Saturday 22nd July 2017,
Televisual

Copying Obama: The Aeshetics of Hope

Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

thompson-obama

font-israeli-obama

anthonywoods

James Perry obama

Above: Screengrab from BarackObama.com; Bill Thompson, running for Mayor of New York this week on Nov. 3rd; Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2008 campaign page; Anthony Woods, who lost his campaign for Congressional House district, CA-10; James Perry, running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. Any that I’m missing?

The issue of websites borrowing, um, liberally from the aesthetics of Barack Obama’s website is an old one, becoming painfully obvious last year when Benjamin Netanyahu’s website became public, mimicry so shameless, the campaign didn’t bother playing coy:

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

I’ve noticed a number of campaign websites since, especially for black candidates, who also use either the same fonts, color schemes or tone of the Obama homepage.

This all makes sense: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While Obama’s poll numbers are down since his atmospheric — and completely unsustainable — post-inauguration highs, he stills remains popular (Gallup has him holding steady at slightly above 50%, for now), especially in the black community. When a figure as transformational as Obama arises, it only makes sense to try to conjure the magic for political gain. Politics is of course about emotions first, and nostalgia, even if it’s only a few months ago, is very powerful (2008, like 1968, 1972 or 1963, will be for Milennials what those other years are for Boomers; I’m calling it now).

Copying, then, becomes a shorthand for politicians who want to convey a sense of youth, willingness to work for “change,” and a bright optimism for an ideal America, perhaps a nation unburdened by racial and generational struggle.

I wonder to what degree voters are aware of the visual cues. Not everyone pays as much attention to visual culture — fonts, design — as I do. I think it is, at least, in the back of their minds. It seems terribly obvious to me. Is there, like, one design firm getting all the campaign business as a result of the ’08 elections?

I’m okay with copying, though it can extend beyond what I consider acceptable. Perfect example: Camel cigarettes appears to have ripped off Obama’s “change” logo for a new campaign. I see this ad every time I visit the corner store:

Camel_crush_steal_obama

Now this, especially since smoking rates are higher among black people (especially black men), is unacceptable, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

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