Obama

Soon after the inauguration, Sean Hannity and other Fox News commentators began to protest the very un-American “cult of personality” that had developed around Barack Obama. While it is true that Obama quickly generated a richer iconography than any sitting president since George Washington, it hardly represents a “cult of personality” per se. This truth has become clearer over time, as disappointment with Obama has notably grown, while ubiquitous images of the president—in places both public and private—continue to multiply. His iconic likeness (like his 2008 slogan, “Yes We Can!”) does a great deal of ideological work for a nation whose history is steeped in white supremacism but whose post-Civil Rights ethos has given voice to hopeful alternatives. The relationship between Obama and the Civil Rights legacy remains unsettled: “oh no you can’t!” shouts John Boehner, as if to repeal decades of progress; a progressive like Ricardo Levins Morales, on the other hand, soberly points out that, while it takes a revolutionary visionary to push doors open, those who walk through them—like Obama—are not likely to be revolutionary visionaries themselves. And yet in myriad Hope/Change posters in restaurants, bars, and private living rooms; kitsch items like the “Barack around the clock” and the “Chia Obama”; stage plays like “That Hopey Changey Thing” or “Barackolypse Now!”—the figure of Obama, deployed in unexpected places and in a thousand different moods, embodies the public contest over precisely what the “post” of “post-Civil Rights” is to mean, and articulates a widespread yearning to tell a different story about who we might be as a nation. This gallery is devoted to that yearning, and also to the “where’s the birth certificate?” rage that has greeted Obama at every turn. mj