the publication of photographs showing the return of fallen soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (President Obama responded by not commenting, since the policy is currently "under review.")Flag-draped coffins returning from IraqImage credit: thememoryhole.org, via Associated Press, NYT, 2/15/2009

The question, and the issue, were covered yesterday by The New York Times in a story and an editorial urging the President to overturn the policy. As the author of the former summarizes the issue, "Part of the debate that has developed turns on whether the return of soldiers is a private or public matter. While families have registered a range of opinions about allowing the news media at Dover, many have maintained that the return of a body is so deeply personal that they should be able to decide whether to keep it private." Above and beyond the questions raised by the difficult question of how to treat the images of what is essentially both a public and a private sacrifice (a soldier dying for his or her country is also lost to his or her family), the debate itself is simply a reminder of the power of images to move arguments.

The New whitehouse.gov

By now this is slightly old news, but in keeping with the previous post on Presidential photography, and because I thought it merited a mention here, I hope everyone has had a chance to check out the newly redesigned whitehouse.gov website:
A screengrab of the new whitehouse.gov website
Since President Obama's campaign had a reputation for design and branding savvy (much discussed on viz.), it's worth noting that the new website is similarly stylish and sleek: not surprising for a man hailed by some as the first "Digital President." Notably, the site retains layout and design elements similar to barackobama.com. Although so far there is no "Contribute Now" button, there is a form at the top of the home page where you can sign up for email updates. The main banner includes rotating photographs and "news" updates. There is also a new feature for the White House web site: a blog. In addition to all this, there is a fairly extensive "Agenda" page, much of the content of which seems to come straight from the "Issues" page of the campaign website.

All of this is in keeping with the usual hybrid function of the White House website to serve as campaign tool (never to early to start thinking about 2012), information portal, and cog in the message machine. But this design in particular seems to aim at a couple of President Obama's stated ambitions: to get people more involved in government and to open the workings of the executive branch to more transparency. It's interesting to think about how (and whether) this redesigned website helps achieve these aims. If I were teaching in rhetoric this semester, I would certainly consider designing an assignment around these questions.

“And yet, every photograph cries out for an interpretation …”

At his New York Times blog, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has posted interviews with the head photo editors of the AP, Reuters, and AFP on the photographic record of the Bush administration. Morris asked each interviewee “to pick the photographs of the president that they believe captured the character of the man and of his administration” and then discussed the photos with them along with the reasons each chose the photos they did.

With Standard Operating Procedure Morris has shown an acute interest in understanding the different ways in which the image is used to create reality, along with the ways in which that reality can be interrogated. In these interviews, Morris and each interviewee seem to share a different approach to how these images should be interpreted and what they mean. Although the discussions can sometimes be repetitive, they were a reminder to me of how much my judgments about our last president were based on these photo-ops.

ERROL MORRIS: Yes. Why do you like the picture so much?

VINCENT AMALVY: We don’t understand what is going on. Why does the shadow appear? I suppose it’s a shadow of somebody else beyond the corner. But the picture is only of two guys walking. It’s a profile of George Bush and Barack Obama. And he’s near the Rose Garden of the White House. And so in the back is a shadow of somebody who says, “Bye-bye.” And it is looking like a joke, but it is amazing.

via Word Presser

Holy Man*

So earlier this week, I'm checking my news online and I come across this photo of Barack Obama:

a photo of Barack Obama standing at a podium.  The spotlight behind him gives a halo effect

Obama poster art

Obama campaign poster, his silhouette against the words America needs a thinker think your words think Obama
"The Thinker," by gausa

A recent New York Times "Campaign Stops" blog brought my attention to the incredible variety of poster art being produced in support of Obama. The blog post I link to here discusses a few of the images in detail, but it leaves a lot untouched.


New Yorker Cover Satirizing Barack and Michelle Obama The recent New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama in radical drag, as it were, hasn't been discussed here on viz. It deserves a mention, since the nature and definition of satire has been discussed on the site before.

In my opinion, it fails utterly as satire. First of all, anytime anything requires extensive explanation AS SATIRE, it probably isn't the most adept or polished attempt. This week's New York Times "Week in Review" piece, written by Lee Siegel, agrees. In it, Siegel concludes that "By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon."

I agree, and not because I think the Obamas are off-limits as targets for satire, or that they themselves think they are off-limits (a conclusion I've heard on cable news from some on the "lunatic fringe" Siegel mentions). To me, the so-called satire of the piece fails because, rather than seeming to satirize the intellectual laziness, the total divorce from reality, required to hold the views depicted here, it seems to satirize the Obamas themselves for producing those views, instead of those who maintain and perpetuate them. The message is confused, the execution, confusing. Grade: F.

Framing and defaming

Last night while watching Barack Obama give his speech after the Pennsylvania primary, I got all excited about posting something on viz. for general amusement. But then when I read some other blogs, I realized I was not the only person to see what I saw. I forgot that in this Golden Age of the Internets, Original Ideas do not stay that way for long. But behold, anyway:Barack Obama framed by AberzombiesNotice the three dudes in Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts right behind the Senator. Supposedly the campaigns choose the people in those seats pretty carefully; one has to wonder, if in fact that's true, what was going through the head of the person who made this decision. Not that there's anything wrong with Abercrombie (well, Jezebel says it's "the epitome of everything about the America that is not 'ready' for" a President Obama), but still, it seems like a weird choice, no?

Obama's Design

As far as design goes, Obama has already won the presidency according to this New York Times article.

Obama's campaign posters showing his face in profile and the words

10 Pin Politics

Obama rolls a 37

So Barack Obama went bowling the other day, and it turns out he’s not very good. I just saw a Clinton speech where she suggested a winner-takes-all bowl off with the Senator from Illinois and she graciously agreed to spot him two frames.


Case in Point...

See this earlier discussion of iconographic photography on the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton and the Devil
First spotted at Wonkette

Recent comments