Obama’s German Rally Poster In The Eye Of Beholder

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about a political poster? Its charm, brilliance –or its insidiousness and crassness — depends on the political eye of the beholder.

Today, the international media’s eyes will be on Democratic presumptive nominee Sen. Barack Obama who will speak in Berlin to what is expected to be a huge crowd. His speech has been prefaced by what some consider a “snub” aimed at Republican presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain by the nation’s Prime Minister:

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has praised Barack Obama’s political and physical strength as “Obamania” reached the highest levels of state on the eve of the Democratic presidential contender’s feverishly anticipated visit to Berlin today.

In a remark that could be interpreted as casting aspersions on his 71-year-old Republican rival John McCain, Ms Merkel told reporters: “I would say that he is well-equipped – physically, mentally and politically.”

One side issue — in a campaign now unfolding of partisan-fought side issues — is whether the poster above printed in German is inspiring or creepy. And, in the nature of political politics, the interpretation sometimes rests on partisan bias or an intent to find something to cast in the worst possible light (a light that probably would be interpreted a tad differently if it was referring to the candidate backed by the person doing the blasting). Witness some reaction to the brilliant/scary (pick a term that fits your political bias) Obama poster:


–The lively conservative website www.lucianne.com (yes, that Lucianne of Monica Lewinsky fame) has the poster plastered on the front page with headline: “Scared yet?…
Obama poster for today’s rally in….BERLIN!” (The implication on a few sites is that it somehow shows a Messianic leader and by implication of course German was lead by a Messianic leader who’s name was…..)

Dr. Melissa Clouthier puts the poster next to a poster of a certain World War II German leader who butchered millions of people and writes:

A note about the picture juxtaposition: This is about artistic tone. The profile view. The serious expression. The shading. When I saw the Obama flier picture, my mind immediately called up this Hitler image and I was struck by how similar they are in feel the color choice differences aside. Unnerving really.

Matt Yglesias, looks at suggestions that Obama is posed like Adolph you-know-who and writes:

If I were to engage in guilt-by-association grounded in Obama campaign iconography, I would probably have observed that his campaign aesthetics seem to have something in common with socialist realism, but it takes all kinds I guess.

–Mother Jone’s The Riff blog thinks the design is superb:

Jeez, I know I’ve already blubbered endlessly over the sophistication of Obama’s graphic design, but you just gotta see this. It’s a poster being used to advertise the senator’s upcoming speech in Berlin, and it may be the finest piece of contemporary mainstream political art I’ve ever seen. All text is set at a 45-degree angle on varying shades of Obama Blue, with one thin swath of brick red emphasizing that “Tickets are not needed.” Barack’s profile is oddly de-emphasized, yet the whole poster seems to be covered in a subtle gradient, creating a definite glow from that side of the page.

Meaningful Distraction likes it, too:

The above left graphic is Barack Obama’s campaign poster which publicizes (in German) the major address he will make tomorrow in Berlin.

Predictably, once the flyers came out looking “different” from what we’re used to seeing, the Republicans started to throw around their new favorite attack word for Obama: “arrogant.”

They love using it — these days Obama can’t brush his teeth in the morning without the Republicans telling us how the flavor of toothpaste he uses somehow reveals how “breathtakingly arrogant” he is.

“Arrogant,” after all, is the new “uppity.”

But here’s what the Republicans and even some moderate voices are missing: this campaign poster isn’t evidence of a “messiah” complex; it pays homage to a pivotal era in graphic design history: the German Bauhaus movement during the early 20th century…

Read the post for more details.

The blog Bent Corner has a headline that notes “Poster for a Barack Obama rally printed in German” and writes, in part:

Germans evidently love three things: hot potato salad, David Hasselhoff, and Michelle Obama’s baby daddy. I knew of the first two things, but I never realized the German people loved Barack Obama. They must love him. Otherwise the Obama campaign wouldn’t be holding a political rally in Berlin, right?

Why even would a U.S. presidential candidate campaign in a foreign country like Germany? This is something presidential candidates don’t normally do. In fact, this has got to be some kind of a first.’

And, indeed, a lot of the bro-ha-ha started with this post by Patrick Ruffini, who criticized the Obama camp for running a poster for a rally in German:

The German flyers bear Obama’s campaign logo and say “Paid for by Obama for America.”

I’m surprised at this lapse in judgment in an otherwise well-oiled and professional Obama campaign. The last time they printed up campaign paraphernalia in a foreign language, it didn’t work out so hot for them.

So, this isn’t just some sober, high-minded foreign policy speech, part of a foreign trip occurring under the auspices of his official Senate office. It is a campaign rally occurring on foreign soil. They are using the same tactics to turn out Germans to an event as they would to any rally right here in America.

But you can see how this escalates in politics in 21st century America:

1. Ruffini posts the poster and reignites a philosophical debate over the Obama camp’s use of foreign languages in its campaign literature, its use of German in this poster and the motive of the rally in Germany. Bolstering his argument: Obama’s speech is not speech not in the same context as the famous speeches in Germany by Presidents JFK or Ronald Reagan. There were even reports — denied by Merkel – that the Bush administration was was trying to interfere with speech plans. So Ruffini raised a legit political question which could be debated (predictably) on both sides.

2. A blogger then posts pictures of Obama’s poster and that World War II leader with the Chaplin-like mustache (whose thugs murdered virtually the entire the family of my grandfather Abraham Ravinsky).

3. That implication now goes on a major, highly-trafficked conservative website that the poster should make you afraid because of what it suggests (an assumption about a given) about the candidate.

It’s escalation and negative imagery. None of it, by the way, directed by some Big Leader of any party or a top campaign strategist, just part of the way the political game is now played at all levels with its focus on driving up negatives and going after a person than focusing on the issues or political positions.

Will we see a video on You Tube suggesting that one of Obama’s steps looked like a goose-step? (OOPS! I may have given someone an idea…)

  

7 Comments

  1. [sigh] What silly over-reaction.

    The big issue here is that Obama is being innovative, but not “sporting,” as the Brits might say, by turning this trip into a campaign trip rather than a productive foreign-policy “listening” [rolling eyes] tour.

    The poster is interesting and certainly befits the personality cult underpinning Obama's campaign success among many.

  2. It's a tribute the Bauhaus style from the 1920s. The diagonal script was quite common.

    The Hitler analogies are so overwrought as to be comical.

  3. “The Hitler analogies are so overwrought as to be comical.”

    What Hitler analogies? I'm not making any, for example. Obey Giant's poster (which I find to be a good work) certainly has the fascist flavor to it, but Obama obviously is no Hitler. (Incidentally, overreaction to ordinary factual references to Hitler that you can see on-line are the biggest problem on-line. “Godwin's Law” is for losers. I'm surprised I didn't see some kind of related overreaction to the writeup about the Victory Column and its history.)

  4. Chris, there is no cult or worship with that book. Perhaps more positive of a book than would now be the case, but no worshipping.

    The Obama posters exploit the personality cult (and more broadly, his celebrity or so-called “rock star” status) and I find them to be good creative works. (We'll know the cult is truly overblown if we start seeing posters of him all over the place rather than the “Obama” bumper stickers that reveal no excess whatsoever. Frankly, I'm surprised Obama has not had a poster of him placed behind him when speaking in addition to US flags.)

  5. “It's a tribute the Bauhaus style from the 1920s. The diagonal script was quite common.”

    It's good work, in my view. And no, I find nothing sinister about it. Nor Obey Giant's poster.

  6. If you ever visit Shaunmullenville (Philadelphia), visit the PSFS Building (Loews Philadelphia Hotel).

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